Trump’s money laundering exposed

A recent episode of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show detailed exactly how and why former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon claimed in the controversial book Fire and Fury that money laundering may be the real crime that will ultimately bring Trump down.

Maddow points out Bloomberg has reported that starting in the late ‘90s, ownership of a chromium mine in Kazakhstan may have been an elaborate money laundering plot that shifted ownership of the mine from their employees, who were forced to sell their shares, to a shell company in the British Virgin Islands—and right into the hands of Trump properties such as Trump Soho through Refik Arif and his brother Tevfik, who is the owner of Bayrock LLC.

Bayrock also received illicit funds from Mukhtar Ablyazov, the former head of a Kazahkstan’s BTA Bank who also embezzled more than $2 billion through shady loans to himself via shell companies he created. He bought three condos in Trump Soho through his son-in-law Iliyas Khrapunov, who’d had previous deals with Bayrock’s Felix Sater, using those illicit funds in an elaborate money-laundering scheme. Some of the BTA Bank money also apparently went to a fake Trump-branded casino/hotel tower project in the city of Batumi in the former soviet nation of Georgia for which many loans were made. But the project itself never went forward—yet the loans were never repaid. Trump himself was paid $1 million for use of his name in 2012, and even made a personal appearance in Batumi.

A troika of metals billionaires including Alexander Mashkevich and his two partners, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov, also supplied Bayrock with cash through their holding company Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation Plc, (ENRC) which was forced off the European Stock Exchange by England’s Serious Fraud Office due to their rampant corruption. All of this is apparently now part of Mueller’s investigation into money laundering associated with Trump properties.

And all of this fits a pattern by the Trump organization of coincidentally being on the receiving end of questionable funds.

On Rachel’s show, Buzzfeed’s Thomas Frank reported that over 1,300 real estate transactions involving Trump properties were purchased by shell companies in cash. They have the hallmarks of money-laundering as outlined by FinCen, all of which could have generated as much as $1.5 billion in profits for Trump Co. accounting for 21 percent of their U.S. property sales. Meanwhile77 percent of Trump Soho properties were bought by shell companies in cash.

None of this is new for Trump.

In the 1980s, the Australian government rejected a bid for a Trump Casino in Sydney because of his alleged ties to the mafia.

Australian authorities once rejected Donald Trump’s bid for a hotel casino in Queensland, stating such a project would be “dangerous” on account of “Trump Mafia connections,” it has emerged.

Cabinet minutes and a secret police report dated 1987 and published Wednesday as part of an investigation by the News Corporation-owned newspaper The Australian cast a dark shadow over Trump’s business reputation.

In the 1990s Trump’s Taj Mahal casino, which was a favorite gambling spot for Russian mobsters living in Brooklyn, was cited 106 times in 18 months for violating money laundering rules, particularly for failing to report when someone wins and withdraws more than $10,000.

The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement.

It’s a bit of forgotten history that’s buried in federal records held by an investigative unit of the Treasury Department, records that congressional committees investigating Trump’s ties to Russia have obtained access to, CNN has learned.
The casino repeatedly failed to properly report gamblers who cashed out $10,000 or more in a single day, the government said.
The violations date back to a time when the Taj Mahal was the preferred gambling spot for Russian mobsters living in Brooklyn, according to federal investigators who tracked organized crime in New York City. They also occurred at a time when the Taj Mahal casino was short on cash and on the verge of bankruptcy.
Eventually the Taj Mahal did go bankrupt and his ability to borrow from U.S. banks was cut off, so he turned to other sources such as Deutsche Bank and the habit of accepting cash payments from sketchy foreign shell companies.
In the early 2000s Trump went into business with development firm Bayrock LLC, which was headed by Tevfik Arif. His brother had been the owner of the shell company that received ownership of a chromium mine in Kazahkstan—and whose managing director was former Russia mobster and convict Felix Sater, who had offices located on the 24th floor of Trump Tower in New York.  Bayrock’s  first joint project together with Trump was building a Trump Tower in Phoenix. They later worked with them on the Trump International in Fort Lauderdale, Trump Camelback in Phoenix, and Trump Soho in New York.
Between 2001 and 2007 at least 63 Russian oligarchs leased, rented, or bought various Trump properties in South Florida, spending upwards of $98.5 million on them. Many of these deals with Russian nationals in Florida and Manhattan reportedly are arranged through Bayrock Group LLC.

“I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia,” President Trump said at a news conference last month. “I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.”

But in the United States, members of the Russian elite have invested in Trump buildings. 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.

The buyers include politically connected businessmen, such as a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm that works on military and intelligence facilities, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics.

People from the second and third tiers of Russian power have invested in the Trump buildings as well. One recently posted a photo of himself with the leader of a Russian motorcycle gang that was sanctioned by the United States for its alleged role in Moscow’s seizure of Crimea.

In 2005 TrumpCo put together a proposal for Trump Tower Moscow in coordination with Bayrock LLC.

After a few early explorations of business opportunities in Russia dating back to the late 1980s, Trump in 2005 signed a one-year deal with Bayrock Group, the development company where his scandal-plagued business associate Felix Sater was a principal, to transform an old pencil factory into a luxury development.

