McClatchy documents a flurry of all-cash sales that Donald Trump made directly to oligarchs, mobsters, and Putin-allies in Russian and former Soviet states while the real estate market was in freefall. That includes deals for people who were heavily involved in the Russian-invaded territory of Crimea. These cash-up-front transactions aren’t a sideline for Trump. They are the core of his business.
Buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales—totaling nearly $109 million—at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City, according to a new analysis shared with McClatchy. Many of them made purchases using shell companies designed to obscure their identities.
Where previous reports have demonstrated that Russian oligarchs dragged Trump back from bankruptcy after his failures in Atlantic City, McClatchy’s list of cash-only transactions from Russia and former Soviet territories show how Trump was kept solvent and expanding even as the real estate market was crashing in 2008. While other companies were dependent on legitimate businesses working through mortgage companies that had suddenly tightened their belts, Trump was not.
Instead, Trump was able to cheer from the sidelines of disaster, sheltered by money that continued to pour in through a pipeline he opened years before. And these transactions are just another indicator that contacts of Trump and his associates with Russian operatives in the run up to the 2016 election were not an aberration, but a continuation of business as usual.
Adam Schiff: The size and scope of these cash purchases are deeply troubling as they can often signal money laundering activity, There have long been credible allegations of money laundering by the Trump Organization which, if true, would pose a real threat to the United States in the event that Russia were able to leverage evidence of illicit financial transactions against the president.
In the months before the election. the Financial Times published multiple articles on how Donald Trump sold American real estate at premium prices to foreign nationals—many of them oligarchs from Russia and former Soviet states—as part of certainly appears to be an international money-laundering scheme. These articles were summarized on Daily Kos, and connected with other sources to show how Trump, deep in a fiscal hole following his largest and most comprehensive bankruptcy, was unable to secure financing to keep his company or his lifestyle alive from any normal, reputable source. So he did what he always does. He lied about it and took the Russian money.
By the 2000s, the property developer and casino owner with ready access to the capital markets and the biggest New York banks was no more. A series of corporate bankruptcies had limited his financing options.
Unwelcome at any bank, and unable to find more investors after a string of massive and conspicuous failures, Trump needed some other way to raise funds and sustain at least the illusion of wealth. And fortunately for Trump, there was an opportunity. The same laws that following 9/11 had made money-laundering through casinos and securities much more difficult, left the door wide open on real estate. Trump still had control of multiple buildings stuffed with apartments and condos. And the value of those condos was … whatever. The opportunity for kickbacks and pass-throughs was as limitless as the number of dollar signs that could be attached to a piece of property.
To revive his flagging fortune, the only deal Trump had to make was looking the other way while dirty money poured in from one Cyprus-based LLC after another.
Michael Cohen engaged in similar sales of condos at inflated prices to foreign nationals. So did Paul Manafort. By selling a property at some multiple of its genuine market value, oligarchs from Russia or former Soviet republics can not only secure real estate inside the United States, but those over-the-top prices can easily be fed back to them … minus a substantial handling fee, of course.
Donald Trump has bragged about how he improbably purchased property on the cheap and sold it for a fortune. But he isn’t as quick to talk about the names invariably on the other end of those transactions. Trump purchased a Florida home for $40 million and then sold it for at least $95 million—$13 million more than any home in the state had ever fetched. But in truth it’s likely that only a percentage of that profit ended up in Trump’s pocket, while the rest went right back to oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev—a man whose formerly state-owned potash mine collapsed so spectacularly, it forced the evacuation of a city and is regarded as one of the world’s largest ecological disasters. Not so coincidentally, Rybolovlev is also a large investor in the Bank of Cyprus, where one of his co-owners is Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Rybolovlev got a nice stack of freshly-pressed US currency in his deal with Trump. And a house on the side.
Russian oligarchs saved Trump when he was deep in the hole. They saved him again when he was threatened by a crashing market. And now they’re collecting their payback. Bigly.
The biggest reason that Trump has been upset over the charges against Paul Manafort is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller looked back a dozen years to the period when Manafort was not just acting as a Russian tool inside Ukraine, but conducting illegal money laundering in the United States. If Mueller looks back that far on Trump, there’s little doubt about what he will find.