World

Donald Trump back at New York civil fraud trial as testimony nears end

Donald Trump attended the civil fraud trial in New York (David Dee Delgado/pool photo via AP)
Donald Trump attended the civil fraud trial in New York (David Dee Delgado/pool photo via AP) Donald Trump attended the civil fraud trial in New York (David Dee Delgado/pool photo via AP)

Former US president Donald Trump has returned to his civil business fraud trial as a spectator, after a month of criticising the proceedings from afar.

With testimony winding down after more than two months, the Republican 2024 presidential front-runner showed up to watch an accounting professor testify about financial topics important to the case.

Mr Trump himself is scheduled to take the stand on Monday, for a second time.

Even while campaigning to reclaim the presidency and fighting four criminal cases, Mr Trump is devoting a lot of attention to the New York lawsuit.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump Mr Trump is devoting a lot of attention to the New York lawsuit (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, pool/AP)

He has been a frustrated onlooker, a confrontational witness and a heated commentator outside the courtroom door.

“This is a witch hunt, and it’s a very corrupt trial,” Mr Trump said on his way into court on Thursday.

The case is putting his net worth on trial, scrutinising the real estate empire that first built his reputation, and threatening to block him from doing business in his native state.

New York attorney general Letitia James’ suit accuses Mr Trump, his company and some executives of misleading banks and insurers by giving them financial statements full of inflated values for such signature assets as his Trump Tower penthouse and Mar-a-Lago, the Florida club where he now lives.

The statements were provided to help secure deals — including loans at attractive interest rates available to hyper-wealthy people — and some loans required updated statements each year.

Mr Trump denies any wrongdoing, and he says that the statements’ numbers actually fell short of his wealth.

Donald Trump speaks after arriving at the court
Donald Trump speaks after arriving at the court Donald Trump speaks after arriving at the court (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP)

He also has downplayed the documents’ importance in getting deals, saying it was clear that lenders and others should do their own analyses. And he claims the case is a partisan abuse of power by Ms James and Judge Arthur Engoron, both Democrats.

Thursday’s witness, New York University accounting professor Eli Bartov, appeared for Mr Trump’s defence.

In a report prepared before his testimony, Mr Bartov disputed the attorney general’s allegations that Mr Trump’s financial statements flouted basic accounting rules.

The professor added that in the accounting and financial world, recipients see such statements as just a starting point for doing their own analyses.

Mr Trump has regularly complained about the case on his Truth Social platform.

Going to court in person affords him a microphone — in fact, many of them, on the news cameras positioned in the hallway. He often stops on his way into and out of the proceedings, which cameras cannot record.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump Donald Trump described proceedings as ‘a witch hunt’ (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP)

His out-of-court remarks got him fined 10,000 US dollars on October 26, when Judge Engoron decided Mr Trump had violated a gag order that prohibits participants in the trial from commenting publicly on court staffers. Mr Trump’s lawyers are appealing against the gag order.

Ms James has not let Mr Trump go unanswered, often — but not on Thursday — showing up at court herself when he is there and making her own comments on social media and the courthouse steps.

Lawyers in the case have been told not to make press statements in the hallway, but the former president has been allowed to do so.

While the non-jury trial is airing claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records, Judge Engoron ruled beforehand that Mr Trump and other defendants engaged in fraud. He ordered that a receiver take control of some of Mr Trump’s properties, but an appeals court has held off on that order for now.

At trial, Ms James is seeking more than 300 million dollars in penalties and a prohibition on Mr Trump and other defendants doing business in New York.

It is not clear exactly when testimony will wrap up, but it is expected before Christmas. Closing arguments are scheduled in January, and Judge Engoron is aiming for a decision by the end of that month.