Trump later blamed the failure of that venture on journalist Tim O’Brien’s book “TrumpNation,” which estimated that the real estate mogul was worth far less than the billions he claimed to possess. Trump said it scared away Russian investors.

In 2008 Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to Russian oligarch Dimitry Rybolovlev for $95 million after purchasing it just two years previously for only $45 million.

In 2008, Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the Palm Beach mansion owned by Trump for $13 million more than the most expensive Palm Beach mansion sale up to that moment. It’s been almost a decade since the sale, but the transaction is newsworthy again as new questions surround contacts between members of Trump’s administration and Russian government officials.

Last week, a Rybolovlev spokesman said his client, who made his fortune in fertilizer potash, purchased the former mansion at 515 N. County Road for his family’s trust.

“The property was acquired for investment purposes by the Rybolovlev family trust, as was clearly stated at the time of the purchase in 2008,” according to Brian Cattell, a New York-based spokesman for Rybolovlev.But this is not what Rybolovlev’s representatives said in 2008, when Rybolovlev purchased the 62,000-square-foot mansion formerly known as Maison de L’Amitie, or House of Friendship.In 2008, Rybolovlev characterized the purchase as a company investment: “This acquisition is simply an investment in real estate by one of the companies in which I have an interest,” Rybolovlev said at the time through a spokesman for Uralkali, the fertilizer company he previously owned.

Whether this was a investment for his family trust or his company, Rybolovlev has since demolished the mansion—so it’s not much of anything anymore.

Also in 2008, cash-paying shell companies purchased $43 million worth of condos at the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago and at the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas. At about this same time, Donald Jr. stated “We get a lot to money from Russia.

Yeah, no kidding.

Also, Felix Sater left Bayrock after his criminal record was revealed and went to work for Trump as a senior adviser.

in 2010 a racketeering case was filed against Bayrock, Sater, and Arif, alleging they had been “substantially and covertly mob-owned and operated.”

”A former executive involved in a convoluted legal battle with a real estate developer with ties to Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump pushed back Friday against a call for his latest complaint to be thrown out, saying his allegations against Bayrock Group LLC are “textbook” under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The Manhattan DA’s Major Economic Crimes Bureau began an investigation of the Bayrock/Trump Soho project for fraudulent claims for exaggerating its value and sale by four times the real amount. Emails belonging to Don Jr., Kushner, and Ivanka show they are all aware of the fraud and discuss keeping it secret.

In the spring of 2012, Donald Trump’s two eldest children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., found themselves in a precarious legal position. For two years, prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office had been building a criminal case against them for misleading prospective buyers of units in the Trump SoHo, a hotel and condo development that was failing to sell. Despite the best efforts of the siblings’ defense team, the case had not gone away. An indictment seemed like a real possibility. The evidence included emails from the Trumps making clear that they were aware they were using inflated figures about how well the condos were selling to lure buyers.
In one email, according to four people who have seen it, the Trumps discussed how to coordinate false information they had given to prospective buyers. In another, according to a person who read the emails, they worried that a reporter might be onto them. In yet another, Donald Jr. spoke reassuringly to a broker who was concerned about the false statements, saying that nobody would ever find out, because only people on the email chain or in the Trump Organization knew about the deception, according to a person who saw the email.
Eventually, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance overruled his prosecutors and opted to drop the criminal fraud case against the Trump family—after Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz provided a $25,000 donation to Vance’s re-election campaign.

Kasowitz, who by then had been the elder Donald Trump’s attorney for a decade, is primarily a civil litigator with little experience in criminal matters. But in 2012, Kasowitz donated $25,000 to the reelection campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., making Kasowitz one of Vance’s largest donors. Kasowitz decided to bypass the lower level prosecutors and went directly to Vance to ask that the investigation be dropped.

On May 16, 2012, Kasowitz visited Vance’s office at One Hogan Place in downtown Manhattan — a faded edifice made famous by the television show, “Law & Order.” Dan Alonso, the chief assistant district attorney, and Adam Kaufmann, the chief of the investigative division, were also at the meeting, but no one from the Major Economic Crimes Bureau attended. Kasowitz did not introduce any new arguments or facts during his session. He simply repeated the arguments that the other defense lawyers had been making for months.

Ultimately, Vance overruled his own prosecutors. Three months after the meeting, he told them to drop the case. Kasowitz subsequently boasted to colleagues about representing the Trump children, according to two people. He said that the case was “really dangerous,” one person said, and that it was “amazing I got them off.” (Kasowitz denied making such a statement.)

So racketeering, fraud, and corruption charges were evaded this time. However in 2011, the Trump Soho joint venture condo project by TrumpCo and Bayrock was sued for defrauding buyers with their inflated sales claims. The suit was settled with a payout of $3.19 million, and another potential criminal case was avoided.

But then in 2013 things went wonky again as Russian mobsters renting property in Trump Tower just three floors below the penthouse suite were arrested for money laundering and running an illegal gambling ring at the end of a two-year investigation.

