Trump’s links to Russian money laundering raise new questions about secret real estate deals since election
A new report published Wednesday morning by Bloomberg reveals President Donald Trump’s lengthy ties to suspected money launderers, and another recent report suggests his family business may still be engaged in shady dealings.
The Bloomberg report, written by Trump biographer Tim O’Brien, takes a deep dive into the president’s business relationship with Felix Sater, a mob informant and felon with possible links to Russian intelligence, and real estate firm Bayrock Group.
Bayrock, which operated out of Trump Tower but is now dormant, funded Trump real estate projects by funneling foreign investment through an Icelandic bank called the FL Group, which investigators suspect laundered dirty money from Russia and elsewhere.
Trump himself appeared to care little where the money came from, or about Sater’s seemingly obvious ties to Mafia figures in the U.S. and Russia, according to the Bloomberg report.
Sater conducted much of his Bayrock business with Trump’s two eldest children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, during a series of deals between 2002 and 2011, including the troubled Trump Soho hotel and condominium.
Donald Trump Jr. and his younger brother, Eric Trump, have been tasked with overseeing Trump Organization while their father serves as the U.S. president, and the company has engaged in a series of real estate deals flagged as potentially troublesome in a USA Today report published last week.
The newspaper reported that, over the past 12 months, 70 percent of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies, which allowed individuals to form corporations to buy the real estate without revealing the new owners’ names.
That arrangement compares to about 4 percent of Trump buyers in the two previous years, and it appears to be unique to Trump-owned companies.
No more than 20 percent of the condos owned by others in the same buildings, and sold during the same 12-month period, were sold to LLCs, the newspaper reported.
The newspaper’s reporters spent six months examining each of the more than 430 properties, worth more than $250 million, owned by Trump companies.
The president’s businesses have sold 28 U.S. properties since Election Day for $33 million, including luxury condos and penthouses in Las Vegas, New York City and Los Angeles.
The profits from those sales go into a trust run by Trump’s sons, but the president is the sole beneficiary of the trust and can take out cash any time.
The arrangement, and the opaque nature of the LLC sales, potentially open up opportunities to buy influence with a sitting president.
Trump has never fully revealed his real estate holdings, and he’s not required to do so by law, and the sudden and dramatic increase in LLC purchases raise alarms about who exactly is buying his properties — and why.
“If what’s going on is somebody is buying something from The Trump Organization to buy favor, there’s no way you’d ever figure out who that person is or what favor they’re trying to buy,” said attorney Jack Blum, who specializes in offshore tax evasion and financial crime and former staff lawyer for two U.S. Senate committees.
The White House refers questions about Trump’s businesses to the Trump Organization, which declined to answer USA Today‘s questions about the LLC sales.
Trump’s 2008 sale of a Palm Beach, Florida, mansion to a Russian oligarch raised eyebrows during the presidential campaign.
Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev paid $95 million about nine years ago through an LLC for a home owned by the future president, although he claimed at the time not to know who’d bought the property.
Trump paid $41.35 million in 2004, and sold it four years later for what was then the highest price paid for any single-family home in the country.
Rybolovlev is an investor in the Kremlin-friendly Bank of Cyrus — which has been suspected of serving as a front for Russian money laundering, and came up in the confirmation hearings of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a vice-chairman of the bank since 2014.
The Russian oligarch, who made his fortune selling fertilizer potash, tore down the mansion last year after a mold problem was discovered, and he divided the property into three lots.
One of those sold afterward for $34 million, although that buyer remains a mystery.