Manafort trial enters final stretch

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Washington, Aug 15 (IANS) The trial of Paul Manafort, US President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, on Tuesday entered its final stretch after both the prosecution and the defence finished calling witnesses but without the defendant actually being called to testify.

After the prosecution finished presenting its evidence on Monday, Manafort’s defence team informed the court that they were declining to call any new witnesses and that Manafort himself would not testify in his own defence.

Thus, both sides have finished presenting their cases in Manafort’s trial on charges of tax fraud that arose within the context of the so-called Russia probe headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Efe reported.

Judge Thomas Ellis asked Manafort on Tuesday to confirm aloud that he understood his right to testify but that he had decided not to do so in what is believed to be the first oral statement Trump’s former campaign chief has made in court.

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Wearing his customary white shirt and dark suit, Manafort spent the morning court session taking notes of the exchanges among his attorneys, the prosecutions and Judge Ellis.

Manafort, who made a fortune advising foreign politicians, appeared calm during the open portion of the court session, although proceedings had been closed to the public for almost two hours.

The defendant is facing the rest of his life in prison if convicted of the 18 financial and banking charges filed against him within the framework of the Russia investigation.

After the Tuesday proceedings, the parties on Wednesday will present their closing arguments, after which the jury will begin deliberations on the basis of what they heard over the more than two weeks of arguments and testimony and, ultimately, render a verdict, after which – if Manafort has been found guilty – Judge Ellis will pass sentence.

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During the trial, Manafort listened as his former right-hand man, Rick Gates, testified against him about how he made millions advising foreign politicians such as pro-Russian former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and how he diverted tens of millions of dollars into foreign bank accounts.

In addition, Mueller’s team of prosecutors presented evidence as to how Manafort obtained huge loans from banks using his position with the Trump campaign to do so.

Manafort was sent to jail on June 15 after trying to influence the testimony of at least two witnesses, which exhausted the patience of Judge Ellis, who last October had had the defendant placed under house arrest after he turned himself in to the FBI.

In addition to this trial, Manafort will face a second trial arising from the Russia probe slated to begin on September 17 in Washington.

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Mueller since May 2017 has been independently investigating the possible links between members of the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, which US intelligence agencies accuse of interfering with the 2016 presidential election to favor Trump.

–IANS

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