ALL ROADS LEAD TO PUTIN Part 2: Here’s How It Works: A Classic Scheme Explained

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS: A CLASSIC MONEY-LAUNDERING SCHEME EXPLAINED

American voters are wising up to Trump's deep links to Putin, starting with years of laundering dirty Russian money.
American voters are wising up to Trump’s deep links to Putin, starting with years of laundering dirty Russian money. Click on thumbnail to see Keith Seidel’s cartoon full size.

One important Russian money laundering scheme is known as a “mirror trade.” Here, a Russian agent on behalf of legal entity (“X”), whose owner is anonymous, directs the equities desk of Deutsche Bank’s Moscow branch to place two trades simultaneously. In one, using rubles, the agent buys for Company X ten million dollars of a blue-chip Russian stock, such as Lukoil.

In the second trade, acting on behalf of Company Y, which typically is registered in an offshore territory, Deutsche Bank’s London branch sells the same quantity of Lukoil stock owned by Company X, in exchange for dollars, pounds, or euros. Both companies X and Y have the same Russian owner. Deutsche Bank is the intermediary, helping its client to buy and sell to itself. Presto: rubles in Russia turn into dollars outside Russia, and are now ready to be plunked down for one or more Trump-branded condominium units.[1]

Here’s Timothy O’Brien, the editor of Bloomberg Opinion and the author of Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald, speaking with Max Bergmann, a senior fellow and director of the Moscow Project at the Center for American Progress (CAP).[2] 

O’Brien on Trump:

Back in the 1990s, when Trump was running his father’s business into the ground, he managed to burn bridges with just about every financial institution, and that’s pretty much a death sentence for a big real-estate developer.

 The only big commercial bank that continued to do business with Donald Trump after the mid-1990s was Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Bank in a lot of ways was a rogue bank. It continually got into trouble for things like money laundering, interest-rate rigging, questionable transactions moving funds out of Moscow into Europe, money-laundering allegations in the U.S., on and on and on and on.

Luke Harding of The Guardian on Deutsche Bank:

The real-estate division washed its hands of Donald Trump. (Trump launched a bizarre counterclaim against the bank when it tried to collect some of the hundreds of millions he owed it.) But for some reason private banking fairly soon afterwards settled with Donald Trump and started lending him hundreds of millions of dollars, essentially kind of rescued him financially. This is Deutsche Bank in New York.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank in Moscow is running essentially a kind of high-end money laundering scheme, rather a clever one, for VIPs and people close to power to essentially convert their rubles into dollars and get their money out of the country.

At this writing, Trump has successfully blocked three congressional subpoenas for Trump-related business records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One. He’s lost in the federal district court and in the Circuit Court of Appeals. Whether the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, and if it does whether the Court will enforce the subpoenas, and how long it will take to decide, are all open questions.

FROM RUBLES — TO DEUTSCHE BANK — TO DOLLARS — TO TRUMP[3]   

From dozens of similar examples, let’s follow the laundered money in just a few of the many dozens of Trump-owned and Trump-branded properties.

First we look at the sales brochure for Trump Tower in Manhattan: “Rising 68 stories over Fifth Avenue’s most desirable intersection, Trump Tower houses 263 residences unrivaled in quality . . . . An architectural masterpiece . . . .”

Trump Tower is only 58 stories high. Compared to the nearby General Motors building, “My building looks a little small,” Trump told the builder of his scale model. Unable to lop off floors from the GM building in real life, Trump had his elevators skip ten floor numbers, slapping the imaginary extra floors on the sales brochure, much easier than actually building them. Welcome to Donald Trump’s Alternative Reality Show.[4]

When Trump Tower opened in 1983, shell companies based in Panama, the Cayman Islands, and the British Virgin Islands bought 43 condos—with cash. Delaware-based corporations bought another six condos with cash. If you bought a condominium in Trump Tower, you were sure to run into American or Russian mobsters. They were everywhere.

David Bogatin, a high-level member of a Russian crime family, bought five condominium units. Trump personally attended the closing. Bogatin’s brother Jacob was indicted in 2003 on 45 felony counts of stock fraud. His co-defendant was the Russian organized crime boss Semion Mogilevich, described by the FBI as “one of the most powerful and dangerous criminals in the world.” Known as the Russian mafia’s “boss of bosses,” Mogilevich heads an international criminal enterprise involved in weapons trafficking, contract murders, extortion, drug trafficking, and prostitution on an international scale. He has been on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for years.

Putin has incorporated the Russian mafia as a key element of his regime. The gangsters do things for him that he wants to keep some distance from. Mogilevich is close to Putin and lives in Moscow, where he is out of reach of U.S. authorities.”[5]

David Bogatin pleaded guilty to a $300 million gasoline tax scam that involved both the American and Russian mafias. In seizing his Trump Tower apartments, prosecutors told the court that they were used “to launder money, and to shelter and hide assets.” 

In Unit 63A, a condo directly below one owned by Trump, 29 people were arrested in what prosecutors called “the world’s largest sports book.” The operation included the Tower’s entire fifty-first floor.

FBI wiretaps revealed that 63A was “the headquarters for a sophisticated money-laundering scheme.” Directed by Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, also a Russian mafia boss close to Mogalevitch, the network moved an estimated $100 million out of the former Soviet Union, through shell companies in Cyprus, and into investments in the United States.[6]

TRUMP SANITIZES CASH FOR TERRORISTS AND DRUG CARTELS

It’s not just the Putin Gang that Trump launders money for. He also works for Colombian drug dealers, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and terrorist organizations wherever they are. It’s just business.

The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower Panama was no exception. The stories of two Colombians are instructive examples.

Colombian-American Louis Pargiolas had links with Colombian drug traffickers dating back to 2002. He was convicted in 2011 in Miami for his role in a Colombian drug case. Another Colombian, David Murcia Guzmán—known as DMG—was indicted in November 2008 on money laundering charges, first in Colombia and then in the United States. In the U.S., Murcia was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison for conspiracy to launder drug money. After serving six years, he was to be deported to Colombia to serve a 22-year prison term there for offenses including money laundering.

In 2013 Nogueira, the main broker for Trump’s Panama property, was secretly recorded by a former business partner. In those conversations, he said he had performed money laundering as a service, moving tens of millions of dollars mainly through contacts in Miami and the Bahamas. “More important than the money from real estate was being able to launder the drug money—there were much larger amounts involved,” he said in the recording. “When I was in Panama, I was regularly laundering money for more than a dozen companies.”

DMG laundered money for Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the right-wing guerilla force best known as FARC, and for the paramilitary organization Autodefensas Unidasde Colombia, or AUC. Both are designated by the U.S. as terrorist organizations.

Guzmán invested in a number of Trump’s Panama units during the pre-construction sales period. These sales were arranged for him by Nogueira, who told interviewers that he had bought a “maximum 10 units” for Guzmán.

Guzmán’s lawyer in Panama explained that he paid for those units with cash brought into the country by “mules” from Colombia.

Monte Friesner, who now advises clients on money laundering risks, described how Guzmán brought sealed bags of cash from Colombia into Panama in customized vessels equipped with lead-lined holding tanks. These boats arrived in Panama once a week and sometimes went on to Miami for repairs with bags of money still stashed on board.

Trump Tower also was home to Vadim Trincher, another Russian mafia member, Trincher pleaded guilty to racketeering and received a five-year prison term.

Perhaps the most well-known Trump Tower occupant, and the man closest to Trump, was Felix Sater. A convicted felon, stock swindler, and all around bad guy, also with ties to Mogalevitch. The Russian-born Sater was brought to the U.S. as a child. The family settled in the large Russian emigre colony in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where he and Michael Cohen became friends. Sater’s father, Mikhail Sheferovsky was a local crime boss in Brighton Beach.

