Saturday, November 18, 2017

Putin Looted Russia To Become The Richest Man On Earth-- Trump Is Competing With Him: Dateline Panana City


At 6:59 (PT) on Thursday night, Rachel Maddow left her MSNBC audience with a classic tease that she promised would be explosive by Friday. It started exploding immediately after the tease, when various news sources started reporting that the Trump family is involved in money laundering, the Russian Mafia and Colombian drug cartels through two of their most infamous properties, Mar-A-Lago in Florida and the Trump Ocean Club in Panama. The charges aren't new-- but the proof is. Aggelos Petropoulos and NBC ace reporter Richard Engel have the details of the Trump family's ties to organized crime. Will Ivanka do time? Dateline: Panama City, one of the world's sleaziest capital's of money laundering and every kind of illegal trafficking:
When Ivanka Trump flew here in 2006 to push her family’s latest business project-- an oceanfront steel and glass tower called the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, shaped like a sail and designed to be one of the tallest buildings in Latin America-- a Brazilian real estate salesman named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira says he was ready with a sales pitch.

Ventura, who said he only had a small real estate company at the time, said he told Ivanka Trump that he could sell condos in the proposed skyscraper for three times the price of similar units in Panama City. The reason: the Trump name, which would go on the building in a licensing deal even though the Trump Organization was not the building’s real developer.

...Ventura did sell the initial units, and later hundreds more. He is now a fugitive. In May 2009, Ventura was arrested in Panama for real estate fraud, unrelated to the Trump project. Mauricio Ceballos, a former financial crimes prosecutor in Panama who investigated Ventura, said that dozens of complaints against Ventura crossed his desk accusing him of double- and triple-selling apartments, both at the Trump Ocean Club and other developments.

Ventura eventually fled Panama while out on bail. He denied having defrauded his clients but admitted to NBC News that he has participated in money laundering on behalf of corrupt Panamanian politicians, unrelated to the building project.

Ventura isn’t the only person associated with the building who has had run-ins with the law. An NBC News investigation into the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with Reuters, shows that the project was riddled with brokers, customers and investors who have been linked to drug trafficking and international crime. Ceballos, who investigated the project, went as far as to call the skyscraper “a vehicle for money laundering.”

The investigation revealed no indication that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump family engaged in any illegal activity, or knew of the criminal backgrounds of some of the project’s associates. But Ventura said that the Trumps never asked any questions about the buyers or where the money was coming from.

Legal experts contacted by Reuters said the Trumps should have asked those questions. Because Panama is “perceived to be highly corrupt,” said Arthur Middlemiss, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan and a former head of JPMorgan’s global anti-corruption program, those who do business there should perform due diligence on others involved in their ventures. If they fail to do so, he told Reuters, they risk being liable under U.S. law of turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.

In the interview, Ventura admitted that some of his brokers and clients who bought and sold units in the Trump Ocean Club were connected to the Russian mafia and other organized-crime groups, including a convicted money launderer who moved cash for drug cartels.

“I had some customers with questionable backgrounds,” he said. “Nobody ever asked me. Banks never asked. Developer didn’t ask and (the) Trump Organization didn’t ask. Nobody ask, ‘Who are the customers, where did the money come from?’ No, nobody ask.”

...Ventura says that the Trump family, and Ivanka Trump in particular, was involved in the details of the Trump Ocean Club, and that she interacted with him extensively.

Ivanka Trump is featured in a promotional video for the Trump Ocean Club, made in 2011, in which she praises “the beautiful pool decks” and “our 10,000-square-foot spa.”

“Buenos días,” she says in the video. “Hello, I'm Ivanka Trump. Welcome to Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, Panama, rising 70 stories above the glistening Panama Bay. We've taken inspiration from the beauty that surrounds us to create a new landmark for Panama.” She goes on to discuss such details as the “tropical color palette” and the carvings on the guestroom headboards.

