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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

President Trump’s Manhattan properties and business partners, including former Soviet Union-connected oligarchs, were involved in a larger international money-laundering scheme involving upward of $1 billion, according to Dutch filmmakers whose third installment in an investigative series aired on public TV in Holland Wednesday.

“We wanted to know in depth how money was transferred from Kazakhstan to the United States and how this could relate to Donald Trump, the Trump Organization and Trump’s real estate,” said Sander Rietveld, director of The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump, Part III: The Multibillion-Dollar Fraud, broadcast on Zembla, a program of the VARA Broadcasting Association.

The documentary was produced based on a three-month collaborationbetween Zembla, The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)—known for the Panama Papers, and McClatchy newspaper’s Washington bureau (including Kevin Hall, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the Panama papers).

“We investigated hundreds of company records, court documents in the U.S., Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Belize, etc., and interviewed dozens of sources,” he said. “The result is a follow-the-money documentary revealing the connections between several people in Trump’s orbit and an alleged multibillion-dollar fraud. Also the pivotal role of the Netherlands as an offshore haven gets attention. With Dutch help, Kazakh oligarchs allegedly were able to divert and launder huge amounts of money.”

One of the international financiers profiled went to court in the Netherlands on Tuesday to stop the documentary from airing on public TV, but lost, Rietveld said: “Kazakh multimillion[aire] businessman-oligarch Ilyas Khrapunov tried to block this broadcast in court yesterday (Monday). Judge turned down his request and allowed airing documentary.”

The filmmakers found that money taken out of Kazakhstan by energy oligarchs was used to buy some of Trump’s high-end Manhattan apartments and was also used to create the business partnership, called Bayrock, for Trump’s SoHo Tower project, said James Henry, a financial industry investigative reporter and editor at DCReport.org who worked with Rietveld’s team and appears in the documentary.

“The significant thing is they have got the Kazakh government saying that Bayrock was a money launderer for these guys,” Henry told AlterNet. “What is interesting, if [special counsel Robert] Mueller wants to take a look at this, is we have [Trump’s mob-connected business partner] Felix Sater laundering criminal money.”

U.S. laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act make it a crime to launder money tied to prior illegal acts, Henry said. The documentary, whose reporting was also developed in collaboration with McClatchy News’ Washington office, traces how investing in Trump’s Soho Tower included concealing illegal money-laundering activities. Trump did not tell other investors about any of this, as required under U.S. financial law, he said, “a continuing cover-up of money laundering.”

The program is the third installment in the series profiling Trump’s business deals with international investors that appear to have violated U.S. and foreign financial laws. The first installment focused on Trump’s Russian investors. Installment two looked at Trump family links to Kremlin-connected diamond dealers. The third installment returns to Trump’s partners in his downtown New York City project, according to its online summary.

“Will Donald Trump go down due to his dubious ties to the former Soviet Union?” Zembla’s summary says, recapping the filmmakers’ previous findings. “The president seems to be getting in deeper and deeper. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is investigating if Trump colluded with Russia in order to win the elections, is also digging into Trump’s past as a businessman. In that past, one of Donald Trump’s business partners plays a crucial role: Felix Sater, a convicted felon who has ties with the Russian mafia. Last May, Zembla disclosed how an American real estate company, run by Sater, used Dutch mailbox companies within a network, which has been suspected of laundering money. Allegedly $1.5 million had been diverted. Donald Trump developed hotels and apartment complexes with this suspicious company.”

“In the last few months Zembla received indications of a greater fraud,” it continued. “A billion-dollar fraud. And here Sater, Trump’s questionable business partner shows up, as well. The money trail leads to Kazakhstan, to real estate projects in New York and again to the Netherlands. Zembla investigates: How compromising is this case for the current president of America?”

The Dutch documentary raises questions most American TV networks have not broached, Henry said. For one, what was the role of Trump ally and ex-New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who represented Sater and raised money for his presidential campaign in Kazakhstan?

Another intriguing question involved others in Trump’s orbit as a real estate magnate and president. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, was vice-chairman of a bank based on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus favored by Russian oligarchs, Henry has reported. “I’m saying, ‘Let’s see Mueller do his job,’” he said. “Here’s more leads.”

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).