SHELL COMPANY INVESTMENTS IN DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN TRUMP PROPERTIES

Sater’s close business ties to Trump began when he joined the Bayrock Group, a real estate operation founded in 2001 by Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet official from Kazakhstan. Bayrock brought in as another investor Viktor Khrapunov, former energy minister of Kazakhstan and ex-mayor of its capital city, Almaty.  Almaty’s municipal government sued Khrapunov in 2014, accusing him of looting hundreds of millions of dollars of public assets and laundering much of the money through real estate. The Financial Times linked the money to shell company purchases of units in the downtown Manhattan Trump Soho building.

Kazakhstani billionaire and fugitive Mukhtar Ablyazov was another Bayrock-Trump Soho investor. Related by marriage to Khrapunov (their children are married), the former bank chairman was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison by a Kazakh court for embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from BTA, the country’s major bank.

The money trail wends its way through so many money laundering and tax haven countries, shell corporations, banking entities, and hidden beneficiaries that it would be far too tedious to spell it out in this short piece. Suffice it to say that some millions found their way to New York real estate and into the pockets of Donald Trump and his children.

Sater was involved in coordinating transfers of millions of dollars to the United States. E-mail messages show Sater’s relationship with two members of the Khrapunov family. In one $3 million transaction, Viktor Khrapunov’s stepdaughter bought three Trump SoHo apartments. She refers to Sater as “my business associate.” 

Bayrock’s headquarters were on Trump Tower’s 24th floor, just below Trump’s own suite of offices. Bayrock also received large infusions of cash from Alex Sapir, the son of now deceased billionaire Tamir Sapir, who was born in the Soviet republic of Georgia. Sapir moved much of his fortune out of Georgia and into New York real estate.

Over several years in the early 2000s, Bayrock collaborated with Trump on many hotel and resort projects. Bayrock’s former finance director Jody Kriss sued Bayrock and its principals, alleging that “Tax evasion and money laundering are the core of Bayrock’s business model . . . a monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.” As for Felix Sater, he recounts how “Donald wanted me to bring deals to him . . . he saw how many I put on the table at Bayrock.”

Ivanka Trump dodged indictment for fraud related to Trump's Soho condo hotel.
Ivanka Trump dodged indictment for fraud related to Trump’s Soho condo hotel.

But it was the Trump SoHo project, a 46-story condominium hotel, where Ivanka cut her teeth on sales and interior design for the family’s corrupt enterprise. That project very nearly got her indicted, along with Donald Jr.
It’s a long story but the short of it is that the younger Trumps fraudulently told prospective buyers that two-thirds of the units had been sold. They collected millions in deposits, but never sold more than 15 percent. The development changed hands in a foreclosure sale in 2014.

Career prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office were preparing to indict Ivanka and Donald Jr. But Cyrus Vance, the DA, dropped the case after Trump returned 90 percent of the deposits and paid the plaintiffs’ legal fees. The victims signed non-disclosure agreements. Whether a controversial face-to-face visit with—and large campaign contributions from Trump’s attorney Marc Kasowitz—was a factor isn’t known. However, Vance did return the contributions.

Trump claims not to know Russian mafia fixer Felix Sater. This business card suggests otherwise.
Trump claims not to know Russian mafia fixer Felix Sater. This business card suggests otherwise.

After the 2008 financial crisis, Sater went to work for the Trump Organization, carrying a business card listing his title as “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.” Characteristically, when Trump was asked about Sater, it was, Felix who? He testified under oath that he wouldn’t recognize Sater if he walked into the hearing room.

Now we move on to Trump World Tower, and a version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

During the 1990s, Trump owed $4 billion to more than 70 banks, with $800 million of that personally guaranteed. He was bankrupt—five bankruptcies—and faced multiple lawsuits. In 1998, Russia defaulted on $40 billion of debt. The ruble plummeted, Russian banks failed, and the oligarchs and mobsters rushed to the exits, looking for safe places to stash their stolen fortunes. That’s when the steady stream of stolen Russian money became a flood.   

Enter Trump World Tower. Construction got under way in 1999 and was completed in 2001.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that one-third of the units on the tower’s priciest floors were snatched up either by individual buyers from the former Soviet Union or by limited liability companies connected to Russia. “We had big buyers from Russia and Ukraine and Kazakhstan,” sales agent Debra Stotts told Bloomberg.

