Prosecution says Manafort opened more than 30 bank accounts overseas

AFP Contributor  AFP

The highly-publicized trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one figure involved in the Justice Department's Russian Federation investigation, started in Virginia Tuesday as attorneys began jury selection.

Mr Mueller was appointed by the US Justice Department past year to take over an FBI investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election and whether there was unlawful coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Prosecutors said in court filings that the evidence, which includes "memoranda, emails, and photos" shows Mr. Manafort earned more than he claimed on his tax returns.

Prosecutors plan to produce almost three dozen witnesses during the trial, including Manafort's former associate Richard Gates, who is cooperating with the government after pleading guilty to lesser charges in February. Four alternate jurors, three women and one man, also were chosen. Manafort worked on Trump's presidential campaign for five months and attended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians that is a focal point of Mueller's probe into possible collusion between the campaign and the Kremlin.

ALEXANDRIA, VA -Delivering his opening statement at the Virginia trial of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, his defense attorney targeted Manafort's longtime business deputy Rick Gates for allegedly "abusing" Manafort's trust and accused him of embezzling millions of dollars from his former employer.

He warned jurors that Gates could not be trusted and was the type of witness who would say anything he could to save himself from a lengthy prison sentence and a crippling financial penalty.

"What happened here is this involves political consulting work that Manafort and other people, his partner Richard Gates who pleaded guilty in [Robert] Mueller's investigation, this is conduct they were involved in going back to around 2004 and forward to about 2014, and a little bit beyond", McCarthy told Fox News' "America's Newsroom."

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye, a member of Mueller's team, said of Manafort: "A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him".

Manafort is also charged in federal court in Washington with undisclosed foreign lobbying and money laundering.

Mr Manafort, who has been jailed for almost two months, wore a black suit and appeared fully engaged in his defence, whispering with his lawyers during jury selection and scribbling notes as the prosecution began its opening statement.

Joshua Dressler, a law professor at Ohio State University, said the evidence against Mr Manafort (69) appears strong, but that he drew a favourable judge in the 78-year old TS Ellis, who is known to be tough on prosecutors, and said the politically charged climate increases the chances of a hung jury.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Defense lawyers also sought to address head-on Manafort's wealth and the images of a gaudy lifestyle that jurors are expected to see during the trial.

If the judge rules in their favor, prosecutors could present evidence that delves deeper into Manafort's Russian connections.

Manafort has been in jail since last month when a judge revoked his house arrest over allegations that he and an associate tried to tamper with witnesses in the case.

Jury selection is set to begin in the trial of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman.

He faces a separate trial in late September, on related charges, in Washington, D.C.

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