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Why has Congress stalled on investigating money laundering allegations at Trump properties? – ThinkProgress

When Donald Trump assumed the presidency in 2017, two of his overseas tasks — one in Panama and one in Azerbaijan — stood out for what seemed to be clear hyperlinks to overseas cash laundering operations. However with Trump’s presidency enveloped in an unprecedented variety of scandals, congressional willingness to research the properties seems to have wilted — in no small half due to stonewalling by the present administration.

Each properties have been intently related to Ivanka Trump. Trump described the Trump Ocean Membership property in Panama Metropolis, Panama, as Ivanka’s “child,” whereas the Trump Tower Baku undertaking, situated in Azerbaijan’s capital, was one thing Ivanka herself claimed she “oversaw.” Each endeavors, nevertheless, have been swamped in controversy — not merely due to indicators pointing to cash laundering operations, however as a result of each tasks have since imploded, with neither any longer carrying Trump’s identify.

In Panama, for example, the indications of cash laundering at Trump Ocean Membership Panama, which the Trump Group helped handle, have been unimaginable to overlook. From purchases in money to bulk gross sales, from gross sales to nameless shell corporations to purchasers utilizing “bearer shares” — through which the corporate is owned by whoever holds a bodily inventory certificates, with none registry preserving monitor of possession — the indicators have been all there. One of many property’s main gross sales brokers, Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, admitted in a 2013 dialog secretly taped by a former enterprise associate that he was “recurrently laundering cash”  throughout Panama.

And in Azerbaijan, the Trumps selected to companion with some of the notoriously corrupt members of the nation’s notoriously corrupt regime. For good measure, Trump’s Azeri companions contracted with an Iranian development firm that seems to have been a entrance for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Trump Group has beforehand denied any information of funding hyperlinks to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, or any private connection to Nogueira. The Trump Group didn’t reply to ThinkProgress’s questions.


At present is probably the most that sort of day. How is that this not on the entrance web page of each paper? How does this not lead the information?

— Adam Davidson (@adamdavidson) April eight, 2019

Nonetheless, regardless of formal requests for the from a number of members of Congress to open an investigation into Trump’s Azerbaijan property, and regardless of a number of questions despatched by these in each the Home and Senate to the Trump Group about cash laundering allegations surrounding the Trump Panama property, congressional investigators seem no nearer to determining simply how a lot the president knew about indicators pointing to overseas cash laundering happening at these two properties.

Pressuring Panama

It’s value noting that the controversial tasks in Panama and Azerbaijan seem to have made the president tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars alongside the best way.

For example, a 2018 report from ProPublica discovered that Trump made between $30 million and $55 million since 2007 by way of the Panama property. The constructing, in accordance with a report from anti-corruption watchdog International Witness, helped launder “proceeds from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking” — with Trump himself “one of many beneficiaries” of the follow. Nogueira, the dealer who later admitted to serving to lead cash laundering operations in Panama, stated that he met with Ivanka Trump at the least 10 occasions via the course of the constructing’s development. He was later arrested in Panama on costs of each fraud and forgery. Nevertheless, whereas he denies the fees, he ultimately fled the nation and has referred to himself as a “fugitive” within the eyes of Panamanian authorities.

“With [the Panamanian property] we discovered that there have been some fairly constant indicators of cash laundering,” stated Eryn Schornick, a senior coverage adviser on the anti-money laundering group at International Witness. “There’s a much bigger image challenge the place it’s actually obscure who truly was shopping for these [Trump property] models, and who had respectable sources of funds and who didn’t.”

It was exactly the kind of set-up — which Schornick described as “a broader, endemic drawback that we noticed inside the Trump Group’s enterprise pre-presidency” — that congressional investigators have been desperate to study extra about. How a lot did the president know concerning the supply of the tens of millions that poured into his Panama property by way of nameless shell corporations, a lot of which ultimately lined his pockets?

