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Trump Organization faces criminal tax fraud trial over perks

Trump Organization faces criminal tax fraud trial over perks

For years, as Donald Trump was soaring from reality TV star to the White House, his real estate empire was bankrolling big perks for some of his most trusted senior executives, including apartments and luxury cars.

Now Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, is on trial this week for criminal tax fraud — on the hook for what prosecutors say was a 15-year scheme by top officials to hide the plums and avoid paying taxes.

Opening statements and the first witnesses are expected Monday in New York. Last week, 12 jurors and six alternates were picked for the case, the only criminal trial to arise from the Manhattan district attorney’s three-year investigation of the former president.

Among the key prosecution witnesses: Trump’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty and has agreed to testify against the company in exchange for a five-month jail sentence.

If convicted, the Trump Organization could be fined more than $1 million and could face difficulty in securing new loans and deals. Some partners and government entities could seek to cut ties with the company. It could also hamper its ability to do business with the U.S. Secret Service, which sometimes pays the company for lodging and services while protecting Trump as a former president.

Neither Trump nor any of his children who have worked as Trump Organization executives are charged or accused of wrongdoing. Trump is not expected to testify or even attend the trial.

Prosecutors have said they do not need to prove Trump knew about the scheme to get a conviction and that the case is “not about Donald Trump.” But a defense lawyer, William J. Brennan, said even if he’s not physically there, Trump is “ever present, like the mist in the room.”

That’s because Trump is synonymous with the Trump Organization, the entity through which he manages his many ventures, including his investments in golf courses, luxury towers and other real estate, his many marketing deals and his TV pursuits.

Trump signed some of the checks at the center of the case. His name is on memos and other company documents. Witnesses could testify about conversations they had with Trump. They are even expected to enter Trump’s personal general ledgers as evidence.

Prosecutors say The Trump Organization — through its subsidiaries Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. — is liable in part because former Weisselberg was a “high managerial agent” entrusted to act on behalf of the company and its various entities.

The Trump Organization has said it did nothing wrong. The company’s lawyers argue that Weisselberg and other executives acted on their own and that, if anything, their actions harmed the company financially.

Weisselberg, who has pleaded guilty to taking $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation, pinned blame on himself and other top Trump Organization executives, including senior vice president and controller Jeffrey McConney.

But he disagreed with the notion that the company was harmed, saying the perks actually saved the company money because it avoiding having to give raises.

Prosecutors have said they expect to call 15 witnesses, including Weisselberg and McConney, who was granted limited immunity to testify last year before a grand jury.

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan expects the trial to take at least four weeks, though a defense lawyer estimated last week that the prosecution case alone could go on for two months. Court will meet for a full day on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursday and for a half-day on Friday. The trial is off on Wednesday so the judge can attend to other matters.

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International

Guatemalan Leader, Deputy Jailed For Fraud

A Guatemalan court on Wednesday sentenced former President Otto Perez to 16 years in prison, finding him guilty of leading a massive customs fraud scheme while in office.

Perez, who was forced to resign in 2015, was found guilty of racketeering and fraud targeting the customs system, Judge Irma Valdes said as she read out the sentence.

Perez was sentenced to eight years on each count.

His former vice president Roxana Baldetti received the same sentence.

A United Nations-backed anti-corruption body revealed several scandals in Guatemala before it was shut down in 2019 by then-President Jimmy Morales after it began investigating him.

One of its key successes was uncovering a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat Guatemala’s customs duty system, which ultimately led to Perez’s resignation.

Those involved in the scheme – known as “La Linea” (The Line) – received bribes of some $3.5 million, according to investigators, who estimate that Guatemala was defrauded out of almost $10 million in tax revenue.

After the sentence was handed down Perez, 72, told reporters, “I truly feel frustrated, I feel disappointed.”

He said he would appeal the ruling.

Sixteen other people involved in the scam were convicted during the sentencing and 11 others were acquitted.

“The ‘La Linea’ case is one of the most symbolic and is a milestone in Guatemalan history,” director of Transparency International’s local chapter, Citizen Action, Edie Cux, told AFP.

“It is important that in some way the people of Guatemala have justice and that the case does not go unpunished,” she added.

(AFP)

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International

Trump Organization Convicted Of Tax Fraud

Donald Trump’s real estate company was convicted on Tuesday of carrying out a 15-year-long criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities, adding to the legal woes facing the former U.S. president as he campaigns for the office again in 2024.

The Trump Organization – which operates hotels, golf courses, and other real estate around the world – was found guilty of paying personal expenses for top executives including former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, and issuing bonus checks to them as if they were independent contractors.

The company faces up to $1.6 million in fines after being convicted on all charges, including scheming to defraud tax authorities, conspiracy and falsifying business records. Trump was not charged in the case.

Justice Juan Merchan, who presided over the trial in state court in New York, set a sentencing date for Jan. 13.

While the fine is not expected to be material for a company of the Trump Organization’s size, the conviction could complicate its ability to do business.

Weisselberg, 75, testified as the government’s star witness as part of a plea deal that calls for a sentence of five months in jail.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office prosecuted the case, called the verdict “very just.”

“The former president’s companies now stand convicted of crimes,” Bragg said in the New York courthouse after the verdict, speaking of the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation, the two units of the Trump Organization which were convicted.

Asked if he regretted not charging Trump in the case, Bragg did not respond.

He has said that the office’s investigation into Trump is continuing.

(Reuters)

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International

Forbes says Elon Musk Is No Longer World’s Richest Man

Twitter owner and Tesla (TSLA.O) boss Elon Musk briefly lost his title as the world’s richest person on Wednesday, according to Forbes, following a steep drop in the value of his stake in the electric-car maker and a $44 billion bet on the social media firm.

Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of luxury brand Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH (LVMH.PA), and his family briefly took the title as the world’s richest, but were back at No. 2 with a personal wealth of $185.3 billion, according to Forbes.

Musk, who has held the top spot on the Forbes list since September 2021, has a net worth of $185.7 billion. Musk took over the title from Amazon.com (AMZN.O) founder Jeff Bezos.

Tesla shares, which have lost more than 47% in value since Musk made his offer to buy Twitter earlier this year, were down 2.7%.

Musk’s net worth dropped below $200 billion earlier on Nov. 8 as investors dumped Tesla’s shares on worries the top executive and largest shareholder of the world’s most valuable electric-vehicle maker is more preoccupied with Twitter.

Tesla has lost nearly half its market value and Musk’s net worth has dropped by about $70 billion since he bid for Twitter in April. Musk closed the deal for Twitter in October with $13 billion in loans and a $33.5 billion equity commitment.

Besides Tesla, Musk also heads rocket company SpaceX and Neuralink, a startup that is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect the human brain to computers.

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