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Photo: AP. A disgruntled Trump in the courtroon last week, where the judges ruling went against him to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

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Donald Trump was ordered to pay fines totalling $354.9 million for fraudulently overstating his net worth to deceive lenders, a New York judge ruled on Friday, handing the former U.S. president a massive legal setback in a civil case that probably threatens the finances of his entire real estate empire.

His two older sons were also fined $4 million each.

Justice Arthur Engoron also banned Trump and his two sons from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation for three years.

Engoron canceled his ruling from September ordering the dissolution of companies that control pillars of Trump’s real estate empire, saying on Friday that this was no longer necessary because he is appointing an independent monitor and compliance director to oversee Trump’s businesses.

In the ruling, Engoron wrote that Trump and the other defendants in the case “are incapable of admitting the error of their ways.”

“Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological,” Engoron wrote. “Instead, they adopt a ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ posture that the evidence belies.”

The lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James accused Trump and his family businesses of overstating his net worth by as much $3.6 billion a year over a decade to fool bankers into giving him better loan terms.

Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba said in a statement that the ruling was a “manifest injustice” and “culmination of a multi-year, politically fueled witch hunt” against him.

“This is not just about Donald Trump — if this decision stands, it will serve as a signal to every single American that New York is no longer open for business,” Habba said, adding that she plans to appeal.

Trump and his adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, were defendants in the case. Don Jr. and Eric Trump were each ordered by the judge to pay $4 million.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and called the case a political vendetta by James, an elected Democrat.

The civil fraud case could deal a major blow to Trump’s real estate empire as the businessman turned politician leads the race for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

During defiant and meandering trial testimony in November, Trump conceded that some of his property values were inaccurate but insisted banks were obligated to do their own due diligence.

Engoron criticized Trump for his behavior during his trial testimony and wrote that the testimony hurt his cause.

“Donald Trump rarely responded to the questions asked, and he frequently interjected long, irrelevant speeches on issues far beyond the scope of the trial,” the judge wrote. “His refusal to answer the questions directly, or in some cases, at all, severely compromised his credibility.”

Trump could be required to deposit his portion of the full judgment plus interest during an appeal, which is standard practice in similar cases.

Trump could also post a smaller amount with collateral and interest by securing a type of loan called an appeal bond. But he may have trouble finding a willing lender after Engoron found he lied to banks about his wealth.

It is unclear how much access to cash Trump has, and estimates of his fortune vary, with Forbes pegging his net worth at $2.6 billion. Trump testified in an April deposition that he had roughly $400 million in cash.

Friday’s ruling came after a contentious three-month trial in Manhattan. The case was decided by the judge without a jury.

Trump used his occasional court appearances as impromptu campaign stops, delivering incendiary remarks to reporters and insisting his enemies are using the courts to prevent him from retaking the White House.

Trump is leading by a wide margin in the race for the Republican nomination despite a host of other legal troubles.

He is under indictment in four criminal cases, including one in New York related to hush money payments he made to  porn actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. The judge overseeing that case on Thursday set a March 25 trial date over the objections of Trump’s lawyers, who sought to delay it due to Trump’s crowded legal and political schedule.

Trump has also been charged in Florida for his handling of classified documents upon leaving office and in Washington and in Georgia for his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four cases.

Source: VOA/ Reuters.

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