Real estate takes center stage in Manafort trial


Special Counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors are walking the jury in the trial of Paul Manafort through the records to back their claim that the former Trump campaign chairman deceived his own financial advisers to hide his foreign accounts and income from USA tax authorities.

Mr Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, charges that largely pre-date the five months Mr Manafort worked for Mr Trump, some of them as campaign chairman.

The prosecutors showed an email from 2011 in which Manafort's accountant asked Manafort whether he had any interest in foreign bank accounts, to which he replied "no".

She said she prepared Manafort's tax return that year despite concerns that the information he and Gates provided was wrong.

One-by-one, a retired carpenter, a natty clothier and a high-end landscaper detailed how Manafort paid them in worldwide wire transfers from offshore companies.

The trial, however, is not about Russian Federation, or any such conspiracy, focused instead on the personal and business finances of Manafort, Trump's onetime campaign chairman.

The prosecution is trying to paint Manafort's lavish lifestyle as a reason why he "sought to hide and evade taxes on much of the $60 million he earned as a political consultant to Ukraine's pro-Russia president, Viktor F. Yanukovych", the New York Times reported. Manafort's defense is looking to blame Gates for any crimes.

Ayliff described Gates as Manafort's partner and right-hand man, but when asked who was in charge in the relationship, he said, "Oh, Mr. Manafort". This case has had hours of tax code explanation and tax returns, corporate financial accounting and the intricacies of loan, income and mortgage tax deductions.

Mueller alleges that Manafort and his deputy, Gates, began doctoring financial documents in order to obtain loans or to get better rates on loans. One instance involved classifying revenue from a Cyprus-based company as a loan to lower his taxable income, Laporta testified.

And if Manafort did indeed open those accounts, that inherently means he knew they existed - and that he failed to report them to his tax preparers.

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Prosecutors tightened the noose on Manafort for the tax evasion charges Friday during questioning with Ayliff and Laporta. LaPorta also testified that she had seen documents that showed that there had been no payments on the loan between 2012 and 2014. "He is fighting back", she said.

Kevin Downing, a defense attorney for Mr. Manafort, said he would need about an hour to cross-examen Ms. Laporta.

To wit, Laporta testified that KWC didn't often receive requested documents from Manafort or Rick Gates.

One way to do that could be to show that documents Manafort had provided to the accountant contained details about foreign bank accounts.

During one series of questions, prosecutors asked Laporta about loans from two distinct entities, Telmar and Paranova.

A conviction would give momentum to Mueller's probe, in which 32 people and three companies have been indicted or pleaded guilty.

That income posed a problem for Manafort when it came time to prepare his business tax returns in September 2015, Laporta testified.

In one instance, Ayliff testified that Manafort pressed him to tell bankers considering a loan application that one of Manafort's NY properties was being used as a personal residence when in fact he was using it to rent out.

Ayliff told jurors that he handled Manafort's business and personal taxes for two decades and that his client always had a command of his complex returns.

Other witnesses testifying this week said Manafort paid them millions from the offshore accounts tied to foreign shell companies for landscaping, expensive clothing and even a Karaoke machine.