New York attorney general sues Donald Trump for fraud

Lawsuit accuses former US president, who has denied wrongdoing, of ‘numerous acts of fraud and misrepresentation’.

Donald Trump
The New York state lawsuit marks one of the biggest legal blows for former US President Donald Trump since he left office in early 2021 [File: Gaelen Morse/Reuters]

The attorney general for the US state of New York has filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump, accusing the former United States president of unlawfully inflating his net worth to obtain millions of dollars in loans and other benefits.

The lawsuit, filed in a New York state court in Manhattan on Wednesday, accused the Trump Organization of engaging in “numerous acts of fraud and misrepresentation” in preparing Trump’s annual statements of financial condition from 2011 to 2021.

It also named the former president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, as well as his daughter Ivanka Trump, as defendants.

With the help of his children, “Trump variously unlawfully inflated and deflated his net worth by billions to obtain and satisfy loans, get insurance benefits, and pay lower taxes,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said on Twitter.

“In short, he lied to gain massive financial benefits for himself.”

James also said she was referring allegations of criminal wrongdoing to federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The Republican former president has denied any wrongdoing and described the investigation into his business practices as a politically motivated witch-hunt by James, a Democrat. The Trump Organization has called the allegations “baseless”.

But Wednesday’s lawsuit marked one of the biggest legal blows for Trump since he left office in January of last year, and came after a lengthy and often contentious legal battle by the New York attorney general.

James’s office has spent more than three years investigating fraudulent or misleading valuations for Trump Organization properties on annual financial statements that were given to potential business partners, banks or tax officials.

The goal, the attorney general’s office has said, was to burnish Trump’s billionaire image and the value of his properties when doing so gave him an advantage, while playing down the value of assets at other times for tax purposes.

James also has accused Trump, his company and some family members of using delay tactics to ignore subpoenas and avoid testifying.

Trump on August 10 declined to answer questions in a lengthy, closed-door deposition at the office of the attorney general, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination more than 400 times.

New York Attorney General Letitia James delivers remarks at the New York Democratic party 2022 State Nominating Convention in Manhattan.
‘Former presidents must be held to the same standards as everyday Americans,’ says New York Attorney General Letitia James [File: Mike Segar/Reuters]

Donald Trump Jr and Ivanka Trump agreed to sit for depositions only after court decisions required it, while Eric Trump invoked the right against self-incrimination more than 500 times in a 2020 deposition.

On Wednesday, a lawyer for the former president rejected the New York state lawsuit as “neither focused on the facts nor the law — rather, it is solely focused on advancing the Attorney General’s political agenda”.

“It is abundantly clear that the Attorney General’s Office has exceeded its statutory authority by prying into transactions where absolutely no wrongdoing has taken place,” Alina Habba said.

“We are confident that our judicial system will not stand for this unchecked abuse of authority, and we look forward to defending our client against each and every one of the Attorney General’s meritless claims.”

In a post on his social media network, Trump also slammed the lawsuit as a “witch hunt” and called James “a racist” and “a fraud” — though he did not directly address the allegations.

But the attorney general has defended the legal filing, saying on Twitter, “There aren’t two sets of laws for people in this nation: former presidents must be held to the same standards as everyday Americans.”

Trump, who is expected to seek re-election in 2024, also faces an continuing legal battle over documents seized from his estate in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, last month as part of a US Department of Justice investigation into his alleged mishandling of classified materials.

Meanwhile, the state of Georgia has launched a criminal probe over the former president’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election that he lost to Joe Biden, and a Congressional panel is investigating his role in the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies