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New book details the way Russians funneled money through Trump’s real estate empire using a money laundering middleman

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Felix Sater and Donald Trump, screengrab from BBC Panorama

In a new book, investigative reporter Tom Burgis details the shocking ways in which corrupt leaders used Russian “businessman” Felix Sater to conduct sketchy deals, including ones for President Donald Trump.

According to the Daily Beast, Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World reports the “terrifying” and true tale of overwhelming corruption, “clandestinely fusing their business interests, and forming alliances.”

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While corrupt leaders have spent decades “guzzling their nations’ wealth,” the rest of the world is struggling to keep such lawlessness in check.

“What they crave is legitimacy—for their money and their power,” the Beast described. “That means hijacking democracies, harnessing the rule of law to protect their own lawless fortunes and destroy their enemies.”

If people like Sater can funnel cash quietly through different channels, it can help untrusted regimes garner some form of trust from the global community by hiding their illicit activities. The person who does that is Sater, and his relationship with Trump is well-documented.

“In 2001, one of the tenants of Trump Tower had introduced himself” to then-developer Donald Trump, the book recalls.

“I’m going to be the biggest developer in New York,” Felix Sater told Trump, “and you need to be my partner.”

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“There was no need to discuss the criminal connections in either man’s past: Trump’s mobster associates or Felix’s days as a pump-and-dump fraudster. What mattered was that Trump needed money and Felix and his partner, Tevfik Arif, were ideally placed to capitalize on the great shift that would save him: the tide of dirty money,” the book continues.

After 9/11 banks were taking the source of cash more seriously since terrorist groups were using the banks to funnel payments for their plots. So, corrupt international business leaders looked to real estate as a place to stash their cash, and Trump wanted to be their dealer.

The five families had laundered their criminal proceeds through American property for decades. Now the new kleptocrats followed them,” the book goes on. “Trump’s role would be to rent out his name. As the persona of The Apprentice had elided reality, that name had been reinvented as a success. For a percentage, Trump would append his personal brand to a skyscraper or a hotel. He would make ignorance his business: what one of those who handled the money called ‘wilful obliviousness.’ An architecture of shell companies would keep the money incognito, and if anyone did find out who it belonged to, provide plausible deniability for those who had received it. The projects could go bust—they usually did—but that wasn’t a problem. The money had completed its metamorphosis from plunder to clean capital.”

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Options for laundering were everywhere, the book recalled.

“Colombian businessman David Murcia Guzmán pumped the proceeds of his black-market peso scam through the Trump Ocean Club down in Panama,” Burgis wrote. “But the big money wanted to be in the greatest haven of all, North America. In 2008, the Trump SoHo opened. It had cost $370 million. Another $200 million half-hotel, half-condo tower in Phoenix, Arizona, was supposed to follow, but was never finished. Nor was the 24-story tower in Florida. Still, both projects had usefully recycled plenty of money. The partners’ horizons widened. Felix Sater set off for Moscow with two of Trump’s children, Ivanka and Don Jr., to drum up a scheme for a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. For all their wilful obliviousness, Trump and his people showed a pretty clear sense of the sources of the funds: ‘We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,’ Don Jr. said in an interview published the day Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008.”

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It explains so much of the questionable business dealings there have been under the Trump Organization.

Read the full excerpt from Burgis at the Daily Beast.


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