Hunter Biden, the son of US President Joe Biden, has been indicted on three federal firearms-related charges, according to a court filing.
It came after efforts to reach a plea deal failed, leading to the first-ever prosecution of a sitting president’s child.
The indictment, in a Delaware federal court, is tied to the possession of a gun while using narcotics.
The charges mean the courtroom drama will play out during the 2024 US presidential campaign as Mr Biden, 80, seeks reelection in a likely rematch with his predecessor Donald Trump, 77, who is facing four upcoming criminal trials.
Sky News’s US correspondent Mark Stone described the indictment as a “significant step” that likely resulted in a “head in hands” moment for the US president.
“Another day, another extraordinary moment in the American political journey. Whether it’s Trump or whether it is Biden, both sides now embroiled in their own very different legal wranglings.”
Two counts are tied to the president’s son allegedly filing a form claiming he was not using illegal drugs at the time he purchased a revolver in October 2018, while the third alleges he possessed a firearm while using a narcotic.
The 53-year-old has also been under investigation for his business dealings, with the special counsel overseeing the case having indicated charges of failure to pay taxes on time could be filed in Washington or in California, where he lives.
A gun possession charge against Biden had previously been part of a plea deal that also included guilty pleas to misdemeanour tax charges, but the agreement fell apart during a court hearing in July when a judge raised questions about its unusual provisions.
Defence lawyers have argued a part of the deal sparing Mr Biden prosecution on the gun count if he stays out of trouble remains in place – it includes immunity provisions against other potential charges.
Lawyers indicated they would fight additional charges filed against him. Prosecutors, however, maintain the agreement never took effect and is now invalid.
US president could face impeachment inquiry over family business dealings
Indictment makes president’s re-election campaign unquestionably messier
The president hasn’t commented on this latest news.
His stock reply when asked about his wayward child is: “I love my son.” But his allies are doing their best to play it down just as his critics are sprinting with it.
Senator Chris Coons, one of Mr Biden’s closest allies in the Senate, is dismissive: “It’s not news. It’s the same charges that were presented before, right?”
Technically, he is right.
The charges are not new. We knew about them, we knew about the alleged crimes, we knew that the July plea deal had fallen apart and we knew therefore that this indictment would probably come.
But that doesn’t mean it’s ‘not news’.
It unquestionably is news and it will have prompted a head-in-hands moment in the White House.
It amplifies the perception on the right of politics (an absolute insistence among Biden-haters) that the family is dodgy and corrupt.
No evidence for this has yet been presented by anyone – the Republican impeachment inquiry hopes to reveal some – but it just makes Mr Biden’s re-election campaign unquestionably messier.
It is notable that new polling data from Real Clear Politics puts Donald Trump a whisker ahead of Mr Biden in a theoretical race between the two men for the White House in the 2024 election.
Both men are the presumptive candidates for their respective parties. Yet polls suggest the American public doesn’t want either of them.
One is 77, the other is 80. One faces four huge court cases. The other faces growing questions about his age, a possible impeachment and now a son in court.
You couldn’t write this stuff. But daily, we are.
Republicans pursue impeachment inquiry against president
It comes as Republicans pursue an impeachment inquiry over the business dealings of the president’s family, largely over his son’s business dealings.
They have obtained testimony about how Biden used the “Biden brand” to drum up work overseas, but they have not produced hard evidence of wrongdoing by the president.
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said he is directing committees to open a formal investigation into what he called a “culture of corruption” around the first family.
He said over the past few months “House Republicans have uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden’s conduct”.
Democrats described the move as “absurd”, while the White House called it “extreme politics at its worst.”