Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, a prosecutor working on the case with special counsel Robert Mueller, mentioned the detail in opening statements on Tuesday. Manafort faces bank and tax fraud charges.
“The evidence will show that Paul Manafort placed himself and his money above the law,” Asonye said. Manafort has pleaded not guilty.
The allegations include that Manafort failed to pay about $15 million in taxes on more than $60 million the political consultant made from his work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party and then obtained fraudulent loans.
“He created cash out of thin air,” Asonye said. At another point, he asserted: “All of these charges boil down to one simple issue: that Paul Manafort lied.”
The money in question was allegedly funneled through 30 bank accounts and shell companies in at least three foreign countries. Asonye added that Manafort signed papers and wrote emails — making it clear that he was the one who controlled the 30 accounts — and used some of the money for “purely personal” expenses, including the ostrich coat.
The opening statement in defense of Manafort largely blamed his business partner Rick Gates, who is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
Manafort has a notorious penchant for expensive things. The indictment against Manafort detailed evidence of expensive purchases, including a $21,000 Bijan black titanium wristwatch, multiple $10,000 custom-made suits, and oriental rugs valued at a total of $934,000.
“Paul Manafort travels in circles that most people would never know,” said Thomas Zehnle, one of Manafort’s five defense lawyers. “He lived a lifestyle that most people can only dream of.”
Jurors will likely be shown photographs and other evidence of these and more luxury items as the trial proceeds.
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