India has long been known for its high-profile corruption scandals, exposing ties between builders and politicians. In 2011, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index gave India a score of 3.1 out of 10, zero being the most corrupt. “Foreign investment in Indian real estate dropped by a third in one year, with many investors citing graft as a major reason for pulling out. Yet this is precisely when the Trump Organization moved in, announcing its first licensing deal, for a “super-luxury” tower in Mumbai in January 2011,” according to the New Republic:
To understand this decision, it helps to remember that Donald Trump built his career in real estate in the 1970s and ’80s in New York City by cultivating, cajoling, threatening, buying up, and manipulating politicians and public officials to obtain tax breaks and public subsidies for his construction projects. He prided himself, according to the late investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, author of a 1992 biography of Trump, on “never having met a public official, banker, lawyer, reporter, or prosecutor he couldn’t seduce.” He contributed generously to political candidates and hired people with close ties to officials with direct influence over his projects. Trump also ensured that he had what Barrett called an “in-house advocate” in practically every city and state agency—and courthouse—that had a say over his projects.
“In India or other countries,” [former Ethics Chief Richard] Painter said, “it seems to give the impression that if you do favors for the Trump business, you get favors from the U.S. government.”
Favors are exactly what Donald Trump Jr. is ready to dispense and what he has been trying to pull in.The crony capitalism of India, where wealthy business interests are inseparable from the government and influence peddling is routine must have felt just like home to Donald Jr. So he asked an Indian official to do something blatantly illegal. ProPublica:
A Trump project in Mumbai [the “super luxury tower”] had its permits revoked after investigators found “significant irregularities.” Then Trump Jr. travelled to India to get the decision overruled.
The Trumps’ first India project, in Mumbai, was halted in early 2012 after investigators found significant “irregularities.” The investigators had been tipped off by a state lawmaker who suspected a $100 million fraud scheme and warned of “gross violations” in the project’s plans. Authorities revoked the building’s permits.
A few months later, in April 2012, Trump Jr. traveled to Mumbai and, along with partners, met with a top official there to try to get the project restarted.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, the equivalent of a U.S. governor, had been told Trump Jr. wanted to discuss investing in the state. But instead, Chavan recalled, Trump Jr. and his partners asked Chavan to overturn the decision to revoke the permits.
Chavan declined. “I would get into trouble to sanction something that was blatantly illegal,” he told us. The plans were “not within the existing rules.” (Chavan has also described the encounter to The New York Times and Washington Post.)
In any event, Junior got around the issue, and was back in India just last month, fattening the family coffers and selling access to himself, and by extension, his father. Washington Post:
The younger Trump has spent the week promoting the family’s real estate brand across India, where the Trump Organization has more business entities than in any other foreign country. He has been attending private lunches and dinners with potential buyers and local business leaders as well as enticing buyers to purchase residences in the latest Trump Towers project in Gurgaon, where luxury flats sell for as much as $1.6 million.
Full-page glossy advertisements urged buyers paying a booking fee of about $38,000 by Thursday to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner” on Friday. Kalpesh Mehta, one of the local developers, told reporters Tuesday that they already had sold over $100 million worth of real estate in the towers — $15 million alone on Monday, after the Trump Jr. dinner offer appeared in newspapers. Construction on the project is expected to finish in 2023.
Make no mistake, India is knee deep in illicit financial flow and money laundering, and the Trumps are knee deep in India:
A 2007 report from the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body that develops standards to combat money laundering, describes the ways in which the real estate sector is susceptible to money laundering and terrorist financing. The ubiquity of complex loans and opaque corporate entities means that “emerging markets seem to be more vulnerable to misuse.” According to Dev Kar, chief economist emeritus at Global Financial Integrity, an organization that monitors illicit financial flows around the world, India is particularly vulnerable because “there is simply no way of telling how much foreign direct investment into the country is legitimate and how much of it is laundered. It’s all mixed in there.” With nearly 80 percent of foreign real estate investment in India routed through layers of private companies, subsidiaries, and shells registered in offshore locations with favorable tax regimes, such as Mauritius and Cyprus, the true ownership of properties in India is almost impossible to trace. “Real estate was already a place where politicians parked their cash,” Searle said. “These complicated legal structures enabled that at a more global scale, making it extremely easy to launder money.”
If bells are ringing and recollections of Paul Manafort, Cyprus, money laundering and Russian gangsters are starting to manifest, you’re on the right track. And who is the common denominator for all these factors? Donald Trump.
Added to all this is the fact that in India campaign disclosure laws are poorly enforced, if at all, and elected officials are not even required to declare conflicts of interest, making financial ties between real estate and politics a blur. It’s the perfect place to buy a politician and get all the permits, licenses, whatever you need. They’re all trained to look the other way. And, not surprisingly, India’s a haven of money laundering.
If you’re looking for the mother lode of Trump’s conflicts of interests, graft, corruption and money laundering, look no further, India is it.