DONALD TRUMP has been ordered by the US Supreme Court to hand over his much-discussed tax returns to prosecutors in New York.
The former US president has been reluctant to release the documents for several years, in glaring defiance of the longstanding precedent among presidential candidates to do so.
A lower court had ruled that the records were pertinent to a criminal investigation, meaning they could not be released.
However, this new ruling does not necessarily mean the files will be accessible to the public.
The financial documents will come under private scrutiny by a grand jury and may only be released into the public domain as part of an indictment – should a criminal case be initiated.
A grand jury is convened by a prosecutor to determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue a prosecution.
The jury is invested with investigative powers and can issue subpoenas to compel people to testify in court.
The US Supreme Court's decision has dealt a blow to Mr Trump, who is facing a number of high-profile lawsuits, and will now have a considerable chink in his legal armour.
Last July, the Supreme Court ruled Mr Trump’s financial records could be reviewed by prosecutors in New York, but the then president’s lawyers challenged that decision, arguing that the court filing was "wildly overbroad" and put forward in bad faith.
After a tortuous legal journey, on Monday the court rejected the lawyers' argument and set the ball rolling for a potential prosecution.
This was, according to US media sources, a last dash attempt by the former president to keep the records private.
For his part, Mr Trump has persistently claimed his financial affairs are above-board and called the investigation a "witch hunt".
In a statement on Monday, Mr Trump accused New York prosecutors of unjustly targeting him and said that the Supreme Court "never should have let this 'fishing expedition' happen".
The real estate tycoon has been accused by, among others, his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, of a variety of financial crimes ranging from fraud to bribery – the latter in the case of hush money paid to silence Stormy Daniels – a porn star who supposedly slept with Mr Trump – in the run up to the 2016 presidential race.