People wait to enter a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, the United States, July 31, 2018. Paul Manafort, former chairman of US President Donald Trump's presidential election campaign team, went on trial on charges of bank and tax fraud here Tuesday. (Photo: Xinhua/Liu Jie)
ALEXANDRIA, the United States, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Paul Manafort, former chairman of US President Donald Trump's presidential election campaign team, went on trial on charges of bank and tax fraud here Tuesday.
He became the first member of Trump's election team to face trial on charges arising from the ongoing, wide-ranging Russia probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud associated with his lobbying work for the Ukrainian government years before Trump declared his candidacy in 2015.
Before a 12-member jury inside a federal courtroom in Alexandria, state of Virginia, prosecutor Uzo Asonye said in his opening statement that Manafort believed "the law did not apply to him -- not tax law, not banking law."
Manafort opened more than 30 bank accounts in three foreign countries to "receive and hide" income, according to Asonye.
Defense attorney Thomas Zehnle blamed it on Manafort's financial team, with his client seated in the courtroom wearing a dark suit, white shirt and tie, his wife sitting behind him.
Zehnle specifically targeted Manafort's longtime business associate Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiring against the United States and lying to investigators, and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.
"This case is about taxes and trust," Zehnle told the jurors. "His trust in Rick Gates was misplaced."
Besides Gates, Mueller's team has named 35 witnesses for Manafort's trial, which is expected to last several weeks. However, prosecutors have said they will not present evidence of collusion at this trial.
Manafort is facing a separate trial in Washington, D.C. scheduled for mid-September on charges of money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent and witness tampering. He has also pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Mueller is looking into the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, among other matters that may arise from the investigation.
The special counsel has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people, including several former Trump campaign aides and three companies since he began leading the probe from May 2017.
Trump has repeatedly called the probe a "hoax" and "witch hunt", while denying any campaign collusion with Russia, with attempts to distance himself and his campaign from Manafort.
Manafort joined the Trump campaign team in March 2016 and spent about two months working as campaign chairman before resigning over exposure of his Ukrainian lobbying work.