Losing business certificates is lethal punishment for tycoon Trump than serving jail time for other offences

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WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 11 (IANS): Former US President Donald Trump faces a far more lethal punishment in cancellation of his business certificates in New York, leave alone a $250 million dollar fine, than a possible jail term for election subversion in Washington D.C. and Georgia and in the classified documents found in his winter resort Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

Giving this legal opinion, Elliot Williams, a former deputy assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice, says the question of what penalty the Trump Organisation will pay is more crucial to Donald Trump's future.

"The case could carry seismic consequences, a casual observer might overlook: the organisation's loss of any meaningful ability to do business in New York. In a way, it could end up being far more significant to Trump than any financial penalties or going to prison might," Elliot Williams observed in his analysis of the legal baggage Trump carries into the 2024 presidential race.

Elliot, who is a CNN legal analyst and a principal at Rabens, a public advocacy firm, writing for CNN said by way of background, an entity can't do business in New York (as elsewhere) without a certificate filed with the state. The cancellation of that certificate could have a devastating effect on a company, endangering its right to exist as a corporate entity.

Judge Engoron, sitting over the judgement in the $250 million civil tax fraud trial case, has already ruled in a summary trial that the Trump Organisation engaged in "persistent and repeated" fraud. (The ruling came in a "summary judgment" order, typically issued before a trial that allows a court to resolve issues it deems prima facie as not to be in legal dispute)

Judge Engoron is at present going to decide what damages and penalties he can impose on the Trump Organisation. Ivanka Trump's testimony adds little value to the case as she left the Trump business organisation in 2017 for an office in the White House. She is not a defendant in the case anymore. And the fine of $250 million is hardly a drop in the ocean for the $3 billion worth Trump, who was first a businessman before entering politics to become the President.

Cancellation of his business certificates are on the hold by an appeals court that Trump moved, so, till the pendency of the case in a New York Manhattan court where he is accused of inflating his real estate values to obtain bank loans on favourable terms, lower insurance premiums and tax concessions.

"If the certificates are cancelled, a number of major Trump assets, including Trump Tower in Manhattan, would be taken over by a court-appointed receiver. That individual, who would function like an executor of an estate, would have the power to manage and sell Trump properties to pay off legal bills and creditors. Trump would be notably absent from the process of managing the company," Elliot said in his legal opinion and analysis of the case on what to expect in the months to come.

Elliot says the central issue in the current trial, initiated by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, is a straightforward in corporate law: did a real estate entity improperly inflate the values of properties in appraisals in order to secure favourable loan and tax treatment? Despite fireworks from Trump and two of his sons on the witness stand earlier in the trial, the case is as uncontroversial as can be boring to the public.

The New York trial might be boring to voters because of its high economics, but the four other cases that Trump faces in a federal case in Washington, D.C., may not be.

Trump faces allegations of subverting the 2020 election; a second election subversion is hanging with the DA in Fulton County, Georgia; a federal case in south Florida alleges mishandling of sensitive government documents at Mar-a-Lago; these are of public interest, but their outcomes don't matter so much to Trump as the New York case where he could lose the ability to do business, his backbone.

A case brought by the DA in Manhattan alleges that Trump falsified business records in order to conceal extramarital affairs; and a civil defamation suit in New York federal court involves statements Trump made in 2019 about a sexual assault. (Trump denies wrongdoing in all of these cases.) These proved evidentially could end in conviction with jail terms.

Elliot says that it may be a weedy aspect of state corporate law unknown to many, but it could do far more irreparable harm to Trump than many other potential sanctions he faces. The full financial penalty of $250 million the New York Attorney General seeks from the Trump Organisation seems less-than-eye popping when considered against Trump's net worth, estimated to be a ballpark figure of $3 billion.

While $250 million tops the GDP of some countries, it is, in effect, a drop in the bucket for one of the richest men on the planet, Donald Trump. Consider that the $15,000 in fines Trump was ordered to pay for twice violating a gag order in the case would have wiped out many American families; but they were just a rounding error for Trump, who paid them off almost immediately, Elliot said in his legal opinion to CNN.

Even the growing threat of significant prison time Trump may be facing in other cases doesn't necessarily provide the accountability that it might for most other defendants in American criminal history, he added.

As a former prosecutor, Elliot said he would admit that prison robs people of almost everything -- their liberty, dignity and humanity. However, the one thing prison doesn't rob people of is the ability to run for, and perhaps even serve as, President of the US (Historians will remember that in 1920, Eugene V. Debs got nearly a million votes for President from behind bars).

Justice may be served when a defendant is convicted following a fair, public legal trial and sentenced. But does any of it actually matter if that defendant can simultaneously serve as leader of the free world? With polling consistently indicating that wide segments of the voting population are totally not concerned with the cloud of legal allegations hanging over Trump, it's a reasonable question to ask, he added.

On the other hand, while largely losing the ability to do business in New York may appear to be a slap on the wrist, it will be devastating for Trump, his brand and his businesses.

People are free to disregard a candidate's criminal history, or even to deny the results of an election. However, they can't do business with an entity that effectively no longer exists.

Trump the business came long before Trump the President. Losing that would be cataclysmic for Trump on every level. No amount of bluster on the campaign trail can change that, Elliot said.

"The arcana of business certificates and corporate structure may not gain as much attention from the public as allegations of sexual assault in department stores, dalliances with porn stars, phone calls to state election officials, sensitive documents stored in gold-plated bathrooms, or insurrections might, he added.