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Saturday, May 13, 2017


Follow the money laundering

by Tom Sullivan

Former Palm Beach mansion Trump "flipped" in 2008 to a Russian oligarch for $100 million. It has been demolished.

Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, has become part of the investigation into President Donald Trump's finances, Reuters reports:

A unit of the U.S. Treasury Department that fights money laundering will provide financial records to an investigation by the Senate into possible ties between Russia and President Donald Trump and his associates, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter.
The Senate Intelligence Committee requested the records late last month as part of its investigation into possible collusion during the 2016 campaign between the Trump campaign and Russia. Treasury slapped the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort with a $10 million fine in 2015 for “willful and repeated violations” of anti-money laundering requirements, although Trump's financial interest ended in 2014.

The Wall Street Journal reports:
Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), a member of the intelligence committee and the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said in an interview Friday that he is particularly interested in information about shell companies, money laundering and the use of property transfers that may be germane to the committee’s Trump investigation.

Representatives for FinCEN and Sens. Richard Burr (R., N.C.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.), the intelligence committee chairman and vice chairman, declined to comment.


FinCEN receives hundreds of reports each day from financial institutions flagging suspicious activity, and it is tasked with making sure banks and other companies comply with rules to do so. It provides the data to law-enforcement agencies, and its own analysts examine the data to identify suspicious patterns of the flow of funds around the world. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, for instance, the agency took the lead in tracking terrorist-financing sources and using financial records to help reveal the structure of terrorist networks.
The documents the Senate Finance Committee has requested may consist of "Suspicious Activity Reports from banks, casinos, and other places, about transactions involving any Trump projects," writes Adam Davidson for New Yorker.

A review of Trump's dealings by USA Today provides more details:
The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.

Among them:

• A member of the firm that developed the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York is a twice-convicted felon who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man and later scouted for Trump investments in Russia.

• An investor in the SoHo project was accused by Belgian authorities in 2011 in a $55 million money-laundering scheme.

• Three owners of Trump condos in Florida and Manhattan were accused in federal indictments of belonging to a Russian-American organized crime group and working for a major international crime boss based in Russia.

• A former mayor from Kazakhstan was accused in a federal lawsuit filed in Los Angeles in 2014 of hiding millions of dollars looted from his city, some of which was spent on three Trump SoHo units.

• A Ukrainian owner of two Trump condos in Florida was indicted in a money-laundering scheme involving a former prime minister of Ukraine.
Not to mention Trump's loans with Deutsche Bank, fined $630 million this year for laundering Russian money, as well as the Bank of Cypress Trump makes a point of denying Russia ties when it suits him. The Associated Press reported in early January, Trump told the press, “I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia.” But, the AP found:
While Trump neither owns nor licenses his name to properties in Russia, it’s not for lack of trying. He and his children have not “stayed away,” as he said, but have regularly expressed interest in pursuing projects there since the Soviet era.

The dealings that Trump has had with Russian nationals have been transactional — selling a Palm Beach mansion to a Russian oligarch for $95 million, for example, or taking the Miss Universe beauty pageant to Moscow in 2013.
At a press conference last July, Trump told reporters, “I have nothing to with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia — for anything.” Except for that one thing. And a few other things:
As he put it: “What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida. Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt and I bought the house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions. So I sold it. So I bought it for 40, I sold it for 100 to a Russian. That was a number of years ago. I guess probably I sell condos to Russians, okay?”
The Washington Post's fact checker gave Trump's denials four Pinocchios.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference in 2008.

"Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia," golf writer James Dodson says Trump's son Eric told him in 2013 at one of Trump's North Carolina courses. Eric Trump denied that conversation took place after the story appeared in The Hill on Monday. “We have zero ties to Russian investors,” he told the New York Post the same week the White House scrambled to build a credible explanation for the James Comey firing.

It's not that Trump has no investment in Russia, but that Russia has investments in him:
A Reuters review has found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld might say.

Charlie Pierce considers the $10 million fine Trump paid "because his busted Atlantic City casino was found to have failed to follow anti-laundering standards," plus the money laundering ties USA Today presents, and offers this take:
Here's what I think. The president* needed money. The Russians oligarchs needed a laundromat. There is an obvious common interest here. That the Russians could gain more leverage over him than he had over them in this arrangement should be obvious. I think that he will always value his dreams of financial empire more than the national interest, and that he would do anything to keep those dreams alive, even demolish the institutions of free government along the way.
If Trump cannot shut down the Senate investigation, he will surely try to divert attention from it, either to avert prosecution, expose mixed loyalties, or forestall the mirror on the wall confessing he is not really the fairest. He is a con man who fancies himself a shark, but his eagerness to make deals that goose his insatiable ego make him an easy mark for the real sharks. It may turn out that while he thought he was playing his foreign investors, they were playing him.