Frances Ball 17 Oct 2019 11:56am

Inconsistencies in Trump books could indicate financial fraud

ProPublica, a US-based investigative journalism outlet, has accused Donald Trump of inconsistencies in tax returns that amount to “versions of fraud”

Records detailing two Manhattan properties appear to show that the US president held two sets of books to either emphasise the value of his real estate empire to lenders, or lack of it to the tax authorities.

According to ProPublica, Trump told a lender that one building brought in twice as much rent as the figure he reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the same year – 2017.

Although it pointed out that there can be legitimate reasons for a slight discrepancy between tax and loan documents, ProPublica cited experts who said there was "no reasonable justification" for a gap of that size.

Occupancy reports also showed a gap of at least 10% between those shown to the IRS and to lenders – the latter shown a rapid rise in occupancy.

False filings are subject to civil and criminal penalties in New York City. Two former members of Trump’s inner circle, lawyers Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, are currently in prison for falsifying tax and bank records.

Cohen has accused the president of manipulating numbers, testifying to Congress to that effect.

According to Cohen, Trump once inflated his wealth by $4bn (£3.1bn) in an ill-fated bid to buy the American football team, the Buffalo Bills. The increase was accounted for, Cohen said, by Trump’s "brand value".

"It was my experience that Mr Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes", Cohen told Congress in February, "and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes".

There are multiple congressional subpoenas for Trump’s tax returns, which have amounted to a federal court-level legal battle over whether the constitution implies presidential immunity.

Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed the Trump legal team’s case on the grounds that "the court cannot square a vision of presidential immunity that would place the president above the law".

ProPublica got hold of the Trump property documents through New York’s Freedom of Information Law. Trump had appealed his tax bill every year for nine years in a row, which meant that those tax documents were public.

Loan records became public when Ladder Capital, Trump’s lender, sold the debt on his properties as part of mortgage-backed securities. That enabled ProPublica to compare the two sets of documents.

Ladder Capital provided a solution for Trump’s company, which had had difficulty finding credit because of a history of defaults and bankruptcy. Its executive director, Jack Weisselberg, is the son of the Trump Organisation’s CFO, Allen Weisselberg.

An American legal expert, Renato Mariotti, commented that should the case be brought to court, prosecutors would have to prove that there is no justifiable explanation for a discrepancy between the two sets of records.

They would also need to prove that the defendant had "the intent to defraud", Mariotti pointed out.