After Trump World Tower opened, Sotheby’s International Realty teamed up with a Russian real estate company to make a big sales push in Russia. The “tower full of oligarchs,” as Bloomberg called it, became a model for Trump’s projects going forward. All he needed to do, it seemed, was slap the Trump name on a big building, and high-dollar customers from Russia and other former Soviet republics were guaranteed to come rushing in.

It might have been the tasteless Trump glitz that attracted some Russians, but they mainly flocked to Trump because of the no-questions-asked money laundering service.

Dolly Lenz, a New York real estate broker, told USA Today that she sold some 65 units in Trump World Tower to Russians. “I had contacts in Moscow looking to invest in the United States,” Lenz said. “They all wanted to meet Donald.” 

The flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing. It’s impossible to overstate how important this was. That Russian cash helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics. “They saved his bacon,” says Kenneth McCallion, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration who investigated ties between organized crime and Trump’s developments in the 1980s.

TROPICAL CONNECTIONS: MONEY LAUNDERING IN FLORIDA AND PANAMA

Next, let’s examine Sunny Isles, a “Little Moscow” in Florida.

Trump struck a deal with a Florida developer to attach his name to six high-rises in Sunny Isles, just outside Miami. Without having to put up any money, Trump would receive a cut of the profits. A local broker told The Washington Post that one-third of the 500 apartments he’d sold went to “Russian speakers.” So many bought the Trump-branded apartments that the area became known as “Little Moscow.”      

Many of the units were sold by a native of Uzbekistan who had emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1980s; her business was so brisk that she soon began bringing Russian tour groups to Sunny Isles to view the properties. According to a Reuters investigation, at least 63 buyers with Russian addresses or passports spent $98 million on Trump’s properties in south Florida. Another one-third of the units—more than 700 in all—were bought by shadowy shell companies that concealed the true owners. 

A Miami Herald investigation found that at least 13 buyers in the Florida complex were the targets of government investigations, including “members of a Russian-American organized crime group.”

Two buyers in Sunny Isles, Anatoly Golubchik and Michael Sall, were part of the Russian group convicted in connection with a massive international gambling and money-laundering syndicate that was run out of Trump Tower in New York. The ring, according to the FBI, was operating under the protection of the Russian mafia.

Trump-branded properties sprang up in Canada, the Philippines, Panama, Uruguay, Turkey, India, South Korea, and elsewhere. The residents weren’t all crooks. But every major crook—in Russia and anywhere else in the world—who needed money laundered knew where to bring their dirty cash.

BuzzFeed News carried out an exhaustive investigation into every sale of a Trump-branded condominium in the United States. The objective was to document how many went to unidentified buyers who paid cash, an indication of possible money laundering.  

Between 2008 and 2010, as Trump shifted his real-estate business from developing high-rises to licensing them, 11 Trump-branded condo buildings opened, nine of which were Trump-licensed. Hundreds of shell companies paid an average of $1.2 million in cash per unit. In six of the licensed buildings, cash-paying shell companies bought at least a third of the units.

Tim O’Brien explained:

One of the reasons his partners were overseas for the most part is that he’s a pariah in New York real-estate circles. Serious commercial and residential real-estate developers think that he’s a cartoon character and he’s notorious for stiffing partners, stiffing lawyers, stiffing his suppliers. He got a very bad reputation around that sort of stuff and, and a lot of the blue-chip real-estate people did not, you know, even want to be in a room with him, much less partner with him. So, I think he was forced into these transactions with people from overseas who thought, “Wow, this is the famous Donald Trump, you know, the, the ring master of The Apprentice. We can hitch our stars to his wagon.”

One measure of Trump’s bottomless corruption is how deeply he’s involved his adult children. I’m reminded of Don Vito Corleone’s lament in The Godfather, talking to his son, Michael Corleone, “I never wanted this for you.” Not so with this Don. In this next project, we can see how Ivanka in particular has found her groove.

