An accountant for the one-time campaign chairman of US President Donald Trump has testified that she helped backdate documents and falsify financial records at the request of Paul Manafort and his business partner, to reduce his tax burden and help him qualify for loans.
Cynthia Laporta, who prepared Mr Manafort’s tax returns starting in 2014, testified under an immunity agreement with the government to avoid being prosecuted, as Mr Manafort was charged with bank fraud and tax fraud.
Ms Laporta explained she went along with accounting manoeuvres suggested by Mr Manafort and his longtime business associate Rick Gates because she did not want to create problems for her firm or lose a top client.
“I very much regret it,” she said, as prosecutors build their case that Manafort hid tens of millions of dollars he earned working for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine to evade taxes.
Ms Laporta, the 14th witness to testify for the prosecution, was the most damaging yet for Mr Manafort, in the first trial arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.
Mr Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, charges that largely pre-date the five months Mr Manafort worked for Mr Trump.
Both Ms Laporta and fellow accountant Philip Ayliff, her predecessor who handled Mr Manafort’s tax filings at the firm KWC, testified that they had no knowledge that Mr Manafort controlled foreign bank accounts.
The government has provided trial evidence of Mr Manafort controlling a web of overseas accounts in Cyprus and elsewhere. Such accounts must be reported to tax authorities if they contain $US10,000 ($13,500) or more.
Ms Laporta also detailed multiple examples in which Mr Manafort and Mr Gates sought to doctor financial records. One instance involved classifying revenue from a Cyprus-based company as a loan to lower his taxable income.
A conviction would give momentum to Mr Mueller’s probe, in which 32 people and three companies have been indicted or pleaded guilty.
Mr Trump, angered by any questions about the legitimacy of his election win, has called Mr Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt” and wants it to be shut down.
The prosecution is digging into how Mr Manafort accounted for the more than $US60 million ($81 million) he made in Ukraine and his efforts to allegedly mislead banks to get loans once the income from Ukraine dropped off precipitously in 2014.
Mr Manafort’s lawyers have signalled they will seek to blame Mr Gates, who was Mr Trump’s deputy campaign chairman in 2016.
Mr Gates pleaded guilty in February and is expected to testify against Manafort, possibly next week.