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Hunter Biden indicted on nine tax charges, adding to gun charges in a special counsel investigation

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Hunter Biden was indicted on nine tax charges in California as a special counsel investigation into the business dealings of President Joe Biden's son intensifies against the backdrop of the 2024 election.

The new charges filed Thursday -- three felonies and six misdemeanours -- are in addition to federal firearms charges in Delaware alleging Hunter Biden broke laws against drug users having guns in 2018. They come after the implosion of a plea deal over the summer that would have spared him jail time, putting the case on track to a possible trial as his father campaigns for reelection.

Hunter Biden "spent millions of dollars on an extravagant lifestyle rather than paying his tax bills," special counsel David Weiss said in a statement. The charges are centred on at least US$1.4 million in taxes Hunter Biden owed during between 2016 and 2019, a period where he has acknowledged struggling with addiction. The back taxes have since been paid.

If convicted, Hunter Biden, 53, could a maximum of 17 years in prison. The special counsel probe remains open, Weiss said.

In a fiery response, defence attorney Abbe Lowell accused Weiss of "bowing to Republican pressure" in the case.

"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," Lowell said in a statement.

The White House declined to comment on Thursday's indictment, referring questions to the Justice Department or Hunter Biden's personal representatives.

The charging documents filed in California, where he lives, detail spending on drugs, strippers, luxury hotels and exotic cars, "in short, everything but his taxes," prosecutor Leo Wise wrote.

The indictment comes as congressional Republicans pursue an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, claiming he was engaged in an influence-peddling scheme with his son. The House is expected to vote next week on formally authorizing the inquiry.

No evidence has emerged so far to prove that Joe Biden, in his current or previous office, abused his role or accepted bribes, though questions have arisen about the ethics surrounding the Biden family's international business.

The separate, long-running criminal investigation into Hunter Biden had been expected to wind down with a plea deal where he would have gotten two years' probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanour tax charges and avoided prosecution on the gun charge if he stayed out of trouble.

The agreement was pilloried as a "sweetheart deal" by Republicans, including former President Donald Trump. Trump is facing his own criminal cases, including charges that he plotted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden, a Democrat.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, gave credit for the new charges Thursday to two IRS investigators who testified before Congress that the Justice Department had mishandled and "slow walked" the investigation into the president's son. Justice officials have denied those allegations.

The two IRS employees, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, said the indictment was "a complete vindication of our thorough investigation."

The new charges against Hunter Biden include filing a false return and tax evasion felonies, as well as misdemeanour failure to file and failure to pay.

The defence signalled that it plans to fight the new charges, likely at least in part relying on immunity provisions from the original plea deal. Defence attorneys have argued those remain in force since that part of the agreement was signed by a prosecutor before the deal was scrapped.

Prosecutors have disagreed, pointing out the documents weren't signed by a judge and are invalid.

Lowell said he's also planning to push for dismissal of the gun charges next week, calling them "unprecedented and unconstitutional."

The three federal gun charges filed in Delaware allege Hunter Biden had lied about his drug use to buy a gun that he kept for 11 days in 2018. Federal law bans gun possession by "habitual drug users," though the measure is seldom seen as a stand-alone charge and has been called into question by a federal appeals court.

Hunter Biden's longstanding struggle with substance abuse worsened after the death of his brother Beau Biden in 2015, according to court documents and his memoir "Beautiful Things," which ends with him getting clean in 2019.

His gross income nevertheless totaled some US$7 million between 2016 and 2020, prosecutors said, pointing to his roles on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma and a Chinese private equity fund as well as his position at a law firm.

Hunter did eventually file his taxes in 2020, while facing a child support case in Arkansas, and the back taxes were paid by a "third party," prosecutors have said in court documents.

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