Is Donald Trump a very bad businessman or a tax cheat?

American President Donald Trump has come under fire from Democrats for years for not making his tax returns public as his predecessors did. His lawyers have argued that he enjoys total immunity while in office and that Congress has no valid justification to seek the records. The president paid just $750 (£580) in federal income tax both in 2016, the year he ran for the US presidency, and in his first year in the White House. He paid no such taxes in 11 of 18 years of tax records examined by the newspaper. The president has managed to lower his taxes by reporting hefty losses on his businesses. Accountants say the revelation that Donald Trump paid just $750 (£580) in federal income tax in 2016 shows that the US president is either “a very bad businessman or a tax cheat … probably both”.
Independent left-leaning accounting experts who analysed Trump’s tax returns, which were published by the New York Times on Sunday, said that while the full details of Trump’s tax affairs were not yet known, the details published by the newspaper showed that the president was “abusing the tax system”. Alex Cobham, the chief executive of the Tax Justice Network, an international group campaigning for a fairer and more transparent tax system said: “This shows that Trump is either a very bad businessman or a tax cheat who is not respecting the tax system that he is asking everyone else to pay. Probably both are true.”
In July, the US Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Trump's financial records could be examined by prosecutors in New York. In a related case, the court ruled that this information did not have to be shared with Congress. The matter remains under appeal in lower courts so the records have not been handed over in New York. In 2017 Donald Trump became the first billionaire president of the US. That year, as in the previous year, his tax bill in the country was $750. The NYT investigation establishing this further says that in 11 of the 18 years it examined he paid no federal income taxes whatsoever. Under normal circumstances, or at least before 2016, the real worry for a US president would be about the repercussions of possible charges of being a tax evader. In the Trump era, though, it’s all about image.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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