Hunter Biden has been criminally charged for tax-related offences in California, as a federal investigation into his financial conduct intensifies.
The president’s son has been indicted on nine counts – three felonies and six misdemeanours – by special counsel David Weiss who is investigating his business dealings for the Department of Justice.
According to the 56-page indictment, Biden chose not to pay at least $1.4m (£1.1m) between 2016 and 2019 in self-assessed federal taxes, and evaded the assessment of taxes in 2018 when he filed false returns.
Prosecutors allege he used the money to fund an “extravagant lifestyle” including drugs, escorts, cars and clothes.
If convicted, Biden could face up to 17 years in prison – although actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties, according to the Department of Justice.
This indictment follows gun charges filed in Delaware in mid-September, where federal prosecutors allege Biden lied about his drug use when he bought a gun that he kept for 11 days in 2018.
He had previously been expected to plead guilty to misdemeanour tax charges as part of a deal with prosecutors, but the deal fell apart in July after scrutiny from the judge.
Republicans also heavily criticised it as a “sweetheart deal”, as they continue to claim that the judicial system gives Biden preferential treatment, and that the young Biden’s legal troubles are evidence of his father’s corruption.
Both claims are strenuously denied by the Department of Justice, and the White House.
Biden’s attorney Abbe Lowell signalled his intent to fight the new charges, saying in a statement: “Based on the facts and the law, if Hunter’s last name was anything other than Biden, the charges in Delaware, and now California, would not have been brought.
“Now, after five years of investigating with no new evidence – and two years after Hunter paid his taxes in full – the US Attorney has piled on nine new charges when he had agreed just months ago to resolve this matter with a pair of misdemeanours.
“All these issues will now be addressed in various courts, the first to occur this Monday when the prosecutors knew our motions to dismiss their first set of questionable charges would be filed.”
The White House declined to comment on the new charges.
Analysis: It’s going to be a messy election year
Every town or city I visit in America, on the trail of Donald Trump as he campaigns while also facing charges in four separate criminal cases, I hear the same refrain from his supporters: “What about Hunter Biden?”
This latest indictment on serious tax evasion charges is more ammunition for those who seek to conflate the legal travails of the two men in an attempt to take the heat off Trump.
It is also catnip for right-wing America in its cries about the Biden family and deep state corruption.
Hunter Biden continues to be a major political Achilles’ heel for his father in his role as sitting president, but perhaps more pertinently as he fights for re-election next year.
He is not just a distraction but a major stressor for 81-year-old Joe Biden as he enters perhaps the most politically exhausting year of his life, in the knowledge his son could be on trial in two separate criminal cases.
The fact that Donald Trump is also likely to be on trial in the midst of his campaign amounts to what will be an incredibly messy election year in America in 2024.