More than 1,300 Trump condominiums selling for a total of $1.5 billion since the 1980s were bought by secretive shell companies in all-cash transactions, according to a new, exhaustive BuzzFeed report on President Donald Trump’s real estate dealings.
While such transactions can be made as part of tax strategies or to protect the privacy of buyers, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, issued a brief in August warning that all-cash real estate transactions made by secretive shell companies are a red flag for money laundering.
BuzzFeed reports that these transactions hastened in pace in the late 2000s and early 2010s. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. was quoted at a real estate conference in New York saying that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our assets” and “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
According to BuzzFeed, more than $205 million in sales were made to shell companies originating in countries linked to money laundering—the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and others. Also, 83 percent of these transactions were in U.S. markets where real estate money laundering is under investigation by FinCEN—Manhattan, South Florida, and Honolulu.
The BuzzFeed report comes on the heels of a related report by USA Today, which said 70 percent of the Trump Organization’s real estate buyers in 2017 used secretive shell companies. Upon taking office, Trump declined to divest from ownership of the Trump Organization and instead put his holdings in a trust under supervision of his sons, although Trump can override their authority and withdraw money whenever he wants.
These transactions will undoubtedly be of interest to Special Council Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election on behalf of the Trump campaign. That investigation has already ensnared longtime Trump associate and former chairman of the Trump campaign Paul Manafort, who was indicted on money laundering charges in October of 2017.
In Michael Wolff’s controversial book Fire and Fury, former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon is quoted saying “You realize where this is going. This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissman first and he is a money laundering guy. Their path to [expletive] Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner. It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s efforts to undermine American democracy are ongoing. Cyber-security firm Trend Micro said Friday that the same Russian hackers who hacked the Democratic National Committee are laying the groundwork to target U.S. Senators.