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New York says Trump should be found liable for fraud, even before trial

Attorney-General Letitia James says inflating values of more than a dozen assets by hundreds of millions of dollars established the defendants' liability for fraud under the state's Executive Law.

3 minute read
Former US president Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Former US president Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

New York's attorney-general on Wednesday asked a state judge to declare, even before the start of a trial, that Donald Trump committed fraud by submitting false statements to bankers and insurers and overstating his net worth by up to US$2.23 billion (RM10.35 billion).

In filings with a state court in Manhattan, Attorney-General Letitia James said evidence in her civil case showed "repeated and persistent fraudulent use" by Trump and his family business of false and misleading financial statements from 2011 to 2021.

James said inflating values of more than a dozen assets by hundreds of millions of dollars established the defendants' liability for fraud under the state's Executive Law.

"The cumulative effect of these numerous deceptive schemes to inflate Trump's assets, and hence his net worth, is staggering," and is "just the tip of a much larger iceberg of deception (the state) is prepared to expose at trial," James said.

Less than an hour after James' filing, lawyers for Trump and the other defendants filed their own papers seeking to end what they called James' "crusade against president Trump" and dismiss the entire case.

Citing a recent appellate court decision, they said that many of the transactions James challenged took place too long ago to be reviewed in court, and said the attorney-general offered no proof that anyone was harmed by the remainder.

"What she seeks to do here [is] become the post hoc arbiter of the marketplace by interjecting her own judgment into strictly private, profitable transactions," the defendants' lawyers said. "The record evidence now undermines fully her purported claims."

James filed her lawsuit last September, accusing Trump of lying about property values, including for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and Trump Tower penthouse apartment in Manhattan, and his own net worth.

She said Trump did this to fraudulently obtain better terms on loans and insurance, and that his fraud hurt honest participants in banking, insurance and real estate markets.

The attorney-general is seeking at least US$250 million from Trump, his adult sons Donald Jr and Eric, the Trump Organization and others, and to stop the Trumps from running businesses in New York.

A trial before state Supreme Court justice Arthur Engoron is scheduled for Oct 2.

The case is separate from four criminal indictments that Trump, 77, faces as he seeks a second White House term, including two for attempting to reverse his 2020 election loss.

Trump, the Republican front runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases, calling them part of a Democratic witch-hunt against him. James is a Democrat.

In her filing, James said correcting Trump's suspect valuations would have reduced his net worth by 17% to 39% each year between 2011 and 2021.

The filing said Trump's reported net worth peaked at US$6.1 billion in both 2018 and 2019, when he was US president, but would have been no more than US$4.2 billion had he arranged for "full blown professional appraisals" of his properties.

James said Trump should have valued his penthouse triplex in 2016 at US$119.9 million instead of US$327 million, and valued Mar-a-Lago in 2018 at US$25.4 million, based on its restricted use as a social club, instead of US$739.5 million.

The New York civil case is New York v Trump et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 452564/2022.

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