In a collection of 2018 letters, Reps. Norma Torres (D-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) made various asks. To the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the representatives requested a briefing about what the DEA knew about allegations of drug trafficking and cash laundering at Trump’s Panama property. The letter famous that “this felony exercise might have tainted the Panama enterprise pursuits of the Trump Group, and, by extension, of President Trump, resulting in attainable conflicts of curiosity that might be of great concern to us and to the Committee.”

In one other letter, Torres and Engel contacted the Trump Group instantly with questions concerning the cash laundering allegations. “Given extensively reported allegations of cash laundering and drug trafficking in reference to Trump Ocean Membership Panama, we consider it’s crucial to know the Trump Group’s information of and position in gross sales at this property,” the 2 wrote. 

Months handed, nevertheless, with little however silence. In response to a supply acquainted with the letters, the DEA and Trump Group each ultimately responded — however these responses have been merely “simply acknowledgements that they’d acquired” the letters. “Neither response was noteworthy,” the supply stated.

The DEA confirmed to ThinkProgress that it issued a response in June, however didn’t reply to questions on cash laundering and drug trafficking allegations surrounding the Trump property. 

Administration scuffles

Considerations concerning the Panama property weren’t restricted solely to cash laundering. They quickly prolonged into how the president was personally cashing in on alleged cash laundering operations — and if he was utilizing his place to strain the Panamanian authorities to guard his personal pursuits.

Questions got here to a head in 2018 when a administration scuffle broke out on the website, with new administration booting the Trump Group from the property. (The resort was re-branded in late 2018 as a JW Marriott, and there’s no indication the president or his firm are nonetheless taking advantage of the constructing.) Shortly thereafter, a Panamanian regulation agency representing the Trump Group issued a letter to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela threatening potential “repercussions” to Panama if the federal government didn’t intervene on behalf of the Trump Group.

The Trump Group depicted the letter as merely a “routine” authorized maneuver — however these in Congress didn’t see it that approach.

Torres and Engel, joined by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), issued one other letter to the Trump Group, requesting info on whether or not the Trump Group “sought to leverage the Workplace of the President and the diplomatic relationship between america and Panama to advance the corporate’s personal pursuits.” The letter additionally requested info on different communications the Trump Group had with overseas officers relating to Trump properties whereas Trump was president.

Within the Senate, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) joined within the calls for for solutions. In a Might 2018 letter to the Trump Group, Menendez wrote that the “threatening tone” within the letter from the Panamanian regulation agency “might recommend to the Panamanian authorities that improper, and maybe unlawful, actions are efficient technique of influencing U.S. coverage towards the nation.” Menendez additionally requested info on whether or not the Trump Group had communicated with the State Division relating to the administration dispute, and whether or not the Trump Group had been in touch with different overseas governments. 

A spokesperson for Menendez informed ThinkProgress that the Trump Group did reply — however there was “not a lot in it.” An individual conversant in the Home letters to the Trump Group stated a lot the identical.

Azerbaijan blues

In Azerbaijan, in the meantime, the Trump Tower Baku venture was simply as intently linked to allegations of large cash laundering — and boasted nearer hyperlinks to deprave authorities officers. In an effort to develop the property, the Trumps labored with shut kinfolk of Ziya Mammadov, Azerbaijan’s former transportation minister. Mammadov, as American diplomats described in a leaked State Division cable, is “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan,” a rustic that retains a kleptocratic, dictatorial regime almost three many years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union.

A collection of exposes — together with a New Yorker piece that dubbed the Baku property as Trump’s “worst deal” — uncovered all method of malfeasance. Probably the most hanging pointed to proof that the constructing’s development might have been used to launder funds by these near Iran’s Revolutionary Guard; Mammadov is near the Darvishi household in Iran, with members who’ve headed companies managed by the Revolutionary Guard. On Monday, the Trump administration designated the Revolutionary Guard a Overseas Terrorist Group. All the suspicious financing might have put Trump in direct violation of each Iranian sanctions and the Overseas Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the latter of which the president has beforehand known as a “horrible regulation.”