On now to Central America and the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, which might just as well be called “Narco-A-Lago.”[7]

Panama has been notorious as one of the best places in the world to launder money. Luxury developments there were conceived and built as money laundering vehicles. And Trump’s project was a textbook money laundering operation: from purchases in cash to bulk sales, from sales to anonymous shell companies to purchasers using “bearer shares”—in which the company is owned by whoever holds a physical stock certificate, without any registry keeping track of ownership. It was money laundering heaven, hosted by the Trumps.

The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, Trump’s first international development, was one of his most lucrative branding deals. It was followed with more than 25 Trump-branded projects outside the United States. No matter that it was a disaster for the innocents who bought units on the basis of the Trump name, and ruinous for everyone else associated with the deal, except for the money launderers and Trump’s own family of grifters. That’s the model he had established early on his business life and now would export.  

Here’s how it worked.

The project came over the transom to Trump from Roger Khafif, a Panamanian businessman. Publicly announced on April 24, 2006 in New York City, it was a financial lifesaver. Along with a cut of financing and sales, Trump might get as much as 20 percent commission on construction “cost savings” attributed to his efforts. Once the hotel opened, Trump would get 17.5 percent of hotel guest room payments, including minibar items, internet service and bathrobes; four percent for parking unit sales; and 12 percent of commercial space rentals. Trump would also receive four percent of the hotel’s gross revenue for managing it, plus an incentive fee equal to a fifth of the hotel’s net operating income.

If Trump sold enough pre-construction units between the announcement and June 30, 2007, Bear Stearns would underwrite the project financing. But that was by no means a sure thing. Casual buyers couldn’t be counted on to buy enough condos. Instead, money laundering would be the pre-construction sales driver that would establish the project’s viability and hence its financing.

As of June 30, 2007, two-thirds of the 996 units had been sold for a combined total of $279 million. Thus Bear Stearns underwrote the $220 million bond issue, whose prospectus pegged Trump’s anticipated licensing fees alone at $75.4 million.

To facilitate the sale of units to anonymous buyers, a crucial step for those moving stolen wealth, at least 139 Panamanian special purpose vehicles—shell companies—were created. Each of these was anonymously owned, with “nominees” listed on the paperwork. This made it nearly impossible to determine the ultimate owners and their sources of funding.

Global Witness, an international NGO that probes corruption and money laundering, worked with NBC and Reuters to carry out a painstaking investigation into the sources of funding. What they found turned out to be a motley collection of Russian mobsters, some very close to Putin, some major drug traffickers, and even some investors closely linked to the Iranian Republican Guard.

Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira was the key salesman. He worked with Homes Real Estate Investment & Services. Nogueira told NBC and Reuters how he sold 100 units in just a week. He brokered nearly a third of the 666 pre-construction unit sales and probably as many as 400 units overall.

Nogueira, who would soon be arrested on fraud charges, had arrived in Panama in the mid-2000s from Spain, where proceedings had been initiated against him for “serious violation” of the country’s money-laundering laws. In other words: he was the perfect Trump sales executive.

Because Panama is “perceived to be highly corrupt,” said Arthur Middlemiss, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan and a former head of JPMorgan’s global anti-corruption program, those who do business there should perform due diligence on others involved in their ventures. If they fail to do so, he told Reuters, they risk being liable under U.S. law for turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.

Nogueira told interviewers that 50 percent of his customers were Russian. “I had some customers with some, you know, questionable backgrounds. Nobody ever asked me. The banks didn’t ask. The developers didn’t ask. The Trump Organization didn’t ask me. Nobody asked me: ‘Who are the customers? Where did the money come from?’”

Alexander Altshoul, born in Belarus, was listed as a partner/owner of Homes Real Estate Investment. He had cash deposits on ten apartments and one hotel unit.

Igor Anopolskiy, a Ukrainian, worked with Nogueira to sell units to Ukrainian buyers. He was a director or shareholder of at least 19 Panamanian companies linked to real estate, some of them connected to the Trump Ocean Club. In September 2014, Anopolskiy was convicted in a Ukrainian court and sentenced to three years in prison for forging travel documents. The sentence was suspended and at the end of the suspension period, in June 2017, the sentence was purged.

