Weekly News

How The Trump Organization Mixes Business And Politics In India

March 22,2018 21:17

An ongoing concern about the Trump presidency is the potential conflicts of interest he faces as his children continue to represent the Trump Organization in business deals around the world. And the brand they're selling is the name of the man who is ...


TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. An ongoing concern about the Trump presidency is the potential conflicts of interest he faces as his children continue to represent the Trump Organization in business deals around the world. And the brand they're selling is the name of the man who is now in the White House.
Here's an example. Last month, Don Jr. visited India, where The Trump Organization has several active real estate projects. Before he arrived, Indian newspapers ran ads that said anyone who paid a deposit of about $39,000 on an apartment in the newest Trump Tower India could join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner. Here's what Don Jr. had to say on Indian TV about making that offer.
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DONALD TRUMP JR.: If I didn't, I'd be the first person in the history of real estate to not go meet with their buyers, right? So - but that's the problem. Because my father happens to be in politics, there's always a catch. It must be because of this. It's like, wait a minute. I'm functioning as a real estate developer. That's what we do.
GROSS: The conflicts of interest The Trump Organization presents for the president and the fraud and corruption investigations into its business partners are the subject of an article in The New Republic titled "Political Corruption And The Art Of The Deal." The author, Anjali Kamat, is my guest. With the help of The Investigative Fund, she spent a year looking into The Trump Organization's business deals in India. And she's the reporter on a two-part series on Trump and India for the podcast Trump, Inc. Part one is now available. Trump, Inc. is a coproduction of ProPublica and public radio station WNYC and is cohosted by my other guest, Andrea Bernstein, who is the senior editor for politics and policy at WNYC.
Andrea Bernstein, Anjali Kamat, welcome to FRESH AIR. Andrea, let me start with you. What are you trying to do with the podcast Trump, Inc.?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: So we started this podcast about a year into Trump's presidency. And we had been working with ProPublica ad hoc on a number of stories. The biggest one we did was involving Trump SoHo and how Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump were almost indicted for fraud in connection with selling units of the Trump SoHo condo hotel, which happens to be visible from the WNYC Studios. And one of the things that we found were a couple of things. First of all, the Trump's business is sprawling. It's vast. It's hidden under all of these shell companies and partnerships. And we were trying to understand it, and it was like trying to grab a hold of a greased otter. It was so hard to get the facts straight.
So we decided we wanted to launch this open investigation. And we wanted to convene all of the investigative journalists that are working on this and the citizen journalists who are working on this and some new people that we were hoping to bring onboard through the podcast. And the idea was that, together, we could really start to unpeel the layers of this onion and understand what is going on. And the stakes are so high because we have never had a president with so many diverse business interests across the globe who is making money from his company at the same time that he's president. And also, his daughter, Ivanka Trump, is in the same situation, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. And we wanted to dig deep into the Trump family secrets. So that's why we launched the Trump, Inc. podcast.
GROSS: How many projects does The Trump organization have under way in India now as we speak?
ANJALI KAMAT: So the largest number of overseas licensing deals The Trump Organization has in any country around the world are in India. And there's five active projects right now. And this is one of the reasons why I was curious to look into what these projects were about.
GROSS: So in some of these projects, Don Jr. is the kind of representative, the front man for The Trump Organization. And his most recent trip to India on behalf of one of the Trump Towers there was just last month, February. What was that visit about?
KAMAT: So Don Jr. called this part of the global tour of Trump India in an interview while he was in India. And he visited four cities in four days. So there are five active Trump projects in India spread across four different cities, and he visited 4 out of 5 of these projects. And in every city, he held events. Some of these were dinners with buyers in the Trump Tower projects as well as investors, people from the real estate community and even politicians in some cases. And he did this in every single city.
