Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
Robert Mueller has some new material to work with as he continues his investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. A new report shows that for 10 years, a Trump property in Panama City collected millions of dollars from the Russian mafia and Colombian drug cartels. An investigation from Global Witness, an international NGO that probes corruption and money laundering, reveals how the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower turned a blind eye to crime lords looking for a safe haven to stash their blood money.
The property, which the lead broker Alexandre Ventura Nogueira describes as “Ivanka Trump’s baby,” listed units for three times the going rate in Panama City, thanks to the Trump name. Nogueira worked closely with the Trump family; he claims he attended at least 10 meetings with Ivanka Trump, who challenged him to sell 100 units in the building. “The agreement was, I had a week to sell 100 units,” Nogueira told Reuters. “I said, ‘I’m going to do better, I’m going to sell without telling (the buyers) the price.’”
Nogueira later fled Panama after he was arrested for unrelated charges of real estate fraud. From his European asylum, he told NBC that at least half of his Trump Ocean Club customers were Russians, including some with “questionable backgrounds.” Only later did he learn of their ties to Russian organized crime circles.
NBC reports that Mauricio Ceballos, a former prosecutor in Panama who investigated Trump’s business associates for financial crimes, called the Trump Ocean Club “a vehicle for money laundering.”
Among the shady buyers are:
- David Murcia Guzmán, founder of a large Colombian marketing company, who purchased 10 units in the Trump Ocean Club. Guzmán is now in U.S. custody, convicted of laundering money on behalf of drug cartels, and will be extradited to Colombia. Guzmán also has financial ties to the terrorist organization FARC.
- Louis Pargiolas, who pleaded guilty in 2009 in Miami to conspiracy to import cocaine.
- Stanislav Kavalenka, a Russian national charged in Canada for compelling women into prostitution.
- Arkady Vodovozov, convicted in Israel of kidnapping, according to Reuters.
By 2010, Donald Trump had made approximately $74.2 million through his association with the hotel. From 2014-2017, he was paid as much as $13.9 million.
As Global Witness explains:
“The warning signs were there from the outset. The Trump Ocean Club, one of Trump’s most lucrative licensing deals to date, was announced in 2006 and launched in 2011, a period when Panama was known as one of the best places in the world to launder money. Whole neighborhoods in Panama City were taken over by organized crime groups, and luxury developments were built with the purpose of serving as money laundering vehicles.
“Moreover, investing in luxury properties is a tried and trusted way for criminals to move tainted cash into the legitimate financial system, where they can spend it freely. Once scrubbed clean in this way, vast profits from criminal activities like trafficking people and drugs, organized crime, and terrorism can find their way into the U.S. and elsewhere.”
The Trump Organization has shrugged off responsibility in a statement following the news, but legal experts say it should have done its due diligence into the backgrounds of buyers. Arthur Middlemiss, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney and a former head of the global anti-corruption program at JPMorgan, blames the Trumps directly:
“Those who do business there should perform due diligence on others involved in their ventures. If they fail to do so, they risk being liable under U.S. law of turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.”
Watch Ivanka Trump promote the Trump Ocean Club below:
Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.