Trump faces New York state criminal investigation, increasing indictment threat

Investigators suspect the Trump Organisation may have inflated and reduced the value of assets

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 16, 2017 US President-elect Donald Trump boards the elevator after escorting Martin Luther King III to the lobby after meetings at Trump Tower in New York City.  The Trump Organization is being investigated in a "criminal capacity" as New York prosecutors advance their probe into former president Donald Trump's business dealings, the state attorney general announced Tuesday.
"We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature," a spokesman for Attorney General Letitia James' office said. "We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA."
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Former US president Donald Trump is more likely to face criminal charges after New York state’s prosecutor said it was working with Manhattan investigators to investigate his business dealings.

The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James said on Tuesday it was investigating the Trump Organisation in a “criminal capacity”.

It had previously said its probe into possible tax, insurance and bank fraud was through civil proceedings, which do not carry the threat of a criminal charge or conviction.

Mr Trump denies wrongdoing and has described the parallel criminal investigation by Manhattan’s district attorney as “a continuation of the greatest political witch hunt in the history of our country”.

The prosecutors in both Manhattan and New York state are Democrats.

“We have informed the Trump Organisation that our investigation into the organisation is no longer purely civil in nature,” said Fabien Levy, a spokesman for Ms James.

“We are now actively investigating the Trump Organisation in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan [district attorney].”

The Trump Organisation is the holding company for hundreds of entities, including hotels to golf courses.

It is not listed on the stock exchange and is therefore not required to report its accounts.

Investigators suspect the organisation may have artificially inflated and reduced the value of assets, particularly several properties in New York state, to either receive bank loans or reduce taxes.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s investigation initially focused on hush payments made to two women who allege they had affairs with Mr Trump, but has expanded into allegations of tax evasion, and insurance and bank fraud.

Mr Vance, who leaves his post at the end of December, acquired eight years of Mr Trump’s tax returns in February after a years-long legal battle that went to the Supreme Court.

Two state assistant attorneys general will join the Manhattan district attorney's efforts, according to sources familiar with the matter cited in The New York Times.

Bennett Gershman, Professor of Criminal Law at Pace University and a former Manhattan deputy attorney, said Ms James’s announcement amounts to a “show of strength” by the two prosecutors.

“They are showing they mean business,” he told AFP. “They are moving forward aggressively. They are not backing off.

“Looking at this announcement I’d say we are much closer to charges being brought,” Prof Gershman said.

Observers suspect the statement was also intended to increase pressure on key witnesses, namely Mr Trump’s long-serving chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, with whom prosecutors hope to collaborate.

Investigators recently took possession of financial documents belonging to his son to put pressure on him.

(FILES) In this file photo former US President Donald Trump gestures after speaking during election night in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, early on November 4, 2020.  Donald Trump and his family faced the increasing likelihood of criminal charges on May 19, 2021 after New York state's prosecutor said it was working with Manhattan investigators in its probe into the former president's business dealings. The office of New York state Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday it was investigating the Trump Organization in a "criminal capacity."
Mr Trump denies any wrongdoing and has called the investigation a 'witchhunt'. AFP

Mr Trump, who is at his summer residence in New Jersey, did not immediately react to Ms James’s announcement.

In April, the Trump Organisation bolstered its legal team, hiring veteran criminal defence attorney Ronald Fischetti in a sign it was gearing up to defend its case.

Since leaving the White House in January after his defeat to Joe Biden, the former businessman and reality TV star retains a strong hold on many Republican voters – despite losing his powerful social media megaphones of Twitter and Facebook.

Mr Trump, the only leader in US history to be impeached twice, continues to make false claims that Mr Biden won because of voter fraud.

Yet his messaging appears to still resonate, with a CBS News poll released last weekend finding that 67 per cent of Republican voters believe Mr Biden was not elected legitimately.

No former US president has been indicted, but Mr Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen was rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect his former boss might become the first.

“Welcome to the #TrumpProsecutionParty!” tweeted Mr Cohen. He was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion and flouting electoral finance laws and is collaborating with investigators against Mr Trump.