In fact, the weekend before he arrived, he flew into New Delhi. Every major English-language newspaper in New Delhi had full front-page ads advertising Don Jr.'s visit. And they were put out by one of the developers that he's partner with. And they said, Trump has arrived. Have you? Trump is invited. Are you? And the point of this ad was if anyone could put down a deposit of about $40,000 for a Trump-branded condo, they would get invited to an exclusive dinner with a sitting U.S. president's son.
GROSS: So there were actual like offers made with Don Jr. being the kind of gift that you get or the premium that you get if you buy or rent. Would you explain what those offers were?
KAMAT: Yes. The latest tower to be launched, the latest Trump Tower project to be launched in India was in Gurgaon, the suburb of the capital, New Delhi. And it's being called Trump Towers Delhi NCR. And when the project was launched in January, one of the developers that's partnered with Trump made this offer that said the first hundred buyers would get a trip to New York to meet with Don Jr., the son of the U.S. president. And that was part of the way it was covered in the Indian media. And it wasn't refuted by any of the developers in their press materials.
And so this was in January. The following month, Don Jr. himself comes to India. And just before his visit, there is advertisements in English-language newspapers in the city - in New Delhi - advertising that if you put down a deposit before Don Jr. came by a certain deadline, you would get to have dinner with him in person in New Delhi.
GROSS: What questions does that race for you?
KAMAT: You know, the funny thing is Don Jr. keeps saying there's nothing surprising about this or nothing odd about this. And this is something that all real estate developers do. The problem is his father is the president of the United States of America. And the questions it raises is we don't know who the buyers are. Buyer information in India isn't publicly available until they register a sale or a mortgage, which in many cases might not happen until the project is completed, which could be years from now.
So we don't know who's actually putting down this deposit, who actually has enough money to - you know, $40,000, you know, might be a lot of money in India, but it's also not that much money if you want to buy access to the son of the U.S. president. We don't know if that's what they're doing. We don't know if that's why they're doing it. They might just really like the location. They might want to live in a Trump-branded tower. But there could be people who are doing this to get access to the son of a U.S. president, and that's a major conflict of interest.
GROSS: As we heard earlier in an excerpt of your podcast in a clip that you used of Don Jr. during his February trip to India, he said because my father's in politics, there's always a catch. And, well, his father is actually not just in politics, he's president of the United States. When Don Jr. was in India, in February, he was initially supposed to give a foreign policy address as well, but that was called off. Why was it called off?
KAMAT: He was supposed to give a foreign policy address at this global business summit that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also speaking at. And the foreign policy address that was supposed to be - the speech he was supposed to give was something about Indo-Pacific relations. And. He is there. Don Jr. holds no official position in the Trump administration, but he's being asked to give a foreign policy address.
This created an outrage here among ethics experts. And a lot of people questioned why Don Jr. was giving - going to India to talk about foreign policy. So this was changed at the last minute to a fireside chat. So the speech was called off. And instead, he was interviewed by a journalist in front of a large audience at that same event right before Prime Minister Modi spoke.
GROSS: So we've talked a little bit about Don Jr.'s role in The Trump Organization's dealings in India. What about Ivanka Trump?
BERNSTEIN: So Ivanka Trump's role has been immensely interesting in India. And to understand her role in India, it's important to understand the role that she had in The Trump Organization before she joined the White House. So basically almost her entire adult life, she has worked in The Trump Organization. And she was responsible for marketing. She was responsible for going to places and projecting the Trump family brand. And she obviously has a lot of appeal and can command a lot of attention, and she did that all over the world.
Now in her official White House role, she is not officially promoting the Trump brand, but she met with Modi when Modi came to the White House, and he invited her to travel to India for a summit, which she did. The press coverage was hugely positive. It was Ivanka Trump, Ivanka Trump, Ivanka Trump and Modi are together.
GROSS: You're talking about the press coverage in India?
BERNSTEIN: The press coverage in India, all of which took place right before Don Jr. went to start closing deals. And it is very difficult to untangle the threads about the brand image that Ivanka Trump is presenting and her role of being a senior White House official.
