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Rick Gates testifies that he committed crimes with ex-boss Paul Manafort

07 August 2018

The government's star witness took the stand Monday in the bank fraud and tax evasion trial of Paul Manafort, the onetime chairman of the Trump presidential campaign. In calling Gates, the government will present jurors with the firsthand account of a co-conspirator expected to say Manafort was knee-deep in an alleged scheme to hide millions of dollars from the IRS and defraud several banks.

Though he was in court to testify against Manafort, Gates offered praise of Manafort's consulting abilities, which he said brought ex-President Viktor Yanukovych "back from the proverbial political dead".

Manafort's defense has sought to blame Gates for any illegal conduct and accused him of embezzling millions of dollars.

Among the crimes Gates testified to doing with Manafort include: knowingly hiding 15 foreign accounts from the government; stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort by filing false expense reports, which were paid from Manafort's offshore accounts; and filing false tax returns, in which the men under-reported their income, created fake loans and failed to disclose their foreign accounts.

Gates said that Manafort had indicated to him that the Ukrainian businessmen who were funding their consulting work had directed him to set up the accounts in Cyprus, where they also had bank accounts.

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Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing said Gates would be the next witness called in the federal trial in Alexandria, Virginia.

Rick Gates has been regarded as a crucial witness for the government ever since he pleaded guilty this year to two felony charges and agreed to cooperate in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible ties between Russian Federation and the Trump campaign.

Manafort, a flamboyant figure in Washington for decades, became known for his consulting and lobbying work for ethically questionable worldwide leaders like Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych. The judge twice requested the lawyers to his bench, out of the earshot of the jury and the public, to discuss their approach to questioning.

The President is watching proceedings carefully as Mueller appears to be moving closer to his inner circle on multiple fronts and has complained that Manafort has been treated like a mobster - even as the White House has tried to open up some distance between Trump and his former campaign chairman.

The trial opened last week with a display of Manafort's opulent lifestyle, then progressed into testimony about what prosecutors say were years of financial deception. Downing made the comment in court.

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But she said she was under the impression that Mr Manafort had been directing his deputies' actions and "knew what was going on".

Gates came out swinging from the witness box.

On Monday, Ms LaPorta was asked by prosecutors if she had been aware of a $10m loan from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska that the district attorney said was "supposedly made in 2006".

Gates has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Federation probe after he cut a plea deal earlier this year. During that process, Gates admitted to two felony charges, but when he testifies it will be the first time he'll detail those crimes face-to-face with his former boss and mentor. When Robert Mueller began investigating Russian interference past year, Manafort's questionable lobbying work - the sort of activity that has historically rarely been investigated in Washington - was put under a microscope, exposing him and his associates.

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Rick Gates testifies that he committed crimes with ex-boss Paul Manafort