New York probe finds ‘significant evidence’ of Trump ‘fraud’

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New York attorney general Letitia James (left) leaves after attending the hearing for the criminal case against former US President Donald Trump’s company chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg on July 1, 2021. AFP

New York’s top justice official said her investigation into Donald Trump’s family business had uncovered “significant evidence” of fraudulent or misleading practices, intensifying pressure on the former president as he tries to shut down the probe.

In a court filing late on January 18, state Attorney General Letitia James wrote that the ongoing civil inquiry had found that the Trump Organisation fraudulently overvalued multiple assets to secure loans and then undervalued them to minimize taxes.

She asked a judge to compel Trump and his two eldest children – Donald Trump Jr and Ivanka Trump – to answer questions in the years-long probe that has become a threat to any plans he may have for a second presidential run in 2024.

The filing marked the most detailed allegations that James, a Democrat, has made against Trump’s company since she launched the investigation in March 2019.

She said the Trump Organisation had “misrepresented” the valuation of assets to financial institutions including the Inland Revenue Service, banks and insurers for “economic benefit”.

The alleged fraudulent valuations included claiming Trump’s penthouse in Manhattan’s Trump Tower was three times bigger than it actually was, overestimating its value by $200 million.

Another said the company “disguised” what appeared to be a more than 80 per cent drop in value of a luxury home development in the New York City suburbs.

The filing was made in response to Trump’s efforts to block her from questioning him and his two eldest children under oath.

The family has claimed the investigation is politically motivated and has urged the court to quash subpoenas against the three.

“The Trumps must comply with our lawful subpoenas for documents and testimony because no one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them,” James wrote.

Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, said via email that James’s filing was “merely the latest in a long line of unfounded attacks against my client.”

Donald Trump Jr tweeted that her probe is “nothing more than political retribution from her” on behalf of the Democratic Party.

Trump’s son Eric, who is executive vice president of the Trump Organisation, was interviewed by James’s office on the issue in October 2020.

If James finds evidence of financial misconduct she can sue the Trump Organisation for damages but cannot file criminal charges.

The probe, however, is running alongside a very similar criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney for possible financial crimes and insurance fraud.

In July last year, the Trump Organisation and its long-serving finance chief, Allen Weisselberg pleaded not guilty in a New York court to 15 felony fraud and tax evasion charges.

His trial is due to begin in the middle of this year.