Trump's ex-campaign chief Manafort guilty of fraud

Alexandria (United States) (AFP) –


Donald Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort was found guilty of fraud Tuesday, in the first trial resulting from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

While the jury was unable to reach a verdict on 10 counts, prompting the judge to declare a partial mistrial, Manafort was found guilty on the eight remaining charges.

These included five counts of making false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one of failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts.

Each of the bank fraud counts carries a significant maximum sentence and the 69-year-old could theoretically live out the remainder of his years in prison -- though a legal expert AFP contacted predicted it would in reality it would run to under a decade.

Addressing the subject of the remaining charges, Judge TS Ellis told jurors : "I have declared a mistrial as to those counts."

Manafort's lawyer Kevin Downing said his client was "evaluating all options" and thanked the judge for a "fair trial."

The case against Manafort stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference and possible collusion between the Trump campaign team and Moscow, and is viewed as an important test for the probe.

Reacting to the verdict as he arrived in West Virginia for a rally of supporters, Trump described Manafort as a "good man," said he was "very sad" at the trial outcome -- and once more denounced the Mueller investigation as a "witch hunt."

Trump had previously suggested Manafort, who was briefly his campaign manager, was being treated worse than American gangster Al Capone.

He has refused to rule out a pardon. Observers have speculated that the prospect of a pardon may have been why Manafort chose a trial as opposed to a plea deal like his former aide Rick Gates.

The case went to the jury on Thursday after 12 days of gripping testimony about hidden bank accounts, betrayal and lavish spending by Manafort on luxury homes, cars, antique rugs and clothes.

Prosecutors outlined schemes allegedly used by Manafort to avoid paying US taxes on the millions of dollars he earned in Ukraine and then deposited in bank accounts in Cyprus.

The president spent much of Tuesday cooped up at the White House, as two high profile legal cases with profound implications for his presidency played out on US television screens.

Barely minutes after the Manafort verdict was announced, Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty in a Manhattan court to eight counts including fraud and campaign finance violations.

Questioned by a federal judge, Cohen indicated he had paid sums of $130,000 and $150,000 each to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, at his boss's request in order to buy their silence "with the purpose of influencing the election."