All eyes on Virginia court as Paul Manafort's fraud trial begins

Paul Manafort’s first trial begins this week Here’s what to expect

In court on Wednesday, prosecutor Greg Andres asked Rabin, who produced TV ads for Manafort in Ukraine, about Rick Gates, Manafort's former business partner who is expected to be a star government witness, and Manafort associate Konstantin Kilimnik.

Prosecutors say he hid millions of dollars in income from lobbying for Ukrainian politicians, failed to pay taxes while spending the money on U.S. real estate and luxury purchases, and lied to banks in order to take out more than $20 million in loans.

The first trial of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Federation probe has begun with Paul Manafort, a former chairman of President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign. The remaining 31 individuals charged have either reached plea agreements, including ex-White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, or are Russians seen as unlikely to enter an American courtroom.

Manafort, a veteran Republican political consultant, served as chairman of Trump's presidential election campaign for three months in 2016 before being forced to step down amid questions about his lobbying work in Ukraine.

"Unfortunately for Paul Manafort, his trust in Rick Gates was misplaced", Manafort attorney Thomas Zehnle told the jury. That was an apparent reference to one of the expensive purchases Mr. Manafort allegedly made which prosecutors said they planned to describe at trial.

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The trial is expected to take about three weeks. He created "bogus" loans, falsified documents and lied to his tax preparer and bookkeeper to hide the money, which he obtained from Ukrainian oligarchs through a series of shell company transfers and later from fraudulently obtained bank loans in the US, prosecutors said.

Outside the courthouse, a handful of protesters displayed a life-sized puppet of Trump and held signs saying "Trump won't do time for you", "It's Mueller time", and "I like your new suit" alongside a photo of Manafort's mug shot. And it will unfold at a delicate time for the president as Mueller's team presses for an interview and as Trump escalates his attacks on an investigation he calls a "witch hunt".

"Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and "Public Enemy Number One", or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling", Trump wrote in a tweet.

"Paul Manafort travels in circles that most people will never know and he's gotten handsomely rewarded for it", Zehnle said.

Just before 2 p.m., prosecutors and defense attorneys finalized the twelve men and women who will serve as jurors, as well as four alternates.

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Asonye said Manafort set up bank accounts in overseas countries and funnelled millions of dollars into them in order to bankroll an extravagant lifestyle.

Manafort has used similar arguments to challenge his indictments in Virginia and Washington. Three Russian companies have also been charged.

The former Trump campaign head was ordered to jail by a judge on new charges that he was tampering with witnesses.

More details about Mr Manafort's work in Ukraine and with Russian nationals are expected to emerge in the 69-year-old's trial, which starts on Tuesday.

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