Former US President Donald Trump suffered yet another setback in the run-up to the 2024 presidential elections, as an appeals court denied his bid to delay a civil trial in a case where he is alleged to have committed years of property fraud in his real estate empire in the United States.
Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, found that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing loans.
Thursday's decision by New York's intermediate appellate court has now cleared the way for Engoron to preside over a non-jury trial on October 2 in Manhattan. Trump is among dozens of possible witnesses and if convicted, can be forced to give up his properties in the state - including the Trump Tower, a Wall Street office building and golf courses.
Trump has denied wrongdoing in the case and has stated that some of his assets are worth far more than what has been listed on annual financial statements that Engoron said he used to secure loans and make deals. The ex-President argued that the statements have disclaimers that absolve him of liability.
Meanwhile, Trump's lawyers have accused Engoron of abusing his authority, a claim they said was further bolstered after the decision to deny the trial. They had sued Engoron on September 14 on charges of ignoring the law and hindering their preparations by failing to comply with an earlier appeals court order.
What are the charges against Trump?
Engoron’s ruling, days before the start of a non-jury trial in James’ lawsuit, is the strongest repudiation yet of Trump’s carefully coiffed image as a wealthy and shrewd real estate mogul turned political powerhouse. His ruling includes allegations of conspiracy, falsifying business records and insurance fraud. James also alleged Trump of boosting his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion.
Beyond mere bragging about his riches, Trump, his company, and key executives repeatedly lied about them on his annual financial statements, reaping rewards such as favourable loan terms and lower insurance costs, Engoron found.
Those tactics crossed a line and violated the law, the judge said, rejecting Trump’s contention that a disclaimer on the financial statements absolved him of any wrongdoing. “In defendants’ world: rent-regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in his 35-page ruling. “That is a fantasy world, not the real world.”
Meanwhile, Trump rallied against the decision, calling it “un-American” and part of an ongoing plot to damage his campaign to return to the White House. “My Civil rights have been violated, and some Appellate Court, whether federal or state, must reverse this horrible, un-American decision,” he wrote on his Truth Social site.
Additionally, James' office criticised Trump's lawsuit against Engoron, calling it a “brazen and meritless attempt” to usurp his authority. The Attorney General also said that any delay in the trial would "wreak havoc" on its schedule and come into conflict with Trump's other criminal indictments.
Biden slams Trump, mainstream Republican leaders
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden called Trump and his allies as a "menace" to American democracy during an address in Arizona. He accused Trump of being interested in personal power rather than America's core values and mainstream GOP leaders of being complicit in the process.
"There's something dangerous happening in America right now. We should all remember, democracies don't have to die at the end of a rifle. They can die when people are silent, when they fail to stand up or condemn threats to democracy when people are willing to give away that which is most precious to them because they feel frustrated, disillusioned, tired, alienated," he said.
The 80-year-old President also repeated his campaign theme by branding Trump's "Make America Great Again" (MAGA) as an "existential threat" for the US. Biden's remarks come amid a hearing in an impeachment inquiry by House Republicans and the threat of a government shutdown looming near.
A recent poll by the Washington Post and ABC News showed that Biden is trailing behind his predecessor Trump in a hypothetical November 2024 match. The poll released on September 24 revealed that a record number of Americans felt they had become worse off under his presidency.
Three-quarters of the people termed Biden “too old for another term” and said that Trump is looking better in retrospect. Ther numbers pose a challenge for Biden in his re-election campaign, according to the poll results.
(with agency input)