Now, the Trump Organization has said she was not doing any selling, there was no business deals. But she was there projecting a positive Trump brand right before her brother went in to sell condos. And that raises all kinds of questions about what exactly she is doing when she goes on these trips.
KAMAT: A retired planning official in Gurgaon, the suburb of New Delhi where the Trump Organization has two major developments coming up, told me that right after Ivanka's trip, the permits, final permits on a project that was launched just before Don Jr.'s visit, those permits were rushed through. He told me it came through in no time, right after Ivanka's trip, which raises a lot of questions about what kind of power Ivanka Trump's presence in India can have in terms of Trump's business interests.
GROSS: Anjali, from your article, it sounds like corruption is kind of baked into the deal if you want to move forward with the required licenses and inspections on building projects in India. Would you explain why?
KAMAT: Corruption is so entrenched in Indian real estate that it's almost impossible - from what I've learned from talking to builders, real estate experts, buyers, people who've been following and studying this and in this field for years - it's almost impossible to buy a piece of land or construct anything without paying a bribe at some point in order to move along the process. The World Bank Group actually ranks countries on their ease of doing business, and they have a particular ranking that's the ease of getting a construction permit.
And India ranks 181 out of 190 countries in the latest rankings. Last year it was 185. So it's one of the worst countries in terms of getting a construction permit, moving along the process of constructing real estate. And every step of the way, one has to pay a bribe. And that same World Bank report also says that in order just to build a simple warehouse in a city like Mumbai, which is the country's financial and entertainment capital, a warehouse, just building a warehouse takes about 40 permits, 40 different permits from different agencies.
So we're talking about corruption where you have to end up paying a bribe, grease payments, to various different agencies just to get the permissions to move the project along. So in this kind of context, a really important question becomes, what kind of due diligence do you do when you're selecting partners? What kind of partners do you want to work with if your business is constructing buildings? And the questions I raised in this piece is did the Trump organization do the right kind of due diligence when selecting its partners?
GROSS: Do you have any evidence about whether they did or didn't do due diligence?
KAMAT: While the Trump organization seems to have had legal counsel and legal firms in India helping them on their deals, one of the things I found out that's really interesting is that the middlemen and the fixers they hire to help them procure deals, to help them scope out new licensing deals, are also responsible for doing due diligence.
And this is something I was told by a former consultant to the Trump organization in India and also found on a draft agreement between the Trump Organization and another consultant where doing diligence on partners is a part of their responsibility. And the question here, when I took this to legal experts, is, why would you entrust someone who is getting a cut out of finding new deals with the job of also doing due diligence? Legal experts call this a clear conflict of interest.
GROSS: Why is that a conflict of interest?
KAMAT: The Trump Organization's deals in India are all brand licensing deals. So they say they're not actually building anything themselves, they are selling their name to Indian developers to put on their building. One of the things I found through this research is that members of the Trump Organization and the Trump family and Don Jr. in particular are very involved in these deals even though these are just licensing deals. But what they need in order to conclude these licensing deals is to find local partners.
So they hire a fixer or a middleman in India to help them do that. That person, according to a draft agreement I found, is entitled to about 12 percent of the licensing fees that the Trump Organization gets. So they have an incentive, a financial incentive, to conclude a deal with different partners. But if they're also the individuals who are involved in doing the due diligence on the partners, doing anti-corruption due diligence on the partners, that's where the conflict of interest comes in.
GROSS: They'll make more money cementing the deal than calling it off because the partner is corrupt.
KAMAT: That's the question here.
GROSS: OK. So does it also give the Trump Organization distance and deniability? OK, that partner was corrupt. We didn't know. We don't handle the due diligence.