Between 2011 and 2013 the Bureau had a warrant to spy on a high-level criminal Russian money-laundering ring, which operated in unit 63A of the iconic skyscraper — three floors below Mr Trump’s penthouse.

The investigation led to the indictment of more than 30 people, including alleged mafia boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, according to ABC News.

The suspected mobster – who is accused of moving $50m (£40m) in illegal money to the US – remains at large, even after Interpol issued a red notice for his detention.

One of the attorneys for defendant Denys Katsyv of Prevezon Holdings Ltd. in a related $230 million Russian money laundering case was Natalia Veselnitskaya. The prosecutor was Preet Bharara. Some of the stolen money laundered through this ring was connected to Bill Browder’s investigation and the murder of Sergei Magnitsky in Russia, which spawned the Magnitsky Act. After Trump abruptly fired Bharara despite having promised to keep him, the suit was suddenly settled by the DOJ for just $6 million two days before it was scheduled to go to trial. Attorneys for Prevezon responded by saying the meager settlement was “almost an apology” by the DOJ for having brought the suit.

Also in 2013, Trump setup his Miss Universe pageant in Moscow where Tokhtakhounov, the Russian mobster who was on the run from Interpol, was welcomed on the red carpet at the event.

While in Moscow Trump also reportedly met with several high-ranking oligarchs including board members from VEB Bank with ties to Putin at the restaurant Nobu, and with billionaire Russian real estate developer Arag Agalarov and his pop star son Emil, who partnered with Trump on the pageant.

Video shot before the pageant shows Trump at dinner with Emin and Aras Agalarov, as well as Rob Goldstone, Emin’s promoter. Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff interviewed Goldstone at the time who revealed that Trump, for the second time, had plans to license a new Trump Tower in Russia with Agalarov as the local builder/owner.

While in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in November 2013, Donald Trump entered into a formal business deal with Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, to construct a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. He later assigned his son, Donald Trump Jr., to oversee the project, according to Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who arranged the controversial 2016 meeting between the younger Trump and a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

Trump has dismissed the idea he had any business deals in Russia, saying at one point last October, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

But Goldstone’s account, provided in an extensive interview in March in New York, offers new details of the proposed Trump project that appears to have been further along than most previous reports have suggested, and even included a trip by Ivanka Trump to Moscow to identify potential sites.

Accompanying Ivanka on her location scouting trips was Ike Kaveladze, who works for the Agalarov family. But that project was eventually killed when Obama signed the Magnitsky Act since some of the Russian companies supporting it were then sanctioned.

All of this is helpful to keep in context when we eventually get to when Don Jr. is contacted by Goldstone in 2016 during the presidential campaign about having a secret meeting with Veselnitskaya and Rinet Akhmetshin, who has reported ties to Russian intelligence, along with Kaveladze to discuss Russia giving them “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and the DNC accepting foreign donation, apparently in exchange for a commitment from the Trump campaign to drop or weaken the Magnitsky Act sanctions.

This deal didn’t go forward only because Veselnitskaya didn’t bring the “dirt” documentation with her, but the implication was clear: give us the “dirt” and we’ll cut your sanctions.

So when Trump says he has “no deals” in Russia, it’s not for lack of trying. And although it’s not illegal to do business deals when you may not necessarily know that the money is dirty, there is also the problem of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which doesn’t require that the you know all the details of the potential corruption of your business partner to held accountable anyway—like with the failed Tower Tower Baku (Azerbajain) project.

Alan Garten told me that the Trump Organization had commissioned a risk assessment for the Baku deal, but declined to name the company that had performed it. The Washington Post article on the Baku project reported that, according to Garten, the Trump Organization had undertaken “extensive due diligence” before making the hotel deal and had not discovered “any red flags.”

But the Mammadov family, in addition to its reputation for corruption, has a troubling connection that any proper risk assessment should have unearthed: for years, it has been financially entangled with an Iranian family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideologically driven military force. In 2008, the year that the tower was announced, Ziya Mammadov, in his role as Transportation Minister, awarded a series of multimillion-dollar contracts to Azarpassillo, an Iranian construction company. Keyumars Darvishi, its chairman, fought in the Iran-Iraq War. After the war, he became the head of Raman, an Iranian construction firm that is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. The U.S. government has regularly accused the Guard of criminal activity, including drug trafficking, sponsoring terrorism abroad, and money laundering. Reuters recently reported that the Trump Administration was poised to officially condemn the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

No evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump, or any of his employees involved in the Baku deal, actively participated in bribery, money laundering, or other illegal behavior. But the Trump Organization may have broken the law in its work with the Mammadov family. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, passed in 1977, forbade American companies from participating in a scheme to reward a foreign government official in exchange for material benefit or preferential treatment. The law even made it a crime for an American company to unknowingly benefit from a partner’s corruption if it could have discovered illicit activity but avoided doing so. This closed what was known as the “head in the sand” loophole.”

So technically in all of these cases where there is a foreign government official involved, the Trump companies may have violated the law simply by taking the money and not asking any questions.

Perhaps—regardless of what Russia did during the election— this is Mueller’s endgame.