'Manafort and his lies’ at heart of case, prosecution argues

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Paul Manafort lied to keep himself flush with cash and later to maintain his luxurious lifestyle when his income dropped off, prosecutors told jurors Wednesday in closing arguments at the former Trump campaign chairman’s financial fraud trial.

The government’s case boils down to “Mr. Manafort and his lies,” prosecutor Greg Andres said.

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it is littered with lies,” Andres said as he made his final argument that the jury should find President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman guilty of 18 felony counts.

Attorneys for Manafort, who is accused of tax evasion and bank fraud, spoke next, arguing against his guilt by saying he left the particulars of his finances to other people.

Manafort’s trial is the first to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but it does not relate to Russian election interference or possible coordination with the Trump campaign — the main topics of Mueller’s probe.

Attorney Richard Westling told jurors that the fact that Manafort employed a team of accountants, bookkeepers and tax preparers shows he wasn’t trying to hide anything. The lawyer appeared to be trying to blunt the effect of testimony from some of the people who handled Manafort’s finances, including his bookkeeper, who said he concealed offshore bank accounts and lied to them.

Westling said the evidence against Manafort has been cherry-picked by Mueller’s team and doesn’t show jurors the full picture.

“They’ve done a good job of selectively pulling the information today, and it is a selection,” he said of the prosecution. None of the banks involved reported Manafort’s activities as suspicious, he said.

During the prosecution’s arguments, jurors took notes as Manafort primarily directed his gaze at a computer screen where documents were shown. The screen showed emails written by Manafort that contained some of the most damning evidence that he was aware of the fraud and not simply a victim of underlings who managed his financial affairs.

Andres highlighted one email in which he said Manafort sent an inflated statement of his income to bank officers reviewing a loan application. He highlighted another in which Manafort acknowledged his control of one of more than 30 holding companies in Cyprus that prosecutors say he used to funnel more than $60 million he earned advising politicians in Ukraine.

Prosecutors say Manafort falsely declared that money to be loans rather than income to keep from paying taxes on it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, a loan is not income, and income is not a loan. You do not need to be a tax expert to understand this,” Andres said.

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