Eric Trump, accompanied by his lawyer, this Thursday in the New York state court.JUSTIN LANE (EFE)
Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of former President Donald Trump, appeared Thursday for the second day in a row in Manhattan state court where the Republican candidate, his eldest children, business associates and the Trump Organization are being tried for allegedly inflating the value of properties and assets to benefit from bank and insurance companies. After the firstborn, Eric Trump, the second of the eldest sons summoned to testify, represented by the same lawyer as his brother, took the stand. Ivanka Trump will do so next Wednesday, two days after her father, who will also repeat on the bench.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking a $250 million (€235 million) penalty. As this is a civil proceeding, none of the defendants face jail time if convicted, but a conviction would deal a severe setback to the organization by losing control of important assets.
The alleged fraud, which would have lasted for a decade, between 2011 and 2021 ― the last stretch coincides with Trump's presidency ―, fattened, according to the investigation by the New York attorney general's office, the family fortune by up to 3,600 million dollars a year and helped the emporium reap 250 million dollars in "illegal profits" in that decade. A banking expert said Wednesday that Donald Trump and his company saved more than $168 million in interest on loans by obtaining favorable terms on transactions backed by Trump's personal fortune.
In his deposition Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. claimed that he never verified the accuracy of the financial statements — the key documents in the case — that the Trump Organization submitted to banks and insurance companies. "I felt comfortable trusting my team" of accountants and lawyers, who advised him to sign the documents, he repeated Thursday on the stand in response to questions from Judge Arthur Engoron, who ruled a month ago that the financial statements were fraudulent. The trial is now focused on determining who participated in the make-up of the statements.
"I trusted [the firm] Mazars and our accounting team to brief me" on the valuation of Trump's assets in 2017, the eldest son told the judge Wednesday, who is hearing the case without a jury. "That's why we have accountants." "I don't remember ever being involved in that," he said Thursday. "But yes, I would also have relied on them working intimately with Mazars," he added, referring to the accounting firm hired by Trump. "Mazars was involved in every transaction, in every partnership [of the multiple that make up the Trump Organization], they would have been a key part in compiling the ledger and they would have been very aware of it."
Like his brother, Eric Trump reiterated that he was not aware of or involved in the appraisal of the properties and pointed the finger at Mazars' accountants. Unlike the firstborn, the Republican candidate's second son lost his composure at one point, when one of the prosecution's lawyers pressed him about his knowledge of financial statements from a decade ago. "We're an important organization, a massive real estate organization," Eric Trump said, raising his voice and recanting his alleged ignorance, given that he acknowledged that he may have known about the appraisals in 2013.
Donald Jr. and Eric took over the reins of the family empire in January 2017, when their father came to the White House. But it was the firstborn who took on more responsibility than his brother. At the insistence of the prosecutor's office, he reiterated his ignorance about who could have inflated the financial statements and placed the responsibility on Mazars. One of his accountants, Donald Bender, testified Wednesday that he once trusted the Trump Organization to provide accurate valuations of his properties and that he personally would not have signed the appraisals if he had known they were inflated. Under the terms of the contract with the Trump Organization, Mazars was not required to verify the appraisals, the accountant said.
This is one of six trials facing Trump, the front-runner in the race for the White House in 2024. It is the result of an investigation by the office of Attorney General James, a well-known Democrat whose affiliation has served the Republican to accuse her of a witch hunt for political reasons. However, the Trump Organization has already been the subject of strong condemnations for accounting and financial irregularities. In January, she was found guilty of 17 counts of tax fraud, conspiracy and falsification of accounts and ordered to pay a $1.6 million fine. At the origin of the case is the scheme of in-kind payments to senior executives of the group, for which Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer for decades, sacrificed himself in his day. The investigation lasted three years and ended, in addition to the sanction, with the sentencing in January of Trump's former right-hand man to five months in jail and five years of probation.
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