“The Trump Organization has to approve everything because of his name on the project,” Ventura said, describing the project as Ivanka Trump’s “baby.”

According to the Trump Ocean Club’s bondholder prospectus, Donald Trump was projected to make $74.2 million from the project by the end of 2010. The disclosure forms Trump filed with the Office of Government Ethics show that he continues to earn management fees and royalties from the Trump Ocean Club. In the last three years, the documents show, he was paid as much as $13.9 million.

Global Witness, a nonprofit anti-corruption watchdog that is often critical of businesses and their connections to government officials, said Panama offered Donald Trump a new way to make money at a time when his businesses were struggling. (The Trump casino empire filed for bankruptcy in 2004.) The group is publishing the findings of its investigation into the Trump Ocean Club on Friday.

“In the mid-2000s Panama was known as a money laundering hotspot,” said Patrick Alley, co-founder of Global Witness. “At that time the Trump companies were in dire trouble. He changed his business model to license his name and his brand to other people’s developments, and very often they would be inexperienced developers, low-profile people who needed a name to sell their developments. So Trump would go into a licensing deal, which meant he invested nothing, but could make a profit from it.”

Ventura estimates his company, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services, sold 350 to 400 units, about $100 million worth of property. Ventura says he was such an effective salesman that he was invited to a 2008 celebration at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago. Ventura provided photographs of himself with Donald Trump at the event, and other photographs of him with Ivanka, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

Ventura said the Trumps never asked about his clients, the people who were buying the condo units, and he never told them. To cite one example, he said that he sold seven to 10 units in the Trump Ocean Club to a man named David Murcia Guzmán, founder of a large Colombian marketing company.

Guzmán is now in U.S. custody, awaiting extradition to Colombia after being convicted by a U.S. federal court of laundering money for drug cartels, including through real estate. According to a Colombian news report, citing the police, Guzmán also had financial ties to the FARC, a paramilitary organization listed by the State Department as a terrorist group.

Guzmán isn’t the only link connecting drug trafficking to the Trump Ocean Club. One of the early investors in the project was a man named Louis Pargiolas. In 2009, he pleaded guilty in a federal court in Miami to conspiracy to import cocaine.

Ventura says about half of the units he sold at the Trump Ocean Club were to Russians. To help handle them, Ventura went into business with several Russian-speaking real estate brokers, who he admits have had checkered pasts, including one named Stanislav Kavalenka. According to Ontario court documents, Kavalenka was charged in Canada with a number of offenses, including “compelling” and “procuring” women to engage in prostitution. The case was withdrawn when the two women failed to appear in court to give evidence against him.

Another investor in Ventura’s firm was Arkady Vodovozov. According to court files cited by Reuters, he was convicted of kidnapping in Israel. A third representative of the brokerage firm, described by Ventura as an occasional buyer at the Trump Ocean Club, was Igor Anapolskiy, according to Ukrainian court documents. He was convicted in September 2014 by a court in Ukraine of forging travel documents, according to Global Witness.

The identities of all of the buyers and sellers of the building’s units is difficult to discover, however, because many of the units were bought and sold through anonymous shell companies, according to documents from the Panamanian office of public records. Ventura says he set up hundreds of those corporations, charging roughly $1,000 each.

Ceballos, who says he investigated transactions related to the Trump Ocean Club during his stint as an anti-corruption prosecutor in Panama, describes the building as a magnet for international organized crime, particularly from Russia.

“The majority of sales of this building were not to local residents, but rather to foreigners,” he said. “They bought initially as an investment, knowing that once the building was constructed you could legalize your money.”

He added: “We were able to find out that people with some kind of criminal history acquired apartments there.”

Ceballos said lax law enforcement in Panama made money laundering easy. To launder money, he said, buyers using anonymous corporations would bring dirty money to Panama, often in cash, use it to buy real estate with no questions asked, sell it, and deposit the proceeds into local banks, which would accept the funds, also without asking questions. The real estate purchases, Ceballos says, were solely a way to get the money into banks and into the global financial system; few buyers intended to live in the condos.

