So much was already known about Donald Trump prior to his candidacy that he should have been knocked out of the running before he got started. The Mueller and forthcoming House investigations will soon reveal more of Trump’s many misdeeds. However, the public had long been aware of his shady activities in New Jersey and elsewhere. Press reports and information from the Panama Papers prior to his candidacy told us all we, and particularly Republicans, needed to know.
The Trump acquaintance Adnan Khashoggi, a Saudi billionaire arms dealer who embraced the benefits of offshore tax havens, owned a $250 million yacht. It was complete with a bevy of high-end prostitutes where he entertained friends and influenced business prospects. When creditors repossessed the yacht in 1988 Trump bought it. He wanted to dock the boat in Palm Beach, but residents there wanted nothing to do with his flashy, questionable ways. In 2008 a Russian oligarch paid Trump $95 million for a Palm Beach mansion the oligarch has originally purchased through a secret trust. The suspicious sale provided Trump with a profit of $50 million for a home the oligarch said he never had intended to occupy. Of course, Trump later regained a foothold in Palm Beach and spited its residents when he purchased Mar-a-Lago, another flashy toy which proved quite profitable.
As early as 1994 the Trump Organization engaged in real estate transactions with the Panama-based company Mossfon which facilitated anonymous ownership of trusts and properties. The Panama Papers revealed at least nine of Trump’s foreign business partners who allegedly mixed legitimate businesses with illegal activities such as prostitution, bribery and tax evasion. Alexander Shnaider and Edward Shyfrim who developed the Trump hotel in Toronto (left) conducted much of their business offshore.
Those of us in New Jersey have been particularly aware of how Trump built his casino empire in our state, milked it of its profits, screwed its employees. and then escaped declaring bankruptcy. His Taj Mahal Casino, seen above, was not only tacky and gaudy, but a business bound to fail from the beginning. Trump was in low repute at the time and his investment so risky that he had to resort to junk bonds at an extremely high interest rate. There was no way he could earn enough revenue to repay the bond holders. So he took what he could from the company, and declared bankruptcy. After now four trips to bankruptcy court, in 1990 the judge stripped Trump of many possessions, including the yacht and the Plaza Hotel, and put him on a monthly budget for personal and household expenses.
By the mid 1990’s his bankruptcies and penchant for civil lawsuits dried up funding from most US banks so he focused instead on selling his brands and seeking revenue abroad. Outside the US he became less picky about the origins of money that came his way. In 2012 in a phone-in-appearance on CNBC he called the Foreign Corrupt Practices law which forces US companies to investigate the people with whom they do business to ensure they are not cooperating with illegal activities, a “horrible law” which should be changed. “If American companies avoided bribery, you’ll do business nowhere,” he said.
In 2013 Trump’s courtship of Putin became all too apparent. Trump speculated via tweet, “Do you think Putin will be going to [Trump’s] Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow? if so he will become my new best friend.” Putin did not attend, but he sent Trump a decorative lacquered box and note instead. While there Trump discussed with the billionaire sponsors of the pageant, who were close to Putin, the possibility of building matching apartment towers in Moscow.
Trump had been trying unsuccessfully since the 1980’s to break into the Russian real estate market. In 2005 he signed a deal with Bayrock, an unsavory partner with plenty of links to the secrecy world and Mossfon. If Trump couldn’t bring his business to Russia, Bayrock made it possible for Russian and Eastern European money to flow secretly to Trump. Their best-known project was Trump’s So-Ho Hotel. It’s almost impossible to ascertain how many condo leases Trump signed with similar shady foreign individuals who hid behind secrecy of off-shore accounts.
In a WaPo Opinion piece on Tuesday incoming US Senator Mitt Romney said, “A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity. It is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring. On Sunday retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal said on ABC, “We should not want to be governed by someone we wouldn’t do a business deal with because his background is so shady. And so I think it’s necessary at those times to take a stand.”
Americans as far back as the 1980’s had the information necessary, but refused to take a stand when Trump began his presidential quest. We are now reaping the ill wind that blows no one any good. Only the future will tell if we learned the lesson.
For more information on the staggering data revealed in the Panama Papers you can read SECRECY WORLD: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite by the Pulitzer Prize-winng investigator Jake Bernstein.