United States President Donald Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, the year he won the presidential election, The New York Times reported on Sunday. In his first year of presidency also, he paid only $750 as tax.

“He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years – largely because he reported losing much more money than he made,” the newspaper said in an investigative article headlined “Long-concealed records show Trump’s chronic losses and years of tax avoidance”. The newspaper investigated the president’s tax return data for 18 years, and said that Trump did not pay taxes for 11 of those years.

The documents contained information that Trump had disclosed to the US government’s Internal Revenue Service and were not findings of any independent inquiry, the newspaper added. While these documents show that Trump owned millions of dollars in valuable assets, they do not show his true wealth or reveal “any previously unreported connections to Russia”.

Trump’s tax returns have been a talking point ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in November. They were also issues of contention during his 2016 election run as well as during his presidency. While US presidents do not have to release details of their personal finances according to the law, all presidents except for Trump have done so since Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

Trump has claimed in the past that the American public had no interest in his taxes and also that he could not disclose his tax returns as he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. His IRS commissioner, however, has refuted this argument.

“Trump’s elaborate dance and defiance have only stoked suspicion about what secrets might lie hidden in his taxes. The tax data examined by The Times provides a road map of revelations, from write-offs for the cost of a criminal defense lawyer and a mansion used as a family retreat to a full accounting of the millions of dollars the president received from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.”

— The New York Times

The American president has claimed that he would steer the US economy successfully, citing his claims to be a successful businessman. But, the newspaper said: “The tax returns that Mr Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public.” They show a businessman who takes in millions of dollars every year and yet “racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes”, it added.

Noting the questionable measures that Trump has employed to reduce his taxes, the article said that his finances were under stress “beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed” ahead of the November 3 elections. He also faces a hit of more than $100 million if he lost “a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses”.

Tax authorities in New York had initiated an investigation in 2018 after The New York Times reported fraud allegations against Trump and his family. Trump and his family were accused of creating their real estate empire through “instances of outright fraud” and by evading taxes.

“Even while declaring losses, he has managed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle by taking tax deductions on what most people would consider personal expenses, including residences, aircraft and $70,000 in hairstyling for television. Ivanka Trump, while working as an employee of the Trump Organization, appears to have received ‘consulting fees’ that also helped reduce the family’s tax bill.”

— The New York Times

‘Fake news’

The president has dismissed the report as fake news. “We went through the same stories, you could have asked me the same questions four years ago, I had to litigate this and talk about it,” he said at a press briefing at the White House on Sunday, according to The Guardian.

He added: “Totally fake news, no. Actually I paid tax. And you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns – it’s under audit, they’ve been under audit for a long time. The [Internal Revenue Service] does not treat me well … they treat me very badly. You have people in the IRS – they treat me very badly.”

The New York Times tried it, the same thing, they want to create a little bit of a story,” he claimed. “They’re doing anything they can. That’s the least of it. The stories that I read are so fake, they’re so phony.”

When asked why a billionaire paid just $750 in taxes, he said: “First of all I paid a lot, and I paid a lot of state income taxes too. The New York state charges a lot and I paid a lot of money in state. It’ll all be revealed. It’s going to come out but after the audit.”

Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten told The New York Times that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate”. He added that over the past decade, “Trump has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015”. But the newspaper pointed out that Garten may be combining income tax with other taxes that Trump has paid such as those for medical aid and social security.