When the investigation into the Trump campaign brings up charges of money laundering and shady property deals, it may seem like a sideline. But it shouldn’t. No one expects Donald Trump to secretly have a shrine to Lenin in the basement of Trump Tower. Michael Flynn didn’t offer to kidnap a cleric because the man offended his religious views. Paul Manafort wasn’t sending Putin plans to “greatly benefit his government” because he really, really wants to see democracy crushed—though given Manafort’s track record, he might.
A new report from watchdog group Global Witness says that a Colombian money launderer currently in U.S. custody participated in the advance sale of units in a Panama development bearing the president’s name: The Trump Ocean Club. Trump has made $13.9 million from the Ocean Club in the last three years alone, according to NBC’s own reporting on the matter.
This time it was a front for murderous, drug-runners in Colombia feeding dollars to Trump. But that’s the point: Trump’s connection to Russia isn’t philosophical. It’s financial. He’ll take money from anyone. And he’s not alone.
The federal indictment of Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, accuses him of laundering millions in foreign payments to pursue a “lavish lifestyle” in the U.S., especially in the Hamptons, where he has a house.
The reason that both Trump and Manafort have money flowing into their coffers is simple. After rules were changed making other means of money laundering more difficult, there was still one huge loophole that was left wide open.
It is well known that real estate can be an effective way to launder money because many transactions involve opaque entities and clean large sums of money in a single transaction.
The pipeline that people in Trump’s circle have connected to oligarchs and autocrats flows with billions of dollars coming into the United States on a raft of real estate deals.
So word that Trump didn’t just clear hundreds of millions from Russian mobsters …
The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.
But also raked in cash from the cocaine and kidnapping kings of FARC …
David Murcia Guzmán is the Colombian fraudster who just completed a nine-year sentence in the US for money laundering that defrauded more than 200,000 people of $2 billion, according to the report. A Brazilian real estate salesman named Alexandre Ventura Noriega confirmed to Global Witness and NBC that Guzman participated in the pre-sale of Ocean Club units, purchasing as many as 10 of them in the period when the developers were trying to raise money to complete the project.
Trump may not have deliberately set out to facilitate criminal activity in his business dealings. But, as this Global Witness investigation shows, licensing his brand to the luxurious Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama aligned Trump’s financial interests with those of crooks looking to launder ill-gotten gains. Trump seems to have done little to nothing to prevent this. What is clear is that proceeds from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking were laundered through the Trump Ocean Club and that Donald Trump was one of the beneficiaries.
That business of “may not deliberately” is both Trump’s standard method of running his business, and what he hopes will be his Get Out of Jail Free card when Robert Mueller inevitably comes calling. Trump doesn’t so much actively make deals that are clearly money laundering … he makes it possible for money laundering to occur, so long as a substantial cut flows into his pockets.
He has great hopes that when Mueller drops off a stack of indictments detailing the hundreds of millions of money laundering that Trump has conducted both inside and outside the US, Trump can hide behind his passivity, and behind the blanket forgiveness uniquely provided under real estate laws.
The laws regulating US real estate deals are scant, experts say. Provisions against terrorism financing in the Patriot Act, passed in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 attacks, obliged mortgage lenders to conduct “know your customer” research. But money launderers pay in cash. Sales such as those of the Trump Soho apartments have passed through this loophole, which was partially closed only this year.
That Trump’s campaign team agreed to look into the Magnitsky Act isn’t something they’re doing for Russia. It’s something that they’re doing for themselves. They need to keep that pipeline open. To make sure that the oligarchs banned from US transactions under sanctions are free to insert their dollars … right into Trump’s bank account.
Sure, the Russians helped Donald Trump get elected. Sure, Trump’s campaign contacted Russia over and over to coordinate on ways to attack Hillary Clinton and the best use of Russian trolls and ad dollars. Sure, Russia made it clear that the payoff for their help would come in the form of reduced sanctions.
That’s the sideshow. The real show? It’s billions of dollars moving from oligarchs in Russia, to banks in Cyprus, to real estate in New York. Putin wants that flow open. Trump wants his cut. The White House is a tool to make that happen.
Meanwhile, Paul Manafort paid $5 million for repairs and upgrades that were ticketed at about $1 million. That includes a $100,000 audio system, $650,000 worth of landscaping, and on and on with much of the money going to a single mysterious contractor whose actual work seems to be … minimal.
What it doesn’t explain—or highlight—are the stratospheric payments he made to home improvement companies when his renovation work was estimated at far less.
Because even now, with everyone looking, the pipeline has to keep flowing, flowing, flowing.