Anopolskiy had an interest in a travel agency in Ukraine. Another investor was believed to be the wife of the former Ukrainian presidential chief of staff, Viktor Medvedchuk, a vehement critic of the 2014 protests that led to the downfall of President Viktor Yanukovych. In March 2014, the Obama White House sanctioned Medvedchuk for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes.

Vladimir Putin is the godfather to the couple’s daughter. 

Other Borises, Ivans and Igors were involved in the project. Trump’s cut of the profits didn’t stop at pre-construction financing and sales. Many Russian post-construction buyers needed their money washed as well.

During the July 2011 ribbon cutting in Panama, Trump posed for a photo next to two Russians, Andrey Bogdanov and Ivan Kazanikov.

Monte Friesner, a former CIA contractor and convicted money launderer, knew both men. He told Global Witness that “their business was moving money and only for Russians.”

Friesner said, “At one point they asked me to move money for them; they were talking about laundering money.” Kazanikov bought “a good dozen” units through Nogueira.

Four months after Trump joined Panama’s then-president, Ricardo Martinelli, for the building’s ribbon-cutting in July 2011, Roger Khafif‘s company defaulted on its debt. Though the bankruptcy affected Trump’s licensing fees, court files indicate that his total payout remained between $32 million and $55 million.

Donald Trump made millions with this international money laundering scheme. It was the family business.

Ivanka Trump was Daddy's emissary in the Panamania scheme.
Ivanka Trump was Daddy’s emissary in the Panama hotel/laundering scheme.

Nogueira worked closely with Ivanka, even flying with her and Roger Khafif, the actual developer, on a private jet to review a potential real estate project in Colombia.

When the Global Witness/Reuters/NBC report was published, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, sent a letter to Reuters. It claimed that the organization and the Trump family do not have “any recollection of ever meeting or speaking with this individual.” Felix who? Rudy who? Paul who? Roger who? What we don’t know yet is whether or when it will be, Ivanka who?

Eric Trump was interviewed in another Russian publication saying, “In the New York hotel-condominium Trump SoHo, the bulk of buyers are foreigners, among whom there are a lot of Russians.”

Donald Trump Jr. traveled to Russia six times in 18 months looking for investments, according to a 2008 statement he made at a real estate conference that was posted online by a trade publication and cited by the Chicago Tribune. Donald Jr. said, “It is a question of who knows who, whose brother is paying off who . . . It really is a scary place.”

At a press conference, as reported in Russia’s Seagull magazine, Trump said, “I have very good business relations with the Russians.”

RUSSIANS? WHAT RUSSIANS?

But for consumption here in America, it was as if he’d scarcely heard of Russia.

He told interviewers with The New York Times, “I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo. Who knows?”[8]

July 26, 2016: “I mean, I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.”

July 26, 2016: “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” Trump tweeted.

Oct. 6, 2016: During the second presidential debate, Hillary Clinton said Russia was trying to help elect Trump, “maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow.” Trump called this assessment “so ridiculous,” adding, “I know nothing about Russia . . . I don’t deal there.”

The denials went on and on:

  • 24, 2016: “I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, I’ll give you a written statement,” Trump said at a campaign rally.
  • 11, 2017: Trump told reporters he had “no deals that could happen in Russia because we’ve stayed away,” adding that he could “make deals in Russia very easily” but “I just don’t want to because I think that would be a conflict.”
  • 11, 2017: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA—NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING! ” Trump tweeted.
  • 7, 2017: Trump tweeted, “I don’t know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy.”
  • May 11, 2017: Trump told NBC News that he had “nothing to do with Russia,” other than the fact that he “sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago” and hosted the Miss Universe pageant there once.[9]

“I tweeted out that I have no dealings with Russia,” he said at a press conference in January 2017, when asked if Russia has any “leverage” over him, financial or otherwise. “I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia. I have no loans with Russia at all.”

In May, when he was interviewed by NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump seemed hard-pressed to think of a single connection he had with Russia.

