Prosecutors focus on Manafort 'lies' as trial draws to a close

ALEXANDRIA, USA – Closing arguments wrapped up in the trial of Paul Manafort on Wednesday, August 15, with prosecutors accusing Donald Trump's former campaign chairman of weaving a web of lies to avoid paying taxes on tens of millions of dollars he earned advising Russian-backed politicians in Ukraine.

Defense attorneys sought, meanwhile, to cast doubt on the credibility of the government's star witness in the case, which stems from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"This case is littered with lies," assistant US attorney Greg Andres told the 6-man, 6-woman jury on day 12 of Manafort's trial for tax evasion and bank fraud.

"Mr Manafort lied and lied again" as he sought to conceal the payments he received between 2005 and 2014 from politicians in Ukraine, Andres said.

"Mr Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it," Andres told a packed federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia. "And he lied to get more money when he didn't."

Manafort, 69, a Republican political consultant and lobbyist, is charged with 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud.

He is not charged with any crimes related to his brief time as Trump's campaign chief, but the trial is seen as an important test for the Mueller probe, which the president has repeatedly denounced as a political "witch hunt."

Judge T.S. Ellis told the jury following closing arguments to return to the court at 9:30 am (1330 GMT) on Thursday, August 16, to begin deliberations.

Andres said Manafort, who could face decades in prison, filed false tax returns between 2010 and 2016 to hide his earnings in Ukraine from US tax authorities.

'He owned these accounts'

The money was deposited in 31 foreign bank accounts, most of which were in Cyprus, and Manafort repeatedly failed to report their existence to his bookkeeper, his accountants and the Internal Revenue Service, the prosecutor said.

"He owned these accounts, he controlled them, he moved the money at will," Andres said as Manafort, dressed in a blue suit, jotted down notes at the defense table.

Manafort also filed false statements to obtain millions of dollars in loans from banks when he was facing financial difficulties, he said.

The prosecution's key witness against Manafort was his long-time deputy, Rick Gates, who outlined for the jury how he helped his boss hide his earnings offshore.

Defense attorneys sought to paint Gates as a liar and a thief, pointing out that he had pleaded guilty to his own crimes in the hopes of receiving a lesser prison sentence.

"The government was so desperate to make a case against Mr Manafort that it made a deal with Rick Gates," defense attorney Kevin Downing said. "This was someone Paul trusted."

During his 3 days of testimony, Gates, 46, acknowledged stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and having an extramarital affair a decade ago.

Andres countered that the defense focus on Gates was a diversion. "They want to distract you," he said.

"We don't ask you to like him," the prosecutor added, appealing to the jury to compare Gates' testimony to that of the more than 20 other witnesses called against Manafort.

Hoping for a pardon?

Arguing for acquittal, Richard Westling, another defense lawyer, said the government had failed to prove Manafort's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Andres disagreed.

"The defense is asking you to ignore your common sense," he told the jury. "All the evidence shows Mr. Manafort is guilty."

Prosecutors provided evidence during the trial of Manafort's years of lavish spending – millions of dollars on luxury houses, cars, antique rugs and clothes, including an $18,500 python jacket.

But Andres said the case was "not about his wealth."

"Mr Manafort knew the law and he violated it anyway," he said.

Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor, said it was possible the jury could come back with a split verdict.

"That is convicting on some charges, acquitting on other charges and being unable to reach a verdict at all on yet other charges," said Frenkel, a partner at the law firm of Dickinson Wright.

"The greatest concern in a case of this profile and political interest is whether there is one or more juror on a mission, meaning a juror who for political or philosophical reasons has determined how he or she will vote, regardless of the evidence and the judge's instructions," he added.

While Gates and several others indicted by Mueller pleaded guilty, Manafort insisted on going to trial.

Manafort, who worked on the presidential campaigns of Republicans Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, was Trump's campaign chairman from May to August 2016.

He was forced to step down amid questions about his work for Ukraine's former pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych and legal experts say he may be holding out hopes of a pardon from Trump. – Rappler.com