By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -The judge in the criminal trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump's real estate company on charges of tax fraud set opening statements for Monday after the conclusion of jury selection on Friday with six alternates named to the panel.
The Manhattan district attorney's office last year charged the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, with awarding "off the books" benefits to some senior executives over a 15-year period, enabling certain employees to understate their taxable compensation and the company to evade payroll taxes. Weisselberg in August pleaded guilty and will testify for the prosecution.
Justice Juan Merchan in New York state court swore in six alternate jurors, who will take part in deliberations in the event any of the regular jurors, whose selection was completed on Thursday, become unable to serve.
The Trump Organization, which operates hotels, golf courses and other real estate around the world, could face up to $1.6 million in fines for the three tax fraud counts and six other counts it faces, if convicted. It has pleaded not guilty.
Trump, a Republican who is considering another run for the presidency in 2024, is not charged in the case. He has called the prosecution politically motivated.
Prosecution and defense lawyers will have their chance to deliver opening statements to the jury on Monday, with the government then poised to call its first witness.
Those selected as alternate jurors included several who expressed dislike for Trump, including one who described some of his comments as "racist" and another who called him "offensive" and "degrading." Merchan allowed them to serve because they said they could be fair and impartial in this case.
Other prospective jurors who expressed antipathy toward Trump - including a political consultant for liberal political candidates who said he once had Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as a guest on a podcast he hosts - were dismissed.
One of the jurors sworn in as an alternate initially said he would "shut my mind" to Weisselberg's testimony because he pleaded guilty, but walked back that statement upon further questioning. Weisselberg pleaded guilty to charges including grand larceny and tax fraud while admitting to concealing $1.76 million in income.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham, Alistair Bell and Noeleen Walder)