Because of sagging demand and late funds from the Azeri companions, the property’s prospects ultimately fell aside, with the Trump Group formally pulling out a number of weeks after Trump gained the 2016 election. The constructing — the development of which Ivanka says she “oversaw” — at present sits empty, and was severely broken in a fireplace in 2018.

A 2017 letter from a variety of Democratic senators demanded solutions relating to the questions of cash laundering and potential bribery. Issued by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the letter was despatched to each the Division of Justice and Treasury Division, calling for a proper investigation into the property.

From the DOJ, the senators requested info on whether or not the Trump Group might have breached FCPA provisions, which forestall People and American companies from bribing foreigners, and whether or not the Trump Group “acted with willful blindness relating to its enterprise companions’ illicit acts within the Trump Tower Baku dealings.” And from Treasury, they requested that the Workplace of Overseas Belongings Management — the physique overseeing a lot of the U.S.’s sanctions regime — examine whether or not the Trump property “violated U.S. sanctions regulation” by means of its dealings with these near Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

“Congress — and the Trump Administration itself — has an obligation to look at whether or not the President or his household is uncovered to terrorist financing, sanctions, cash laundering, and different imprudent associations via their enterprise holdings and connections,” Brown later stated.

However the senators apparently acquired little info. The Treasury Division, in line with these acquainted with the inquiries, responded with little greater than acknowledgment that it had acquired the questions, as did the DOJ.

A spokesperson for the Treasury Division confirmed to ThinkProgress that the division responded, “however we don’t touch upon potential or pending investigations.” The DOJ didn’t reply to ThinkProgress’s detailed questions. 

What comes subsequent

Regardless of the clear allegations of cash laundering drenching each the Panama and Azerbaijan properties, the abdomen for revisiting the considerations concerning the two properties seems restricted. As one individual accustomed to the Home Democrats’ inquiries into the Panama property informed ThinkProgress, “We don’t have plans in the mean time to revisit the Panama property.”

In conversations with these conversant in the congressional questions surrounding the buildings, it’s clear that this aversion has much less to do with proof out there and extra to do with the truth that there are dozens of different areas of potential concern surrounding the president’s actions. In any case, there are different Trump properties that, in contrast to these in Panama or Azerbaijan, are nonetheless related on to the president’s enterprise. It additionally doesn’t assist that there are statute-of-limitation considerations surrounding FCPA enforcement, that are usually stored to inside 5 years.

One of many tasks is a brand new beachside resort within the Dominican Republic. Regardless of Trump’s pledges to chorus from any new overseas tasks — and the Trump Group’s current announcement that it was freezing plans to assemble new resorts — Schornick and International Witness uncovered in December that native Dominican gross sales representatives have been touting the Trump Group’s involvement in a deliberate resort. The Trump Group’s argument is that the Dominican challenge is definitely the identical as a earlier venture, regardless of being situated at a special location.

“International Witness went undercover on the Cap Cana resort and found that the Trumps are pursuing what seems to be a brand new deal, in contradiction to Trump’s pledge to not,” the group’s report stated. (The Trump Group denied the allegation.)

In response, some Democrats in Congress referred to as out the corporate for its plans. Feinstein, as an example, issued a press release, saying, “The Trump Group’s pursuit of enterprise overseas creates obvious conflicts of curiosity, with the president’s overseas coverage selections probably being influenced by his private monetary pursuits. Overseas governments may make selections affecting the Trump Group with the objective of receiving favorable remedy from the Trump administration.”

It’s unclear if any formal hearings shall be held relating to the Dominican plans, not to mention the Panama or Azerbaijan properties. However a Democratic congressional aide advised Vox that the Home Overseas Affairs Committee, chaired by Engel, would give attention to Trump’s potential conflicts of curiosity overseas, together with the Panamanian property. And provided that some 70 % of home actual property gross sales by Trump’s corporations have gone to shell corporations since Trump gained the 2016 Republican nomination, the difficulty couldn’t be timelier.

“Trump because the businessman pre-presidency is fascinating, sure — however what is occurring now?” Schornick stated.