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Le Monde
Le Monde
17 Feb 2024

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On Friday, February 16, Judge Arthur Engoron sentenced Donald Trump and his organization, ordering the former US president to pay $355 million in the trial on the overvaluation of the assets of the Trump real estate empire in the 2010s. This tactic had enabled the real estate magnate to reduce the interest rates paid and gain access to additional credit. Debates centered on whether there had been any victims, as Trump's bankers, in particular Deutsche Bank, had never complained. Trump has repeatedly denounced the trial as a witch-hunt, as both the judge and prosecutor Letitia James − who launched the proceedings in 2022 − are Democrats.

The judge barred the Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election from holding any corporate office or directorship for three years in the state of New York. He also applied this penalty to the former president's adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., for two years, and ordered them to pay more than $4 million each.

The ban is particularly significant for Eric Trump, who is, according to the New York Times, the de facto boss of the real estate empire. "Defendants did not commit murder or arson. They did not rob a bank at gunpoint. Donald Trump is not Bernard Madoff. Yet, defendants are incapable of admitting the error of their ways. Instead, they adopt a 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' posture that the evidence belies," writes the magistrate in his 92-page judgment. "Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological."

The trial was a bit of a foregone conclusion. Before it began, Justice Engoron had already ruled that Trump had fraudulently overstated his assets. The magistrate had found that James' teams had provided "conclusive evidence that between 2014 and 2021, the defendants overstated assets" of the group by "$812 million [to] $2.2 billion," depending on the year. The trial was held without a jury. At stake was the penalty imposed on Trump, who immediately denounced the verdict − "Democrat New York judge just ruled against me!" − and demanded funds from his supporters.

From his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, the Republican assured his supporters that he would "appeal" because "there was no fraud," but only the "weaponization of a political opponent." On his Truth Social network, he also denounced "election interference," accusing Justice Engoron of being "crooked" and the Attorney General of being "totally corrupt."

The victory achieved by James, who in the early evening hailed "a tremendous victory for this state, this nation, and for everyone who believes that we all must play by the same rules − even former presidents," marks Trump's second major defeat in two months. This follows the jury's verdict in January in a defamation case brought by E. Jean Carroll, a journalist Trump had sexually assaulted. The jury fined him $83.3 million.

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