PRESIDENT Donald Trump paid just US$750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017, after years of reporting heavy losses from his business enterprises to offset hundreds of millions of dollars in income, The New York Times reported on Sunday, citing tax-return data.
In a report that Mr Trump dismissed as "fake news", the newspaper said the Republican president also paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years till 2017, despite receiving US$427.4 million till 2018 from his reality television programme and other endorsement and licensing deals.
The disclosure of previously private tax information came little more than a month before the Nov 3 election between Mr Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. Democrats were quick to seize on the report to paint Mr Trump as a tax dodger, and raise questions about his carefully groomed image as a savvy businessman.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer took to Twitter to ask Americans to raise their hands if they paid more in federal income tax than Mr Trump.
Calling the report "total fake news" at a White House news conference, Mr Trump again cited an ongoing audit as his reason for not releasing his returns.
Mr Trump's consistent refusal to release his taxes has been a departure from standard practice for presidential candidates. He is currently in a legal battle with New York City prosecutors and congressional Democrats who are seeking to obtain his returns.
He also previously indicated he preferred to minimise his tax bill, saying in a 2016 presidential debate it made him "smart".
The Times reported that he was able to minimise his tax bill by reporting heavy losses across his business empire. It said he claimed US$47.4 million in losses in 2018, despite saying he had income of at least US$434.9 million in a financial disclosure that year.
The newspaper emphasised the documents reveal only what Mr Trump told the government about his businesses, and did not disclose his true wealth.
It said it had obtained tax-return data covering over two decades for Mr Trump and companies within his business organisation. It did not have information about his personal returns from 2018 or 2019.
The Times also reported that he was currently embroiled in a decade-long Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit over a US$72.9 million tax refund he claimed after declaring large losses. If the IRS rules against him in that audit, he could have to pay over US$100 million, the newspaper said. REUTERS