Prosecutors described Paul Manafort as a “shrewd” liar and accused him of misleading his tax preparers, banks, and US authorities in claiming that secret accounts did not exist.
Manafort, who is facing bank fraud charges in the US, orchestrated a conspiracy to hide foreign accounts he maintained in Cyprus, Seychelles, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, according to prosecutors.
He also pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent.
Reports say Manafort had secret income from lobbying activities in Ukraine and hid the money from US authorities by stashing it away in foreign accounts including in Cyprus.
During opening statements on Tuesday in a US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, twelve jurors heard from the prosecution how Manafort had been able to use his secret income to maintain a lavish lifestyle.
'This is the way that they required it to be done,' Zehnle said, explaining why oligarchs paid Manafort through secret foreign accounts
Specifically, prosecutors said he did not report over €50 million to the US federal government, money which he had made in Ukraine.
They also said Manafort used some 30 bank accounts in the three foreign countries in order to create sham loans and collect untaxed income he spent on luxury goods, such as an ostrich jacket that cost €13,000, luxury vehicles, and an €18,000 watch.
But during opening statements for the defense, Manafort's lawyer Thomas Zehnle blamed the foreign accounts on Ukrainian oligarchs.
"This is the way that they required it to be done," Zehnle said, explaining why oligarchs paid Manafort through secret foreign accounts.
US investigators had travelled to Cyprus where they suspect some of the money was funneled through offshore bank accounts and shell companies on the island. In November 2017, they asked the Central Bank of Cyprus a series of questions, looking into a flow of money in connection with Manafort.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
US special counsel Robert Mueller is heading an investigation into the 2016 US presidential election, and he has been given full authority to prosecute additional potential crimes uncovered during the probe.
Mueller is also alleging that a Manafort aide, political operative Konstantin Kilimnik, has links to Russian intelligence.
US officials say Kilimnik’s reported trips to the US in 2016 during Trump’s campaign had “attracted attention” by alleging that a Russian oligarch was offered private briefings.
The oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, is among several notable recipients of Republic of Cyprus passports. He is a super wealthy industrialist who managed to become a naturalised citizen passport despite red flags reportedly in the process.
Despite a number of issues, including concerns over allegations that Deripaska served as a back channel between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, the Cypriot government approved the application in 2017.
Nicosia maintains that it is conducting proper checks before cases are adjudicated in the citizenship by investment scheme.
This week a special register was launched which would require registered agents and brokers to follow specific rules and regulations before submitting passport application on behalf of their clients.
The government also imposed annual caps, following criticism that the investment-based programme became to be known as a golden visa scheme with online ads blatantly offering passports for a price.