The long-serving chief financial officer of Donald Trump’s company surrendered Thursday to New York authorities planning to charge him, possibly with tax-related offenses, in a major blow to the former president.
The indictment of Allen Weisselberg has been expected for days as part of an almost three-year investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into business dealings at the Trump Organization.
The Trump Organization itself is also expected to be charged when the criminal indictment is due to be unsealed in front of a judge later in the afternoon, according to sources quoted by several news media.
Although Trump himself is not expected to be charged at this stage, nor any members of his family, the charges would deal a major blow to the Republican ex-president who has suggested he could run for the White House again in 2024.
The 73-year-old Weisselberg, viewed as the gatekeeper of the Trump Organization’s secrets, is expected to be charged with evasion of taxes on fringe benefits, according to sources quoted by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
The district attorney’s office did not immediately confirm these reports.
But Weisselberg’s lawyers confirmed their client was being charged.
“Mr. Weisselberg intends to plead not guilty and he will fight these charges in court,” attorneys Mary Mulligan and Bryan Skarlatos told AFP.
Weisselberg, accompanied by his lawyer, arrived at the district attorney’s office around 6:20 am (1020 GMT), the Times said.
Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance and New York state Attorney General Letitia James have been investigating whether Weisselberg and other executives avoided paying taxes on perks from the Trump Organization.
The benefits included private school tuition, leased luxury cars and apartments, US media say.
Trump, 75, has dismissed the probe as a witch hunt.
In a statement Thursday, the Trump Organization said prosecutors were using Weisselberg as “a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former president.”
“The district attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other district attorney would ever think of bringing,” a spokesperson for the company said.
– Tax returns –
“This is not justice. This is politics,” they added in the statement carried by US media.
The Trump Organization is an unlisted family holding company that owns golf clubs, hotels and luxury properties.
Trump handed over the reins of the business to his two eldest sons and to Weisselberg when he went to the White House in early 2017.
New York prosecutors have been trying to get Weisselberg to cooperate with their broad investigations into the Trump Organization’s finances.
The indictment would increase the pressure on him to cooperate.
New York prosecutors are probing whether the company regularly overvalued or undervalued its assets, particularly several properties in New York state, to either get bank loans or reduce their taxes.
Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen has alleged that they did, allegations that could constitute possible tax evasion or insurance fraud.
The investigations also center on eight years of Trump’s tax returns, obtained by the prosecutors in February after a long legal battle that went to the Supreme Court.
Vance’s probe initially focused on hush payments made to two women who allege they had affairs with Trump — before the investigation was expanded. AFP