Kevin Downing, attorney for Paul Manafort, leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, July 31, 2018, at the conclusion of day one of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Manafort’s tax evasion and bank fraud trial. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Manafort accused of amassing ‘secret income’ as trial opens

Paul Manafort orchestrated a multimillion-dollar conspiracy to evade U.S. tax and banking laws say prosecutors

Paul Manafort orchestrated a multimillion-dollar conspiracy to evade U.S. tax and banking laws, leaving behind a trail of lies as he lived a lavish lifestyle, prosecutors said as they laid out their case against the former Trump campaign chairman.

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye told the jury during his opening statement Tuesday that Manafort considered himself above the law as he funneled tens of millions of dollars through offshore accounts. That “secret income” was used to pay for personal expenses such as a $21,000 watch, a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich and more than $6 million worth of real estate paid for in cash, Asonye said.

“A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him — not tax law, not banking law,” Asonye said as he sketched out the evidence gathered by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in Manafort’s bank fraud and tax evasion trial.

Manafort’s trial is the first arising from Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. It opened with extraordinary anticipation amid unresolved questions about whether Trump associates co-ordinated with the Kremlin to tip the election in the president’s favour.

RELATED: What does Mueller have? Manafort trial offers glimpse

But it was clear from the outset that the case would not address that question: Prosecutors did not once reference Manafort’s work for the Trump campaign nor mention Mueller’s broader and ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. Mueller was not present in the courtroom.

Manafort, the lone American charged by Mueller who has opted to stand trial instead of co-operate with prosecutors, was described by his defence lawyer as a hugely successful international political consultant who left the details of his finances to others.

He relied on a team of financial experts to keep track of the millions of dollars he earned from his Ukrainian political work and to ensure that that money was being properly reported, said attorney Thomas Zehnle. He especially trusted business associate Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty in Mueller’s investigation and is now the government’s star witness. But that trust was misplaced, Zehnle said in an opening statement that made clear that undermining the credibility of Gates — a former Trump campaign aide who spent years working for Manafort in Ukraine — is central to the defence strategy.

Zehnle warned jurors that Gates could not be trusted and was the type of witness who would say anything he could to save himself from a lengthy prison sentence and a crippling financial penalty.

“Money’s coming in fast. It’s a lot, and Paul Manafort trusted that Rick Gates was keeping track of it,” Zehnle said. “That’s what Rick Gates was being paid to do.”

The trial, decided by a jury of six men and six women who were seated after a brief selection process Tuesday, is expected to last several weeks.

After opening statements, the jury heard from the government’s first witness, Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who testified about his collaborations with Manafort on behalf of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions. Devine testified that Manafort ran a tightly disciplined, professional campaign that contributed to his candidate’s victory.

Central to the government’s case are allegations that Manafort funneled more than $60 million in proceeds from his Ukrainian political consulting through offshore accounts, including in Cyprus, and hid a “significant” portion of it from the IRS. He created “bogus” loans, falsified documents and lied to his tax preparer and bookkeeper to conceal the money, which he obtained from Ukrainian oligarchs through a series of shell company transfers and later from fraudulently obtained bank loans in the U.S., prosecutors said.

But Zehnle said there was no evidence that Manafort ever intended to deceive the IRS. He denied allegations that Manafort had tried to conceal his earnings by storing money in bank accounts in Cyprus, saying that arrangement was not of Manafort’s doing but was instead the preferred method of payment of the supporters of the pro-Russia Ukrainian political party who were paying his consulting fees.

RELATED: Judge sends Trump’s ex-campaign chair Paul Manafort to jail

Defence lawyers also sought to address head-on Manafort’s wealth and the images of a gaudy lifestyle that jurors are expected to see.

“Paul Manafort travels in circles that most people will never know and he’s gotten handsomely rewarded for it,” Zehnle said. “We do not dispute that.”

Manafort has a second trial scheduled for September in the District of Columbia. It involves allegations that he acted as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian interests and made false statements to the U.S. government.

The other 31 people charged by Mueller so far have either pleaded guilty or are Russians seen as unlikely to enter an American courtroom. Three Russian companies have also been charged.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Osprey nest in downtown Salmon Arm will remain until new year

The powerlines around the nest have been de-energized so the birds can stay until spring

A 64-year-old dies while mountain biking in Blind Bay

Shuswap Search and Rescue came assist first responders at the scene

City looks at extending public transit to evenings, Sundays

Salmon Arm council to consider expanding services, sharing costs with BC Transit

Plans rolling along for Silver Creek bike trail

CSRD expects construction of 3.65-kilometre path to begin in September 2019

Boil water notice lifted for residents on Sunnybrae system

Recent testing finds turbidity at acceptable levels

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

Lake Country joins celebration of local government professionals

The district joined communities across the province by planting a new tree

Five takeaways from the Court of Appeal ruling on B.C.’s pipeline law

It’s unclear how many tools are left in B.C.’s toolbox to fight the project

PPC leader wants to appeal to voters’ intelligence

Maxine Bernier says his right-wing populist political movement differs from that of U.S. President Donald Trump and other similar European leaders

Friend of accused Kelowna murderer takes the stand

Elrich Dyck’s testimony continued Friday with details from the night Chris Ausman was killed

Crews respond to smoke at Penticton thrift store

The rooftop A/C unit began filling the building with smoke, prompting them to evacuate

Housing provided for women and children fleeing violence in Penticton

Announcement on Friday is part of a provincewide initiative to construct additional housing.

People’s Party of Canada leader talks B.C. trade to Penticton supporters

Maxime Bernier, head of the new federal political party, spoke at Time Winery on Friday

Princeton RCMP recover stolen homework and save the grade

It’s a slightly better excuse than “the dog ate my homework.” Earlier… Continue reading

Most Read