KAMAT: I contacted the Trump Organization several times for comment on this piece, and they never responded. But they have said previously to other reporters who've reported on similar licensing deals in other countries, like Adam Davidson's piece in The New Yorker about Azerbaijan, and in those instances, the Trump Organization's lawyers have said that this is a licensing deal. The money is only going one way. We aren't responsible.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Andrea Bernstein, co-host of the podcast Trump, Inc. and senior editor for politics and policy at public radio station WNYC in New York, and Anjali Kamat, a reporter with the Investigative Fund, whose new article, "Political Corruption And The Art Of The Deal," about Trump projects in India is in the current issue of The New Republic. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're talking about the Trump Organization's current and former business deals in India and the possible conflicts of interest they pose and the regulations and laws their partners in India may have violated. My guests are Andrea Bernstein, co-host of the podcast Trump, Inc. and senior editor for politics and policy at public radio station WNYC in New York, and Anjali Kamat, a reporter with the Investigative Fund whose new article, "Political Corruption And The Art Of The Deal," about Trump projects in India is in the current issue of The New Republic.
So a potential for conflict of interest in the Trump Organization business deals in India is some of the people who he's dealt with or are dealing with now are or have been very connected politically. And there's one person in particular who's not only connected politically, he's actually in politics. Can you tell us about that person?
KAMAT: The Trump Organization's current partner in Mumbai is the Lodha Group, which was founded by a man named Mangal Prabhat Lodha. And he is a five-term state lawmaker with a party called the Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP. And that's the party that the country's prime minister, Narendra Modi, belongs to. So it's the ruling party in India since 2014. They've been winning state elections since 2014. They're gaining power across the country.
The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party, and top leaders at the party have openly scapegoated Muslims for years. And Mangal Prabhat Lodha himself has pushed for several laws and made public statements that either demonize Muslims or call for the criminalization of industries that are primarily run by Muslims. This is the man that the Trump Organization is partnered with currently in Mumbai building this enormous, 800-foot, gold-hued tower.
GROSS: And is Lodha currently in parliament?
KAMAT: Lodha is not in the national parliament. He is in the state assembly. He's a lawmaker from Mumbai in the Maharashtra State Assembly, and Maharastra is the second largest state in the country. He's also on the national executive, off the BJP.
GROSS: What's Lodha's business relationship with the Trump Organization?
KAMAT: The Lodha Group is the current licensing partner with the Trump Organization for the tower they are building in Mumbai, and that company is run by Mangal Prabhat Lodha. So Lodha's an interesting character because he started off in real estate in the early 1980s, and then he joined politics in the mid-'90s. And from everyone I talked to, what seems really clear is that Lodha's real estate business started to flourish after he joined politics.
He now is certainly one of the biggest builders in Mumbai. He - his company owns about 6,000 acres of land across the country, most of it in Mumbai. And they're building luxury towers across the city and a couple of other cities, too, in India, as well as in London. He's a major real estate developer, but he's also a politician, and a sitting politician right now. Like Trump, his sons are now the public face of his real estate company. But also like Trump, he hasn't fully distanced himself from the company.
GROSS: My guests are Anjali Kamat, whose new article, "Political Corruption And The Art Of The Deal," is in the current edition of The New Republic, and Andrea Bernstein, co-host of the podcast Trump, Inc. After a break, we'll talk more about President Trump and political and business conflicts of interest. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our interview about the possible conflicts of interest faced by President Trump as his children managed the Trump organization. We're focusing on India, where the Trump Organization has entered into more business deals than in any other foreign country.
My guests are Anjali Kamat, who, with the help of the Investigative Fund, spent a year investigating the Trump Organization's deals in India and reports on what she found in an article in The New Republic, titled, "Political Corruption And The Art Of The Deal." She's also the reporter on a two-part series for the podcast Trump, Inc., which is co-hosted by my other guest, Andrea Bernstein. Trump, Inc. is a co-production of WNYC and ProPublica.
So I want to play a clip from your podcast, Andrea. And this is in 2016, just a few weeks before the election. It's in Edison, N.J., an event organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition. Who will we hear introducing Trump?
KAMAT: So you're going to hear the voice of an Indian-American businessman based in Chicago whose name is Shalabh Kumar. He was one of the largest donors to him and his family, donated over a million dollars to the Trump campaign. And he's also one of the biggest backers of Prime Minister Modi here in the United States.
