Prosecutors brand Manafort a ‘liar’ as fraud trial begins

Trump’s former campaign manager facing 32 charges stemming from Russian links

Donald Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort: Should he be acquitted, it would be a blow to the legitimacy of the Special Counsel investigation, which Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed as a “witch-hunt”.  File photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort: Should he be acquitted, it would be a blow to the legitimacy of the Special Counsel investigation, which Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed as a “witch-hunt”. File photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

 

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was described by prosecutors as a “liar” who avoided paying taxes on millions of dollars of income, as his trial for tax and bank fraud opened in Virginia on Tuesday.

The trial promises to be one of the most high-profile cases involving a member of president Trump’s campaign team to date.

Mr Manafort (69) appeared in court in Alexandria, Virginia as the jury of six men and six women were selected. The trial is expected to last at least three weeks.

Mr Manafort is facing 32 charges of bank and tax fraud, largely stemming from his involvement with pro-Russian Ukrainian individuals, including former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Viktor Yanukovich was an infrequent visitor to his hometown during a four-year presidency that ended in February, when he fled to Russia after months of rallies culminated in scores of protesters being shot dead in Kiev, allegedly upon his orders. Photograph: Anastasiya Sirotkina/Reuters
Paul Manafort is facing 32 charges of bank and tax fraud, largely stemming from his involvement with Ukrainian individuals including former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych (above). Photograph: Anastasiya Sirotkina/Reuters
Manafort’s links with Russia and pro-Russian Ukrainians are well-known and were revealed in court documents

He faces a separate trial in Washington, DC which will begin in September.

He has denied the charges, with his defence attorney in his opening statement to the court arguing that his long-term business partner Richard Gates, who is co-operating with prosecutors, lied about Mr Manafort’s actions to hide his own wrongdoing.

Mueller investigation

Though the issue of the Trump campaign’s links with Russia is not on the agenda, the trial is likely to give an insight into the workings of the Mueller investigation. Should Mr Manafort be acquitted, it would be a blow to the legitimacy of the Special Counsel investigation, which Mr Trump has repeatedly dismissed as a “witch-hunt”.

Mr Manafort’s links with Russia and pro-Russian Ukrainians are well-known and were revealed in court documents.

As Trump’s campaign manager, he attended the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Russian individuals and members of the candidate’s campaign team, including Donald Trump jnr and Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Prior to his work for the Trump campaign, Mr Manafort was known to have business links to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik.  

Earlier in the day, ahead of the opening of the trial, Mr Trump tweeted that “collusion is not a crime”, echoing an argument made by his lawyer Rudy Giuliani in recent days.

Legal experts

The former New York mayor suggested on CNN earlier this week that collusion may not be considered a crime, though legal experts insist that anyone found to be collaborating with Russia could be charged with other crimes such as conspiracy.

Mr Trump has continuously stressed that there is “no collusion” between his team and Russia, though his argument that collusion is not a crime could suggest a new defence approach by his legal team.

Mr Trump tweeted last month that it was “very unfair” that his former campaign chief had been sent to jail while awaiting trial after a court accused him of tampering with witnesses.

The court heard on Tuesday that Mr Manafort had led a lavish lifestyle, buying a $15,000 jacket “made from an ostrich”.