During a recent visit by NBC News, the Trump Ocean Club appeared to be largely empty, with virtually no one in the restaurants at night. The hallways were consistently empty. The lights were off in many of the units after dark. Ventura said most of his clients never intended to live in the Trump Ocean Club.

Miguel Antonio Bernal, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Panama and a campaigner against corruption, said many buildings in Panama City were built specifically to be vehicles for money laundering; the Trump Ocean Club fits the mold.

“There are more than 500 buildings like this,” he said. “But this-- the difference of this-- is that this has the name of the actual president of the United States. And he keeps the name here.”

Ventura now lives under a new name, as do two other brokers who used to sell the building’s condos. He said he admires President Trump and doesn’t consider himself to be a detractor or accuser. Ventura said his job was simply to sell and not ask questions. As for Trump, he said: “It could be that he didn’t want to know… I believe that he didn’t know.”

Sarah Chayes, a corruption expert working with a group of lawyers trying to bring an unrelated case against the president for violating the Emoluments clause of the Constitution, said it was troubling that the Trump Organization seemed to pay no attention to the shady backgrounds of its partners and clients.

“Anyone who thinks that members of FARC, that drug dealers, Russian oligarchs who have been looting their own country, represent normal business partners,” she said, “doesn’t quite understand the free enterprise system that I think is central to a healthy America.”

The Global Witness report is pretty mind-boggling, especially when you admit to yourself this stinking pile of garbage at the center of this is the illegitimate president of the United States. It starts with a Trump quote: "Every other country goes into these places and they do what they have to do… It’s a horrible law and [the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] should be changed." The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act also hampered Trump business ventures with organized crime in Azerbaijan, India and throughout the Middle East. Here's the executive summary of their Panama City report:
In the early 2000s, a series of bankruptcies meant Donald J. Trump was shunned by most lenders. Struggling for credit, he started selling his name to high-end real estate projects. This report examines in detail the criminal connections that propelled one such project-- the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama-- and how this case bears some of the same disturbing hallmarks as other Trump developments.

Since he became President of the United States, numerous investigations and articles have probed Trump’s business dealings and his alleged links to criminals and other shadowy characters. It is understood that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation under the Department of Justice will also examine his real estate business. This is important because it seems likely that, following his various bankruptcies, at least a part of Trump’s business empire has been built on untraceable funds, some apparently linked to Russian criminal networks.

Trump may not have deliberately set out to facilitate criminal activity in his business dealings. But, as this Global Witness investigation shows, licensing his brand to the luxurious Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama aligned Trump’s financial interests with those of crooks looking to launder ill-gotten gains. Trump seems to have done little to nothing to prevent this. What is clear is that proceeds from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking were laundered through the Trump Ocean Club and that Donald Trump was one of the beneficiaries.

One key player in the laundering of drug money at the Trump Ocean Club was notorious fraudster David Eduardo Helmut Murcia Guzmán, whom a U.S. court subsequently sentenced to nine years for laundering millions of dollars' worth of illicit funds, including narcotics proceeds, through companies and real estate.

Another was Murcia Guzmán’s business associate, Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira, who brokered nearly a third of the 666 pre-construction unit sales at the Trump Ocean Club and claims to have sold 250-400 units overall. Ventura Nogueira’s sales brokerage was critical to ensuring the project’s lift-off and Trump’s ability to earn tens of millions of dollars.

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. In most countries, regulation is notoriously lax in the real estate sector. Cash payments are subject to hardly any scrutiny, giving opportunistic and unprincipled developers free rein to accept dirty money.

In the case of the Trump Ocean Club, accepting easy-- and possibly dirty-- money early on would have been in Trump’s interest; a certain volume of pre-construction sales was necessary to secure financing for the project, which stood to net him $75.4 million by the end of 2010. Trump received a percentage of the financing he helped secure, and a cut on the sale of every unit at the development.

