US judge orders Trump to testify in New York civil investigation

A judge ruled Thursday that former US President Donald Trump must testify under oath in a New York civil investigation into alleged fraudulent practices at his family’s business.

The ruling is the latest legal blow to Trump as he battles several issues that threaten to complicate any bid to run again for the White House in 2024.

State Judge Arthur Engoron has ordered Trump and his two eldest children, Donald Grand Ivanka, to comply with subpoenas issued by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

He said all three must sit for affidavits within 21 days. The Trump family is expected to appeal.

Earlier during oral arguments, Trump’s lawyers said the subpoenas should be voided because getting them to give evidence in the civil case would harm their rights in a parallel criminal investigation.

Their argument “completely misses the mark,” Engoron said, noting that neither the Manhattan District Attorney, who is running the criminal investigation, nor James’ office had ordered the Trumps to appear before a grand jury.

In his ruling, Engoron added that the Trumps could invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves during questioning in a civil case.

He noted that Trump’s other son, Eric, defended the fifth “more than 500 times” during his testimony for the James investigation in October 2020.

James, a Democrat, announced in January that its investigation into the Trump Organization had uncovered “significant evidence” of fraudulent or misleading practices.

She said a civil investigation found that the Trump Organization fraudulently overvalued multiple assets to secure loans and then undervalued them to reduce taxes.

The Trump family claimed the investigation was politically motivated and urged the court to cancel the subpoenas against the three.

If James finds evidence of financial misconduct, he can sue the Trump Organization for damages but cannot file criminal charges.

However, the investigation is running alongside a very similar criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney into potential financial crimes and insurance fraud.

In July last year, the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty in New York court to 15 counts of felony fraud and tax evasion.

His trial is scheduled to begin in the middle of this year.

Trump, 75, has so far kept voters and commentators guessing whether he intends to seek the Republican nomination again.

(AFP)

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