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Trump civil fraud trial enters second day as business empire hangs in balance

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By Jack Queen

(Reuters) -Donald Trump’s civil trial continues in Manhattan on Tuesday in a case that threatens to dismantle parts of the former U.S. president’s business empire and sharply curtail his ability to do business in New York.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is accused along with his two sons and nearly a dozen business associates of inflating the value of his assets by billions of dollars to secure more favorable loan and insurance terms.

Democratic Attorney General Letitia James is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year commercial real estate ban against Trump and the Trump Organization.

The trial comes a week after Justice Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over the case, ruled that Trump committed fraud and canceled business certificates for companies that control crown jewels of his portfolio, including Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street in Manhattan. Engoron said he would appoint receivers to oversee their dissolution.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and his lawyers have said they will appeal.

Trump attended the trial on Monday, entering the courtroom with his trademark glower and a retinue of secret service agents after being waved past police who hand-searched the bags of reporters and members of the public in attendance.

He sat hunched over the defendant’s table and occasionally spoke to his lawyers as Kevin Wallace, an attorney with James’ office, accused him of “lying year after year” in financial statements he provided to lenders and insurers from 2011 to 2021.

Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise said during his opening statement that Trump’s valuations actually understated the value of his assets and were based on the business acumen that allowed him to build “one of the most successful real estate empires in the world.”

On Tuesday, Trump reiterated his vitriol against James, calling for her to be sanctioned and for the judge to “terminate” his fraud finding. “This entire case should be thrown out and dismissed,” he added in a post on his social media website.

Trump has in recent months used his mounting legal problems as fundraising fodder for his presidential campaign, saying without evidence that Democrats are using sham court cases to prevent him from retaking the White House.

Neither his quartet of pending criminal cases nor the attorney general’s lawsuit have diminished his commanding lead over rivals in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, polls show.

Trump has been criminally charged in Washington over his efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 election, in Georgia over moves to reverse vote tallies there, in Florida over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office and in New York over hush money payments to a porn star.

He has also denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty in all four cases.

(Reporting by Jack Queen in New York; additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Amy Stevens, Cynthia Osterman and Nick Zieminski)

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