Donald Trump, accused of with two of his sons for having overestimated colossally for years their real estate assets, sat gloomily in New York court on Monday for a civil trial that the favorite of the Republicans in the 2024 presidential election qualified of "simulacrum."
Navy blue suit, electric blue tie, closed face, slightly hunched body and defiant air, the billionaire is flanked by two of his lawyers, Chris Kise and Alina Habba, seated opposite New York judge Arthur Engoron who will presiding over the proceedings for weeks.
Just before entering the room, he accused New York State Attorney General Letitia James, the plaintiff in the case, and who demands $250 million from him, for being “racist” and being a “horror show”.
He described this civil trial – one of the first in a long series in 2024 – as a “scam” and a “sham”.
Outside, two handfuls of supporters and opponents face each other, separated by the police.
This civil trial, which began with the preliminary statements, could threaten the billionaire's economic empire, in particular his family group Trump Organization.
The chief magistrate of the State of New York, Ms. James, an African-American elected official of the Democratic Party and who is the equivalent of local Minister of Justice, assured in front of the Manhattan courthouse that “justice would prevail ” and accused the real estate mogul of “repeated fraud” and “cheating” for years.
– No prison –
Donald Trump, 77, cannot be sentenced to prison in this case, but the trial will offer a foretaste of the legal deadlines likely to disrupt his campaign for the Republican nomination.
Supporters and opponents of Donald Trump, in front of the “Trump Tower” in New York, August 9, 2022 © AFP – Ed JONES
Criminally charged in four different cases, which have so far not damaged his popularity with the Republican base, Donald Trump must appear from March 4 before a federal court in Washington. He is accused of trying to reverse the result of the 2020 presidential election won by Joe Biden.
The trial which has just begun suddenly took on considerable importance last week when Judge Engoron, who presided over it, ruled in an interim order that “repeated fraud” had been established and that the New State Attorney General's Office York had already demonstrated that Donald Trump and his group's staff had “overvalued” their assets between 812 million and 2.2 billion dollars from 2014 to 2021.
– ” Major blow” –
As a result, this judge ordered the withdrawal of business licenses for the State of New York from Donald Trump and two of his children, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr, vice presidents executives of the Trump Organization, as well as the confiscation of the companies targeted by the complaint, so that they are entrusted to liquidators.
If implemented, these sanctions would deal “a major blow to Donald Trump's ability to do business in New York State,” said Will Thomas, professor of business law at the University of Michigan.
Donald Trump, who made his fortune in real estate and casinos in the 1980s, would then lose control of several of his group's flagships, such as the Trump Tower on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
Donald Trump (center), Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr (left) in Marietta, United States, January 4, 2021 © AFP – MANDEL NGAN
These properties are at the heart of prosecutor Letitia James' accusations: the surface area of the businessman's triplex in the Trump Tower would have been tripled and the building at 40 Wall Street overvalued by $200 to $300 million in declarations.
The prosecutor is also demanding recognition of other violations of financial laws and a fine of $250 million.
– Dozens of witnesses –
< p>Donald Trump has always brushed aside the accusations and argued that the lending banks had been reimbursed, “totally, with interest, without defaults and without victims”. The defense also intends to fight head to head on asset valuations.
Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg alongside his lawyer on January 10, 2023 in New York © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA – Michael M. Santiago
The trial promises to be technical and dozens of witnesses are expected, including three of the Trump children, Eric, Donald Jr and Ivanka, initially targeted by the complaint but ultimately not prosecuted, or the former financial director of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, who served time in prison after pleading guilty to tax fraud in another case targeting the group.
Among the witnesses also included Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who became one of his enemies jurors.
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