Trump appears in court for New York civil fraud trial

Judge's ruling could threaten Trump Tower and former president's real estate empire

Donald Trump returns to court in New York to fight fraud allegations

Donald Trump returns to court in New York to fight fraud allegations
Powered by automated translation

Former US president Donald Trump, his eldest sons and his company have been accused of “lying year after year after year” by New York prosecutors in a case that could threaten his business empire.

After sitting through hours of testimony, an irate Mr Trump emerged from the courtroom and claimed –without evidence – that the judge overseeing the case is a political operative.

"It's a disgrace … and we are going to be here for months with a judge that already made up his mind. It's ridiculous," he said.

Mr Trump also questioned Judge Arthur Engoron's valuation of Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

"A judge ruled that a building, a property, is worth $18 million when in fact it's worth over a billion, probably a billion and a half. It may be worth anything," he said.

Mr Trump did not name the property, but Mr Endogon's unsealed ruling last week shows that the Palm Beach County accessor in Florida appraised Mar-a-Lago between $18 million and $27.6 million from 2011-2021.

Mar-a-Lago is one of the properties in question in Mr Trump's civil trial. He and his company have been accused by New York Attorney General Letitia James of lying to banks by inflating his property assets and worth.

Mr Trump's valuation for the property fell between $426 million and $612 million in that time, an overvaluation of "at least 2,300 per cent", Mr Engoron wrote.

Mr Trump's valuation was based on the perception that it could be redeveloped for residential use.

His lawyer Alina Habba said the properties in question are “Mona Lisa properties” that can fetch exorbitant prices.

“That is not fraud. That is real estate,” Ms Habba said.

Before he was seated at the defence table, Mr Trump called the investigation into him a “continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time”. He also lashed out against Ms James and the judge overseeing the case.

“It's a sham”, he told reporters.

He called the trial an attempt at election interference – something that he has been accused of in two separate federal indictments.

Mr Trump said his financial statements “are phenomenal”, although Mr Engoron's ruling was a major victory for prosecutors.

In his 35-page ruling, he said Mr Trump's defence relied on “bogus arguments” that lived in a “fantasy world, not the real world”.

The ruling could have serious implications for Mr Trump if upheld on appeal. The decision would move some of his companies into receivership.

The former president could also be forced to hand over Trump Tower and other prized properties.

Ms James's office accused Mr Trump of exaggerating his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion.

She is seeking $250 million in penalties and also wants him and his organisation to be banned from conducting business in New York.

Ms James told reporters before entering the courtroom that no one is above the law, a line she has often made when discussing the former president.

One of the claims said that the Trump Tower penthouse apartment in Manhattan was listed as being worth $327 million, three times its actual value and an amount that no New York apartment has ever fetched

The judge must also decide on the six remaining claims in Ms James's lawsuit that rest on issues of fraud and conspiracy, among others.

Dozens of witnesses – including Mr Trump – are expected to take the stand. Former Trump Organisation financial director Allen Weisselberg and Mr Trump's children are also expected to provide testimony.

The trial could last until December.

It is one of several legal challenges complicating Mr Trump's bid to return to the presidency.

He has been indicted four times this year and faces allegations of falsifying business records, retaining classified documents and scheming to overturn his 2020 electoral defeat.

Updated: October 02, 2023, 6:52 PM