Arrived at New York court with his hands cuffed behind his back, the CFO of the Trump Organization came out free after pleading not guilty. Indicted the day before by a grand jury, Allen Weisselberg, 73, a loyal supporter of former President Donald Trump, is accused of tax fraud. As chief financial officer, he is accused, along with the company of the former American president, for having put in place since 2005 a system intended to evade the American tax department by granting undue advantages, off the books of account, to leaders.
Pending a new hearing on September 20, to prepare for his trial, he was released Thursday afternoon.
1.7 million dollars hidden from the tax authorities
According to the indictment released after the hearing, Mr. Weisselberg and this unlisted company “Systematically conducted” in order to undervalue the remuneration of the latter and other employees not mentioned, in order to pay taxes “Substantially inferior” to the sums actually due.
Mr. Weisselberg – who has worked for the Trumps since 1973 – is notably accused, between 2005 and 2021, of having deliberately withheld from the tax authorities some $ 1.7 million in benefits in kind.
These benefits include his apartment in Manhattan’s upscale Upper West Side, leasing two Mercedes for him and his wife, or cash for his vacation.
This discreet man, who was officially paid some $ 940,000 per year between 2011 and 2018, is also accused of having lied by claiming not to be a resident of New York City, to reduce his taxes. The most serious of the charges against him could earn him up to 15 years in prison, according to legal experts.
Trump spared, for now
Prosecuted as a legal person, the Trump Organization also pleaded not guilty, through its lawyers. After the hearing, one of the attorneys for the Trump Organization, Alan Futerfas, brushed off the whole case as “Politically motivated”.
The indictments made public Thursday are the first fruits of an investigation launched more than two years ago by Cyrus Vance, later joined by Letitia James. Vance notably fought for months to obtain the tax returns of the former New York magnate, the first American president since the 1970s not to have published them.
The ex-president has not been implicated at this stage, nor any member of his family. But “The investigation will continue, and we will follow the facts wherever they take us”Letitia James warned after the hearing.
Trump’s detractors make no secret of their hope that he will be personally challenged. Like his personal ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 and who has since collaborated with investigators against his former boss. “The target of this investigation is not Allen Weisselberg […] it’s Trump himself ”, he said Thursday on CNN.
Even if Trump himself is not targeted, the indictments should be a blow to his business, Beverly Moran, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, told AFP.
When a company is indicted, the banks that fund it are usually quick to ask it to repay its debts, she explained. The Trump Organization – which brings together golf clubs, luxury hotels and other real estate properties – being heavily in debt, this could “Put her in a difficult financial position”, according to her.
Donald Trump was, in 2016, the first billionaire to enter the White House. When he left for Washington, he refused to give up his business, as ethics experts recommended, simply handing over the reins to Allen Weisselberg and his two eldest sons, Donald Junior and Eric Trump.