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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

The Trump family’s business partners have blood on their hands owing to deals with notorious diamond brokers who operate mines in war torn Africa and own jewelry stores in London, Moscow and Amsterdam.

That’s the premise in Part Two of a documentary series by the Dutch TV network Zembla, The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump: King of Diamonds. It shows how the U.S. president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have apparent partnerships with an Israeli billionaire who is tied to “trading in blood diamonds,” as the film’s description notes, and how this relationship overlaps with power circles in Russia reaching President Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs.

“In the second part of our program about Donald Trump’s controversial friends, we will set our sights on the Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, who is controversial because he is suspected of trading in blood diamonds,” says the documentary’s YouTube summary. “He is one of the world’s biggest diamond traders and owns prestigious stores in New York and Moscow, but he is also the owner of Siebel, the Netherlands’ biggest jewelry chain. Leviev has ties with Russian president Putin, U.S. president Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Trump, however, claims he hardly knows this ‘King of Diamonds.’ Zembla investigates Lev Leviev’s business empire.”

The first part of the documentary series focused on Trump’s ties to Russian mobsters and oligarchs. That eye-opening report showed how Trump nurtured deals with oligarchs seeking to get their riches out of Russia and revealed how Trump signed off on international money-laundering schemes, including one set up by the law firm of ex-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. In the second part, we see how Trump is willing to make deals with anyone who can offer him a return, regardless of the suffering involved. The documentary also shines a light on Kushner’s relationships, which blend business, politics and religion.

There are a half-dozen takeaways from Part II, said James S. Henry, a corporate lawyer-turned-financial investigative reporter who has written lengthy exposés of Trump’s Russian connections and is featured in the film.

“I think the real news and interest in Part Two involves the exposure of apparent Trump partner Leviev’s reported deep involvement in (a) trafficking in Angolan blood diamonds by way of his special arrangement with Eduardo dos Santos and family, the country’s long-time dictator and chief kleptocrat; (b) Leviev’s close ties to Putin; (c) Leviev’s extensive business dealings with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner; (d) the extensive financial support that both Leviev and Kushner have given to extremist Israel settlers—support that appears to be inconsistent with the role that Kushner has apparently been given by the Trump administration with respect to the peace process; and (e) Leviev’s alleged extensive use of non-transparent Dutch and other offshore holding companies to facilitate all these dodgy practices,” Henry wrote in an email to AlterNet.

Sander Rietveld, the documentary’s lead reporter, said Part Two is relevant for American audiences and lawmakers because it raises questions about Trump’s business relationships that can only be answered by examining his tax returns. Congressional Democrats have said Trump’s returns must be fully released before any consideration of federal tax reform.

“I think this is an excellent example of why President Trump needs to disclose his tax returns,” Rietveld said in an email. “Only when he does so, we’ll know if and how he was engaged in a business deal with Lev Leviev [beyond the public relations materials shown in the film]. Given the extensive business empire of Leviev, Trump and he could have been together in real estate in the U.S., in Russia or in Eastern Europe. Or in some kind of diamond operation. According to well-established experts and investigators these kinds of operations in Africa and specifically in Angola are related to severe human rights abuses committed by security firms hired by mining companies.”

The film also examines the business circles Kushner travels in, showing overlapping ties between conservative Jewish groups and clerics and politically powerful Russians and Israelis, including Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The overlap of business and ideology and politics is another takeaway from this story,” Rietveld said. “Jared Kushner, the president’s man for the Middle East, and Leviev’s company AFI USA not only made a multimillion-dollar deal; they also seem to share a political view on Israel and the Palestinian territories. Both of them have been active in supporting settlements on the West Bank, which according to international law are illegal. And both of them have a very good relationship with the current, very right-wing Israeli government, and more personally with Bibi Netanyahu.”

The Dutch documentary series raises questions one can only hope congressional investigators and the FBI will take up and provide answers to. Viewing these programs makes it clear that Trump’s business empire and family fortune is based on deals with extremely unsavory characters, some of which could violate U.S. laws if fully scrutinized. In the meantime, one can only wonder how Trump’s sordid past will shape White House policies today and tomorrow.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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