Muslim Times(Web Desk) – A close associate and business partner of US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has testified at a trial that his former boss ordered him to conceal information about payments from Cyprus-based accounts that held millions of dollars in earnings from consulting work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
Rick Gates, the US government’s key witness in Manafort’s trial on tax and bank fraud charges, told a federal court jury in Virginia on Tuesday that Manafort had used offshore shell companies and bank accounts in Cyprus to funnel the money, concealing the accounts and the income from the Internal Revenue Service.
Gates said Manafort had directed him to report overseas income as loans to lower his taxable income, adding that there were hundreds of emails showing Manafort had approved payments out of the Cypriot accounts.
“In Cyprus, they were documented as loans. In reality, it was basically money moving between accounts,” Gates said during his second day of testimony in the financial fraud trial of his former boss.
“You created a loan agreement for a loan that didn’t exist?” prosecutor Greg Andres asked Gates. “Yes, we did,” he replied.
Gates himself admitted to creating fake invoices from luxury clothing stores and landscapers to make it look like Global Endeavor, a company in Cyprus that Manafort owned, was paying for the expenses instead of Manafort.
“Fair to say it was a fake invoice?” the prosecutor asked as Gates reviewed an invoice for $42,000 that gave the appearance of being sent from Alan Couture, a high-end New York City clothing store, to Global Endeavor.
“Yes,” replied Gates, the 46-year-old former Trump campaign adviser.
Gates said setting up offshore bank accounts was an arrangement requested by wealthy and powerful Ukrainian businessmen who bankrolled Manafort’s political consulting work in the country.
Gates also testified that he had stolen “several hundred thousand” dollars from Manafort over the years by filing false expense reports.
The Tuesday trial is considered the first courtroom test of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
Gates pleaded guilty in February as part of a deal with Mueller’s team. However, Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Court documents show that Manafort was interviewed by FBI agents twice when he worked as a consultant in Ukraine.
Manafort and Gates were among the first to be charged as part of Mueller’s ongoing investigation into whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 US election.
Mueller, a former FBI director, has been running a high-profile investigation into allegations that Trump won the 2016 US presidential election against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton only because Moscow had rigged the election in his favor.
US intelligence agencies claim Russia-linked hackers provided WikiLeaks with damaging information — in the form of thousands of hacked emails — about Clinton to skew the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump.
Trump has repeatedly denied allegations that his campaign colluded with Russians and has condemned the investigations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also denied the allegations.