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Donald Trump made up property values, Michael Cohen tells fraud trial

Donald Trump‘s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen testified on Tuesday that the value of the ex-leader’s real estate properties were manipulated to match “whatever number Mr Trump told us”.

Mr Cohen, a key witness in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud case against the former president, said Mr Trump tasked him and other former Trump Organization executives with doctoring financial statements to boost the value of the company’s holdings and secure better real estate premiums.

“He would say, ‘I’m actually not worth $4.5 billion, I’m really worth more like $6 [billion],” Mr Cohen said, adding that Trump arrived at the valuations of his assets “arbitrarily.”

Cohen – a former long-time ally of Mr Trump in his business and political dealings who has given evidence against him on numerous occasions since his own 2018 guilty plea over campaign finance violations – said he and former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg would mark up line items by hand using red ink in Trump’s financial statements after he told them the numbers were too low.

The testimony came during the fourth week of a trial in New York state court in Manhattan stemming from a lawsuit brought against Mr Trump and his family company, which alleges he defrauded banks by inflating the value of his properties.

Mr Trump, his company and key executives repeatedly lied about them on his annual financial statements, reaping rewards such as favourable loan terms and lower insurance premiums, it is alleged.

The suit threatens to break up Mr Trump’s business empire, after a preliminary ruling from Judge Arthur Engoron ordered the cancellation of business certificates for the Trump Organization and other corporate defendants. That ruling is on hold while Mr Trump appeals.

Mr Trump, who remains the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination despite a swirling storm of legal battles, has denied wrongdoing, claiming the case is a “fraud” and a political witch hunt.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom during the trial’s lunch break, Mr Trump called Cohen a “liar” and said he was “not worried at all about his testimony.”

In an apparent effort to head off expected attacks by Mr Trump’s lawyers on Cohen’s credibility, Colleen Faherty, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, began her questioning of Cohen by reviewing his criminal history.

“I did that at the direction of, in concert with and for the benefit of Donald Trump,” Cohen said on the stand, referring to false congressional testimony he admitted in 2018.

Cohen said Mr Trump signed off on all final insurance coverage decisions and attended meetings with brokers, though he would intentionally join once they were mostly done.

The former president has occasionally appeared in court over the past month, complaining in inflammatory remarks to reporters that it is a distraction from his election campaign.

He arrived on Monday following a campaign stop in New Hampshire and just days after being fined $5,000 by Judge Engoron for violating a gag order.

Separately on Tuesday, former Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis entered a guilty plea in Georgia, where 19 people including Mr Trump are facing charges over efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Mr Trump also denies wrongdoing in that case.

Ellis, the fourth defendant in the case to enter into a plea deal with prosecutors, was a vocal part of Mr Trump’s re-election campaign in the last presidential cycle and was charged alongside the Republican former president and 17 others with violating the state’s anti-racketeering law.

She pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting false statements and writings, telling the court she regretted her involvement with Mr Trump’s election efforts.

“What I did not do but should have done, your honour, was to make sure that the facts the other lawyers alleged to be true were in fact true,” she said.

The guilty plea comes just days after fellow lawyers Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro entered guilty pleas. Ellis agreed to testify against Mr Trump if called upon – and her involvement could also pose a threat to her associate Rudy Guiliani, the former Trump lawyer and New York mayor, who is among the co-defendants in the case.

Additional reporting by agencies

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