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The Business Deals That Could Imperil Trump

April 21,2018 23:08

Those documents — and records recently seized by the F.B.I. from the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen — might answer a question raised by the president's critics: Have certain real estate investors used Trump-branded properties to launder ...and more »

In 2006, the sale of condos in the first international hotel venture under the Trump brand, the former Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama, fell, in large part, to a Brazilian named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira. He worked with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering. Mr. Nogueira told NBC News last year that he sold about half of his Trump condos to Russians, including some connected to the Russian mafia, and that some of his clients had “questionable backgrounds.”
Three years later, as Reuters has reported, Panamanian authorities arrested Mr. Nogueira on charges of fraud and forgery unrelated to the Trump project. After getting out on bail, he fled to Brazil, where he faces a separate money-laundering investigation. In 2014, he fled Brazil, too.
The Trumps typically claim to be passive partners in projects like Trump Ocean Club and that they had minimal dealings with the likes of Mr. Nogueira. (The chief legal officer for the Trump Organization, Alan Garten, has said that no one in the Trump family remembers meeting or speaking to Mr. Nogueira. But there are photos of Mr. Trump and his daughter Ivanka with Mr. Nogueira.) Yet Mr. Trump’s limited public disclosures reveal his company has earned millions from licensing fees, a percentage of property sales and management fees in foreign projects. And the Trump family was sometimes personally involved in everything from a project’s design to its décor.
That appears to have been the case with the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, a high-end residence and hotel that has yet to open. In 2012, the Trumps signed a licensing agreement with the local developer, Anar Mammadov — the son of the country’s billionaire transportation minister, Ziya Mammadov, who an American diplomat once described in cables published by WikiLeaks as “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.”
The Trump Organization has said that it conducted an extensive due-diligence review of Anar Mammadov and that questions about the source of his wealth surfaced after they signed the deal. Presumably, Mr. Mueller will want to see evidence of that.
In Vancouver, the Trump Organization partnered with the son of Tony Tiah Thee Kian, a Malaysian oligarch who was convicted of providing a false report to the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange. That project, which was guided by Ivanka Trump and is one of the few Trump-branded properties to open since Mr. Trump took office, is now the subject of an F.B.I. counterintelligence inquiry, according to CNN. Mr. Garten, the Trump chief legal officer, told CNN: “The company’s role was and is limited to licensing its brand and managing the hotel. Accordingly, the company would have had no involvement in the financing of the project or the sale of units.”
It remains unclear whether Mr. Mueller will investigate these deals, or already is. But a comprehensive investigation could raise questions about the Trump Organization’s compliance with anti-money-laundering laws and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which — according to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice — makes it a crime for a United States company to act with willful blindness toward the corrupt activities of a foreign business partner.

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