The most critical moment in the financial fraud trial of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will arrive this week with the testimony of his “right-hand man” — the person the defenceis seeking to blame for any crimes.
Rick Gates, who also served in a senior role in President Trump's campaign, has been a key cooperator for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team as part of their investigation into Russia election meddling and any possible collusion with Mr Trump's campaign team. Mr Gates agreed a plea deal earlier this year, admitting to two felony charges. However, when he testifies it will be the first time he will detail those crimes face-to-face with his former boss and mentor.
The trial, set to resume on Monday afternoon in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, is the first of Mr Mueller's prosecutions to reach a jury. But lawyers have made no mention of Mr Trump or possible campaign coordination with the Kremlin, the central question behind the special counsel's investigation.
Prosecutors allege that Mr Manafort used off-shore companies to stash millions of dollars from political consulting work in Ukraine, proceeds he omitted year-after-year from his income tax returns. Later, they say, when that income dwindled, Mr Manafort launched a different scheme, shoring up his struggling finances by using doctored documents to obtain millions more in bank loans. Mr Manafort denies all the charges against him.
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On Monday the defence team will cross-examine an accountant who testified that she helped Manafort to prepare fraudulent tax returns.
The jury heard testimony on Friday from Cynthia Laporta, who described how Mr Manafort and longtime Mr Gates allegedly doctored financial statements and backdated loans.
Mr Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. The charges largely predate his five months on the Trump campaign.
Since the trial started on Tuesday, Mr Manafort's lawyers have kept their cross-examinations brief and at times shied from addressing seemingly damaging testimony in detail.
But Ms Laporta's testimony raised the stakes for Manafort, legal experts said. Testifying under immunity, she was the first witness to admit she knew accounting manoeuvres Mr Manafort and Mr Gates allegedly requested of her were wrong and could be crimes.
Judge TS Ellis told Mr Manafort's lawyers on Friday they could ask about Ms Laporta's immunity agreement. “You're entitled to go into that in any detail you want to,” he said.
Ms Laporta was the 14th witness called by Mr Mueller's team. The charges against Mr Manafort do not address election collusion, although a second trial set for September in Washington could reveal new information on that issue.
Additional reporting by AP and Reuters