GROSS: So let's hear that clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
SHALABH KUMAR: Welcome, my dear friend and a great leader for our country and the world, Mr. Donald J. Trump.
(APPLAUSE)
BERNSTEIN: Donald Trump triumphantly takes the stage.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD BLESS THE U.S.A.")
LEE GREENWOOD: (Singing) And I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me.
BERNSTEIN: And he says something he doesn't say that often about immigrants and foreign countries.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But I am a big fan of Hindu, and I am a big fan of India - big, big fan.
(APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: Big, big fan. And if I'm elected president, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House. I'm involved in two massive developments in India - you probably know.
BERNSTEIN: In this event in New Jersey, it all comes together - entertainment, real estate, politics, international relations, nativism and how much Trump admires the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: I look forward to working with Prime Minister Modi, who has been very energetic in reforming India's bureaucracy - great man.
GROSS: OK, and that's an excerpt of the podcast Trump, Inc, which is co-hosted by my guest Andrea Bernstein. And they're devoting two episodes to The Trump Organization's partnerships in India. And also with us is Anjali Kamat, a reporter with The Investigative Fund whose new article is about those deals - her article in the New Republic.
What does it say to you that in this speech that Donald Trump gives, just a few weeks before the election, he points out that if he is elected, India will have a true friend in the White House - and by the way, I'm involved in two massive developments in India. He's making that connection in that speech. What is that - what questions does that raise for you?
KAMAT: This goes to the core of what's problematic about this relationship. The lines are so blurred between Trump as president and Trump as the head of The Trump Organization, which he was at that point when he made that speech, it becomes very difficult to separate his political interests and foreign policy priorities and his personal business interests.
GROSS: So President Trump said in that speech if he was elected president, the Indians and Hindus would have a true friend in the White House. His alliance would be with Prime Minister Modi. What does Modi stand for in India?
KAMAT: Modi came to power on an anti-corruption platform. He is a well-known long-standing Hindu nationalist leader. And he's a member of various Hindu nationalist movements that feed into his political party, the BJP. But what doesn't get talked about so much anymore - the part of his history that's been largely erased in India - is his history as the chief minister of the state of Gujarat, to which he attracted a lot of foreign investment. And he's seen as a very pro-business guy in Gujarat. But he was also chief minister of that state when there was a massacre of Muslims. Several hundred Muslims were killed in mob attacks in 2002, and he was widely accused of doing nothing to prevent it when he was running the state.
This actually ended up getting him into a lot of trouble internationally. Under the Bush administration, he was denied a visa to the United States in 2005. This didn't change until 2013, the year before he was elected. Meanwhile, he was rehabilitated politically on an international stage - largely thanks to that man you heard introducing Donald Trump at that event in Edison, Shalabh Kumar, who organized a congressional delegation to Gujarat. Since 2014, he's been the prime minister of India and was elected on an anti-corruption platform.
Again, the thing that's interesting about corruption here is that he's passed several measures to tackle corruption and graft, which as we've already talked about, is endemic in the country. But one of the places where it hasn't had much of an effect is in real estate. And part of the reason for that is that builders and developers remain one of the major funders for political parties in India. And political campaign financing is not very transparent. It's very difficult to tell exactly who is giving money because a large chunk of the money comes from different electoral trusts. But it's widely understood that builders are a major financier of political parties.
GROSS: So the president said, if I'm elected, the Indians and Hindus will have a true friend in the White House. What are the questions that are raised in your mind about that statement. And I ask that because India and Pakistan have had a very complicated relationship - a lot of distrust between the two countries, a lot of threats between the two countries. So do you perceive that as the president taking sides - siding with India against Pakistan?
