New charges cast shadow over Trump's political comeback

Donald Trump has been whipping up support this week as he resumed campaign-like rallies and continued to foreshadow another tilt at the White House in 2024.

But new charges brought against the chief financial officer of the Trump Organisation over a 15-year tax evasion scheme threatens to cast a shadow over the former president's business dealings.

The charges are not directly related to Trump himself, but the prospect of another insider turning on him and the potential impact on the family business are genuine.

Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, centre, exits after his arraignment hearing.
Allen Weisselberg, centre, has worked for Donald Trump for 48 years. Source: Reuters

The Trump Organisation and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg, were charged on Thursday (local time) with having schemed since 2005 to defraud federal, state and local tax authorities by awarding "off the books" benefits to company executives, enabling them to avoid paying taxes.

Weisselberg, who has worked for Trump for 48 years, was able to avoid paying taxes on more than US$1.7 million (A$2.3 million) of income from tax authorities, including rent for a Manhattan apartment, tuition and car lease payments, according to prosecutors.

The charges include tax fraud and falsifying business records.

They were announced one day after a grand jury indicted Trump's company and Weisselberg.

"This was a 15-year long tax fraud scheme involving off the books payments," prosecutor Carey Dunne said at the arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court.

"It was orchestrated by the most senior executives who were financially benefiting themselves and the company, by getting secret pay raises at the expense of state and federal taxpayers," he said.

Charges make life harder for under-pressure Trump businesses

While some legal commentators labelled the charges "underwhelming", the indictment could undermine the relationships of Trump's company with banks and business partners.

According to The Associated Press, the company is already reeling from cancelled deals following the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol and the impact of the pandemic on hotels and clubs.

It could also complicate Trump's political future.

Prosecutors will be hoping to get Weisselberg to testify against Trump – the company’s owner, sons Don Jr and Eric, who are executive vice-presidents, and his daughter, Ivanka.

Former US President Donald Trump speaks to his supporters during a 'Save America' Rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio, U.S., on Saturday, June 26.
Former US president Donald Trump speaks to his supporters during a 'Save America' Rally in Ohio on June 26. Source: Getty Images

In a statement, the Trump Organisation said prosecutors were using Weisselberg as "a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former president".

It also called Vance's case one that neither the Internal Revenue Service nor any other district attorney would ever bring.

"This is not justice; this is politics," the company said.

Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg (seated) appears for his arraignment hearing in New York.
Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg (seated) appears for his arraignment hearing in New York State Supreme Court on Thursday. Source: Getty Images

Trump is not expected to be charged this week, his lawyer, Ronald Fischetti, has said.

The former president has denied wrongdoing and called the probe a "witch hunt" by politically-motivated prosecutors.

In a statement on Monday, Trump called prosecutors biased and said his company's actions were "in no way a crime".

The Trump Organisation could face fines and other penalties if convicted.

with Reuters

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