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

Merry Guanas poised to be Lacombe’s first cannabis dispensary

Cannabis retail owner expects a six-month wait before industry comes to city

Lacombe hosts 6th Invasive Species Council Conference at LMC

Council looks to protect native ecological environments in Alberta

Construction along Woodland and Fairway drives

Construction in this area is planned for the week of March 25, 2019

Lacombe’s CACHS Knights girls come up just short at Provincials

Cold shooting second half prevents Lacombe girls from medal round

NDP Leader Rachel Notley stops in Red Deer on campaign trail

Notley promises hospital expansion, cath lab, pipelines and energy industry expansion

WATCH: ‘Napalm Girl’ discusses journey from hatred to forgiveness in Lacombe

Burman University’s Herr Lecture Series welcomed Kim Phuc Phan Thi to Lacombe

Women of Excellence Awards introduces ‘Women of Excellence in Construction’

Gala will take place June 19th at the Sheraton Red Deer

New Leger polls suggests federal Liberals lagging Conservatives

Overall, 31 per cent of respondents polled said they would vote for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals

Teen girl accused in plot to attack Kamloops school with weapons out on bail

Judge warned the girl she would be back in jail if she threatened to shoot anyone

Oil prices, Alberta election call cloud Stampede chuckwagon auction expectations

The top money bid last year came from Versatile Energy Services, Ltd.

Pot industry welcomes decreased edibles tax, but unhappy medical tax remains

Taxes can increase the cost of medical cannabis by as much as 25 per cent

‘It has to send a message:’ Broncos families await sentencing for truck driver

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu pleaded guilty to 29 counts of dangerous driving and apologized in court

MPs continue voting marathon as Tories protest shutdown of Wilson-Raybould motion

Multiple MPs have resigned from Trudeau’s Liberal cabinet

European, Canadian regulators to do own review of Boeing jet

Air Canada plans to remove the Boeing 737 Max from its schedule at least through July 1

Most Read