Trump investigation is now criminal, New York prosecutor says

19 May 2021, 06:11 | Updated: 19 May 2021, 12:33

The Trump Organisation is now facing a criminal investigation by the NY attorney general's office
The Trump Organisation is now facing a criminal investigation by the NY attorney general's office. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Donald Trump's business empire is now facing a criminal investigation by the New York attorney general's office after it expanded what was previously a civil probe.

A spokesman for the state's lead prosecutor Letitia James said they had informed the Trump Organisation that the probe "is no longer purely civil in nature".

Fabien Levy added: "We are now actively investigating the Trump Organisation in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan district attorney (DA)."

The DA has been conducting a criminal investigation into the former US president and his company for two years, while Ms James has been scrutinising his financial affairs since before he took office.

No explanation was given by the attorney general's office as to what prompted the change to a criminal investigation or why she chose to announce it publicly.

The Trumps have denied any wrongdoing and have said it is politically motivated as both the DA, Cyrus Vance Jr, and Ms James are Democrats.

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However, the announcement of a widening investigation does not necessarily mean Ms James is planning to bring criminal charges.

Some parts of her civil investigation overlap with Mr Vance's criminal probe, including examining whether Mr Trump or his businesses manipulated the value of assets - inflating them in some cases and minimising them in others - to gain favourable loan terms and tax benefits.

The DA's probe also included an inquiry into hush-money payments made to women on the former US leader's behalf, and the propriety of tax write-offs the Trump Organisation claimed on millions of dollars in consulting fees it paid, including money that went to Mr Trump's daughter, Ivanka.

Mr Vance's office has not publicly said what it is investigating, citing grand jury secrecy rules, but some details have emerged during a legal battle to gain access to Mr Trump's tax records, which it finally obtained in February.

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As part of her civil investigation, Mr James' office issued subpoenas to local governments in November 2019 for records pertaining to Mr Trump's estate north of Manhattan, Seven Springs, and a tax benefit Mr Trump received for placing land there into a conservation trust.

The attorney general was also investigating similar issues relating to a Trump office building in New York City, a hotel in Chicago and a golf course near Los Angeles. Her office also won a series of court rulings forcing Mr Trump's company and a law firm it hired to turn over troves of records.

Mr Vance's investigation has also appeared to focus in recent weeks on the Trump Organisation's long-time finance chief, Allen Weisselberg.

His former daughter-in-law, Jen Weisselberg, has given investigators reams of documents as they look into how some Trump employees were compensated with apartments or school tuition.

Mr Weisselberg was subpoenaed in Ms James's civil investigation and testified twice in 2020.