New York finance authorities are investigating claims that Donald Trump helped his parents avoid millions of dollars in taxes after the New York Times accused the property mogul of “dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud”.
The newspaper’s investigations claimed Mr Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413m from his father’s real estate business.
The president said the newspaper was motivated by bitterness over the 2016 election result and dismissed its story not so much as fake news but as old news.
“The Failing New York Times did something I have never seen done before,” he wrote on Twitter. “They used the concept of “time value of money” in doing a very old, boring and often told hit piece on me. Added up, this means that 97% of their stories on me are bad. Never recovered from bad election call!”
As well as raising questions about whether the arrangements were legal, the report threatens the president’s claims to being a self-made man, who built his own empire with nothing more than a “very small loan” from his father.
Instead, the trove of tax returns and financial records obtained by the newspaper suggests that the money started flowing even when he was a toddler.
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“By age three, Mr Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father's empire,” it states. “He was a millionaire by age eight.”
In all, the president’s parents Fred and Mary Trump gave more than $1bn to their children. According to the New York Times, they paid $52.2m of tax – or about five per cent – compared to the $550m expected from the 55 per cent tax on gifts and inheritance at the time.
The paper alleges Mr Trump helped his father avoid tax by undervaluing property assets and - with his siblings - setting up a “sham corporation” to hide gifts.
Mr Trump’s lawyers said their client had “virtually no involvement” in these matters.
“The affairs were handled by other Trump family members who were not experts themselves and therefore relied entirely upon the aforementioned licensed professionals to ensure full compliance with the law,” said Charles Harder.
Mr Trump’s brother Robert also said all appropriate taxes were paid.
Many of the allegations are long past any criminal statute of limitations, although there is no limit on civil fines for tax fraud.
Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, said on Twitter: “I’ve directed NYC's Department of Finance to immediately investigate tax and housing violations and to work with NY State to find out if appropriate taxes were paid.”
James Gazzale, of the New York Department of Taxation and Finance, said: “The Tax Department is reviewing the allegations in the article and is vigorously pursuing all appropriate avenues of investigation.”
Mr Trump has spent much of his career protecting the secrecy of his real estate businesses, making it difficult to examine the stories about how he made his money.
His rise to the presidency has brought fresh scrutiny not just of how he amassed his fortune in the notoriously murky world of New York real estate, with its mafia connections and union muscle, but of his own claims about his wealth.
On Wednesday it emerged that he had slipped 11 places on the Forbes rich list during the past year, the effect of his polarising image, a less favourable real estate market and that additional examination by journalists – according to financial analysis that revealed his estimated fortune plunged from 4.5 billion in 2015 to $3.1 billion in 2017. That makes him the 259th richest person in the US.
It all adds to the pressure on a president who is also under investigation for his 2016 campaign’s alleged ties to Russia as the country gears up for important midterm elections next month.
At the same time, it was claimed that the president personally directed an effort earlier this year to stop Stormy Daniels, the adult film star, from going public with details of an alleged affair with Mr Trump.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr Trump told Michael Cohen, his then lawyer, to seek a restraining order.
The president reportedly told his fixer to co-ordinate the legal response with his son Eric, who then passed the matter on to a Trump Organisation staff attorney.
It is the first time Mr Trump and his son have been implicated directly in the strategy to silence Ms Daniels – who had signed a non-disclosure agreement – and suggests the president retained ties to his company into this year, contradicting White House claims.