Reports Say Trump Tower in Panama Built With ‘Laundered’ Money
Reports Say Trump Tower in Panama Built With 'Laundered' Money
Amid this week’s explosive revelations and/or allegations of sexual misconduct – by Roy Moore, Al Franken, Presidents Trump, Clinton and George H.W. Bush, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and other men so far unnamed – most Americans probably have missed the emerging story of a very different Trump scandal.
According to reports today from NBC News, Reuters, and Global Witness, an international advocacy and investigative organization, a substantial portion of the president’s fortune – which Forbes Magazine estimates at $3.1 billion – was built on real estate developments financed at least in part by criminal networks.
The stories center on the Trump Ocean Club (TOC), a high-rise in Panama that includes a luxury hotel and residential and commercial units. Neither the president nor his family owns the tower, but Trump has licensed his name to the property and helped secure the financing that built it.
It’s not clear whether the TOC development is part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s possible involvement in the Russian effort. But the NBC, Reuters and Global Witness reports indicate the TOC was at least partially built with funds that originated in Russia, including some gained through criminal activity.
You can watch a Global Witness video summarizing the investigation here
Global Witness reports that the Trump organization got a cut of the sale of every TOC unit and a percentage of the financing Trump arranged. The Trump organization also was paid millions in management fees and in all likelihood continues to profit. A bond prospectus for the project said Trump stood to make up to $75 million on the tower.
The project was launched in 2006, at a time when a series of bankruptcies of Trump holdings made most conventional lenders wary of the Trump organization. To secure financing, the developers had to sell many of the units before construction even began.
The stories breaking today say many of the units were purchased by Russians and that up to 10 were bought by David Helmut Murcia Guzmán, a Colombian fraudster and money launderer who recently completed a nine-year U.S. prison term and may be extradited to Colombia to serve an additional 23 years there.
“We know that David Murcia Guzmán laundered millions of dollars of drug money, including – as a U.S. court has found – through real estate,” Global Witness reported. “We also know that he purchased TOC units. In addition, well-placed sources indicate that he used cash trafficked from Colombia to carry out business transactions in Panama. On this basis, Global Witness concludes that Murcia Guzmán’s investment in the TOC laundered the proceeds of narcotics trafficking, and that Donald Trump was one of the beneficiaries.
“If Trump – who as licensor was almost certainly entitled to call for sales information – did any checks into the buyers of TOC units, he either failed to pick up the Murcia Guzmán connection or declined to act on it,” Global Witness said.
Murcia Guzmán’s TOC purchases were brokered by Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira, a Brazilian who told NBC he had a hand in the sale of up to 400 units in the tower. His services included creating anonymous offshore shell companies that investors could purchase and then use to buy TOC units.
Ventura Nogueira told NBC and Reuters that about half of his customers were Russians and “I had some customers with some, you know, questionable backgrounds.” He also said that he found out later that some customers were part of the Russian Mafia.
Reuters reports that one of Ventura Nogueira’s Russian customers was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; another was a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court.
Three years after getting involved in the Trump Ocean Club, Ventura Nogueira was arrested by Panamanian authorities on charges of fraud and forgery, unrelated to the Trump project. Released on $1.4 million bail, he later fled the country.
Ventura Nogueira told Reuters that he did not inquire about the sources of money that investors used to buy TOC units and that neither Trump nor others involved in the development asked either. “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?’”
Reuters quoted legal experts who said Trump’s failure to inquire, if proven, could be legally troublesome. Arthur Middlemiss, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan and a former head of JPMorgan’s global anti-corruption program, told Reuters that because Panama was “perceived to be highly corrupt,” anyone in business there should conduct due diligence on others involved in their ventures. Failing to do so, would create a potential risk in U.S. law of being liable for turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.