KAMAT: You know, on January 1 of this year, President Trump tweeted a tweet very critical of Pakistan - accusing Pakistan of nothing but lies and deceit. And then the Trump administration proceeded to cut some aid to Pakistan. This is something that could have happened for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with India. But within India, it was perceived as a diplomatic victory for Prime Minister Modi. And members of the BJP celebrated this and were tweeting about this as a victory for Prime Minister Modi. So whether or not this actually came from pressure from India or because of lobbying from India, this is how it's perceived in India.
GROSS: Is the prime minister a businessman himself?
KAMAT: No, he is not.
GROSS: So he and President Trump have never had any kind of direct business relationship?
KAMAT: No.
GROSS: But people in the party have?
KAMAT: People in the party have. So there's - the most important connection here is Mangal Prabhat Lodha, who is a direct business partner of the Trump Organization, building the tower in Mumbai, who is a sitting BJP lawmaker. But other partnerships that the Trump organization has in India also have interesting ties to the BJP. So there's a partner called IREO - I, R, E, O, Indian Real Estate Opportunity - that signed a deal with the Trump Organization to build a commercial tower in Gurgaon, just outside of New Delhi. And their managing director's brother-in-law is a senior BJP official, Sudhanshu Mittal. And this is a connection that's been in the press, and that's been talked about for several years now. They deny any business relationship, but they are close family.
GROSS: And this company, IREO, which has partnered with the Trump Organization, was just accused of defrauding its investors for at least $147 million.
KAMAT: Yes, that's right. The thing to remember about IREO is that they're a private equity fund invested in Indian real estate. And so their major investors - two of their major investors from the U.S. and Britain, who had pumped in $1.6 billion of money into the company to invest in Indian real estate over the past 10 years, they filed in several lawsuits in Mauritius last year accusing the company of not being good stewards of their money. They claimed that over ten years, after investing $1.6 billion dollars, their investors only got back $250 million. Now, last month, the same investors filed a criminal complaint in New Delhi with the police against the managers of IREO accusing them of defrauding investors of about $150 million.
GROSS: So what kind of - like, can you answer this? What kind of money is flowing now from Trump projects in India - projects completed, projects still in progress. What kind of money is flowing now into the Trump Organization?
KAMAT: Well, the Trump Organization hasn't made its licensing deals public, and the developers wouldn't give us that information either. What we do know from Trump's ethics filings that were required of him when he ran for office is that the projects in India have given him up to - all these numbers are in ranges - so up to $11 million between 2014 and 2017. And that's money that's been coming in from his different licensing partners in India. So the Trump Organization could be getting paid at various stages and will be getting paid at various stages over the next four or five years because these are all projects, except for one. All but one of them are still under construction. So they could be getting payouts over the next four or five years that we don't know the details of.
GROSS: So the money goes into the Trump Organization. Does President Trump have access to that money?
BERNSTEIN: Yes, President Trump has access to that money. And as our partners at ProPublica have reported, he can access it at any time. He can, anytime he wants, withdraw money from the trust that he's set up, which is why a lot of ethics experts have said it's a meaningless trust because it's just sort of a way station between him and his business.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Andrea Bernstein, co-host of the podcast Trump, Inc. and a senior editor for politics and policy at public radio station WNYC in New York, and Anjali Kamat, a reporter with The Investigative Fund who has a new article in The New Republic about "Political Corruption And The Art Of The Deal." It's about Trump projects in India. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF BABKO'S "NOSTALGIA IS FOR SUCKERS")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're talking about The Trump Organization's business deals in India and the possible conflicts of interest they pose and the regulations and laws their partners may have violated. My guests are Andrea Bernstein, co-host of the podcast Trump, Inc. and senior editor for politics and policy at public radio station WNYC in New York, and Anjali Kamat, a reporter with The Investigative Fund whose new article "Political Corruption And The Art Of The Deal" about Trump projects in India is in the current issue of the New Republic.
There's a 1977 law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Would you describe what that law is and the questions that are being raised about whether the Trump Organization or President Trump is violating those laws - that law?