“I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago,” he said. “I had the Miss Universe pageant—which I owned for quite a while—I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia.”            

Preposterous . . . brazen . . . jaw-dropping. However Trump’s thousands of lies have been characterized, “I have nothing to do with Russia” ranks right up at the top.

Russian money poured into the Trump Organization, the Trump campaign, the Trump inaugural. Anything and everything having to do with Trump, the Putin Gang was all over it.

In 2018, new management at the Panama project evicted the Trump Organization and re-branded it as a JW Marriott. Shortly thereafter, with Trump now the U.S.  President, a Panamanian law firm representing the Trump Organization issued a letter to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela threatening potential “repercussions” to Panama if the government didn’t intervene on behalf of the Trump Organization.

[1] Bloomberg News reported that some of the money diverted through Deutsche Bank mirror trades belonged to Igor Putin, Vladimir’s cousin, and to Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, two brothers, long-time Putin friends who own Russia’s largest construction company. Putin awarded the brothers the contract to build the bridge between Russia and Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine. The brothers are on the U.S. government’s list of sanctioned Russians, a list compiled by the Obama administration in connection with that seizure. 

[2] Bergmann hosts the Asset, an excellent podcast from which I’ll reproduce segments. They detail Trump’s remarkable criminal career, particularly as it relates to his relationship with Putin.  https://theassetpodcast.org

[3] See generally:  The House of Trump, House of Putin: the untold story of Donald Trump and the Russian mafia, Craig Unger, 2018, Penguin Random House, and Unger’s piece in the July 13, 2017 issue of the New Republic.

[4] Trump bought the GM Building in 1998. He kept Bank Melli as a tenant until 2003, four years after the U.S. Treasury Department labeled it an organ of Tehran. The bank laundered money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, was involved in stealing nuclear weapons technology and in financing various U.S.-sanctioned  organizations.

[5] Among the many FBI agents who Trump has tried to delegitimize and destroy, Bruce Ohr was high on the list.  Here’s Craig Unger: “Ohr’s job in the Justice Department involved facing off against Russian crime boss Semion Mogilevich, whose operatives have been using Trump branded properties to launder millions of dollars for more than three decades . . . What the public should also understand is how Mogilevich has served as an agent for Vladimir Putin’s efforts in the United States and abroad . . . . former FBI lawyer Lisa Page was fired from her position on Mueller’s probe . . . after anti-Trump text messages exchanged between her and Peter Strzok came to light . . . . However, little attention was paid to . . . her considerable experience prosecuting money laundering cases involving Russian organized crime, including working with the FBI’s task force in Budapest to prosecute a money-laundering case against Dmitry Firtash, the Ukrainian oligarch who partnered with both Paul Manafort and Semion Mogilevich.”

[6] Trump’s close friend, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, was a 400 million euro investor in and vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, a notorious Russian-controlled tax haven and money laundering bank. His ties to Russian oligarchs close to Putin are well established. In a Trump administration so rife with corruption, Ross stands out. His appointment and confirmation as Commerce Secretary is as brazen a scandal as we’ve ever experienced. In 2014, the year he made his Cyprus investment, the US State Department considered Cyprus an area of “primary concern” for money laundering. Another major investor and vice-chairman was Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, referred to in Russian media as a former KGB official and Putin ally. The bank’s chief executive was the disgraced former head of Deutsche Bank, the only bank known to have lent money directly to Trump in the last decade. Ross is also an investor in a shipping company, Navigator, which is a partner in Sibur, a Russian gas company part-owned by Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s son-in-law. Shamalov is the son of Nikolai Shamalov, one of Putin’s oldest friends from St. Petersburg, where Putin was deputy mayor and where he began his criminal accumulation of vast wealth. Bottom line: Trump’s commerce secretary and close friend makes enormous profits from Putin’s closest allies. Like they say, you can’t make this stuff up.

[7] Narco-A-Lago-Money_Laundering_at_the_Trump_Ocean_Club_Panama.pdf (This is the Global

[8] New York Times interviewers.

[9] https://theweek.com/speedreads/810185/8-times-trump-denied-doing-business-russia

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