A New York judge on Monday held former US president Donald Trump in contempt of court for not producing documents subpoenaed in the state attorney general's civil probe of his business practices, and ordered him to be fined $10,000 per day until he complies.
Mr Trump lost a bid to quash a subpoena from State Attorney General Letitia James, then failed to produce all the documents by a court-ordered March 3 deadline, later extended to March 31 at his lawyers' request.
Justice Arthur Engoron ruled that a contempt finding was appropriate because of what the judge called “repeated failures” to hand over materials and that it was not clear Mr Trump had conducted a complete search for responsive documents.
“Mr Trump … I know you take your business seriously and I take mine seriously. I hereby hold you in civil contempt,” the judge said, speaking to Mr Trump although he was not in the courtroom.
Should Mr Trump fail to pay the fine, he could be jailed under a New York state provision allowing judges to imprison people who do not comply with contempt orders, said Sarah Krissoff, a partner at law firm Day Pitney.
She said, however, that such a scenario was unlikely and the judge could opt for other remedies.
Ms James is investigating whether the Trump Organisation, the former president's New York City-based family company, misstated the values of its real estate properties to obtain favourable loans and tax deductions.
She has said her investigation had found “significant evidence” suggesting that for more than a decade, the company's financial statements “relied on misleading asset valuations and other misrepresentations to secure economic benefits".
The attorney general has questioned how the Trump Organisation valued the company's brand as well as properties including golf clubs in New York and Scotland and Mr Trump's own penthouse apartment in Midtown Manhattan's Trump Tower.
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Mr Trump and the company, said at the hearing that Ms James's investigation was a “fishing expedition” and that the Trump Organisation was “right on schedule” with its production of documents.
“This is a political crusade,” Ms Habba said. “The attorney general's investigation has seemingly become aimless.”
In arguing for the $10,000 daily fine during the hearing, Andrew Amer, special litigation counsel with the attorney general's office, said the fine was meant to coerce Mr Trump into complying with the documents, not to punish him.
Mr Trump, a Republican, denies wrongdoing and has said the investigation is politically motivated. Ms James is a Democrat.