BERNSTEIN: So the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was put in place after a number of international business scandals. The idea is to prevent American businesses from stooping to the lowest levels in the countries that they do business with. Now, I should say that - I mean, one of the things that's very interesting about The Trump Organization's business model is Trump, obviously, made his name building real estate in some of the most desirable places in the world - Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue, Central Park, across from the United Nations.
And by the beginning of this century and especially accelerating in this decade, he has done places - business in places like India, like Baku, like Panama where the business norms are not what they are in the United States. And the point of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is to keep U.S. businesses acting in an ethical way abroad to set an international standard for how business should be constructed. Part of the idea is that the U.S. should lift the world in the way business is done.
GROSS: So this is 1977 law also prohibits U.S. companies or their business partners from bribing or unduly influencing foreign officials to advance a business deal. Are there ways that that might apply in Trump Organization business dealings in India?
KAMAT: Now, this is the question that a lot of legal experts are actually debating right now because all of these deals are structured, as far as we know and as far as we've been told, as licensing deals. So The Trump Organization - we're told - has no direct investments in these deals. So that's their argument for saying that they can't be held responsible for what happens because they don't have any direct stake in the project.
Now, part of the story I told is how involved The Trump Organization has been in these deals even if they don't have a financial stake in these deals. So the central question that legal experts are asking about the relevance of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to The Trump Organization's deals overseas in India and in other places is how much did they know because not knowing is not a defense under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
So if they were very involved and if they were so involved as to, you know, be meeting on their trips to India with different officials who were responsible for approving the projects, if they were meeting with municipal officials who granted the permissions, if they knew exactly what was happening with the architectural plans - and these are things that different members of the Trump Organization and the Trump family have done - then would they have known - would they have reason to know that bribes may have been paid? And in an extremely corrupt environment, an extremely corrupt business environment that Indian real estate can be, it's not a defense to step aside and say, we didn't know.
And so these are the questions that legal experts are asking. It's an untested territory. This is not - no case has been brought, as far as I know, as far as I've been told from legal experts, under the FCPA for brand-licensing deals. But these are the questions that it raises.
GROSS: So who would have standing to press charges on the grounds that The Trump Organization violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?
BERNSTEIN: So it's actually both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission and the leaders of both the DOJ and the SEC are, of course, appointed by Donald Trump.
GROSS: Whoa. OK.
(LAUGHTER)
BERNSTEIN: Yeah.
GROSS: Hasn't President Trump, like, criticized the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?
BERNSTEIN: Yes. Before he was president, he went on CNBC to talk about a case involving Walmart. And he spoke about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And he said specifically it was a horrible law and the world is laughing at us, the implication being U.S. businesses are at a disadvantage because of the ways they need to act in foreign countries.
GROSS: Anjali, what are some of the questions you think still remain about The Trump Organization's business dealings in India and President Trump's current connection to The Trump Organization, questions that you wanted to investigate in your piece but you weren't able to get far enough for whatever reason?
KAMAT: The major question that remains for me is about the flow of money. And how much money is flowing back to the Trumps, and how is it flowing back? And part of the reason that's really difficult to trace is because all of The Trump Organization entities involved are set up as LLCs in Delaware, which makes it really difficult to get any information about them. And almost all of the Indian licensees to The Trump Organization are private companies or limited liability partnerships with very limited reporting requirements.
So I spent a year trying to comb through financial documents, but there just isn't enough information to find out how the money is going, where it's being routed through. And this is a broader question about foreign investment into India and the flow of funds and how the financial structure is set up that a lot of financial experts who are studying India, who are studying money flowing in and out of India, have questions about. Where is the money flow? Why is it so difficult to track this?
GROSS: Well, thank you both for your reporting. And thank you for coming on our show.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much.
KAMAT: Thank you so much.
GROSS: Anjali Kamat's article "Political Corruption And The Art Of The Deal" is in The New Republic. Andrea Bernstein is the cohost of the podcast Trump, Inc., which, with Anjali, is doing a two-part series on the president, The Trump Organization and India. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ'S "VEINTE ANOS (TWENTY YEARS)")
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