He and his family have made millions of dollars more from management fees and likely continue to profit from the Trump Ocean Club. Eager for the project’s success, Trump and his children have participated directly in marketing, management, and even project design. According to broker Ventura Nogueira, Trump’s daughter Ivanka attended at least 10 meetings with him and project developer Roger Khafif.

A large number of those involved with the Trump Ocean Club in its early phase were Russian and Eastern European citizens or diaspora members. In an interview with NBC and Reuters, Ventura Nogueira said that 50 percent of his buyers were Russian, and that some had “questionable backgrounds.” He added that he found out later that some were part of the Russian Mafia.

Since the Russian government’s alleged interference in the 2016 election, a lot has been made of Trump’s heavy reliance on funds from Russia for his licensing deals. Trump relying on funds from Russia is not in itself a problem – some of these funds are no doubt from legitimate sources. What is deeply problematic, however, is the fact that some of this money appears to have come from criminal networks.

Donald Trump has incessantly promoted himself as a successful and viable businessman, and this was critical to his success in the 2016 presidential election. But this report presents evidence that this façade was built, at least in part, on ventures used to launder cash generated by criminal activities. Trump’s unscrupulous business dealings and blindness to potential illegality raise serious questions about his suitability to govern the most powerful country in the world.

The dubious dealings of Trump the businessman also raise questions about the commitment of Trump the President to tackling crime and corruption. Trump got elected by repeatedly pledging to “drain the swamp”, but in the nine months since his inauguration he has actually taken steps that could worsen corruption in the U.S. and internationally. Indeed, one of his administration’s few legislative successes to date has been to overturn the implementing regulation of a ground-breaking anti-corruption law.

...The solutions to the problems set out in this report are clear:

1. Appropriate law enforcement authorities, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller, should investigate these allegations and, if appropriate, hold President Trump accountable for his actions. The congressional committees looking into this issue should likewise investigate these allegations and, if appropriate, hold President Trump accountable for his actions.

2. Every country should require all companies and trusts to disclose who ultimately owns and controls them and make this information public.

3. Every country should require the real estate sector to know who their clients are and the source of their funds as a precaution to ensure that dirty money is not being laundered into the property market.

4. Every country should require lawyers who carry out transactions for their clients, including the buying and selling of real estate and the creation of companies, to know who their clients are and the source of their funds.
Trump, of course, is calling for the dismantling of the American regulatory system, not for more regulations. Now you know why. If not... watch this short video:

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At 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll say it again. Laws only matter if they are enforced. They are not being enforced because the money that benefits from non-enforcement is responsible for law enforcement.

The only reason to change the law, making all of this kind of shit legal, is because some day someone might be elected or named AG who takes his/her job seriously.

Since 1980, laws like Sherman have been ignored by all. Banking/investment law and the Geneva accords on torture have been ignored by all since at least 2000.
Money laundering and international law are trickier due to the inconsistent cooperation of other nations (besides the inconsistent efforts of the corrupt US admins).
When an R is in office, usually the only ones looked at are those connected to D pols. When a D is in office, everyone is pretty much free to conduct BAU, unless there is a political gain involved (Noriega...).

It's been proved many times over that this admin has laundered money for the Russians and others; and has committed fraud of many different kinds. There are credible allegations of human trafficking and rape. And there is ongoing violations of Emoluments.

Nobody in power is going to enforce any of this. If a democrap wins in 2020, they won't do shit about it either.

Makes one wonder what use it is to keep proving shit that will never matter to anyone in power, nor, clearly, to voters who keep "electing" those to power who will ignore it.

At 6:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Dickens' character The Beadle whines at one point, "The law is a ass". The fact that so much is done in violation of the law by those too powerful to be made to observe the law or suffer the consequences facing the rest of us, and there is no other conclusion one can draw.

All of this makes me less inclined to give Trump a pass on his VERY favorable treatment of Russia in his actions and words. It's likely that if he doesn't maintain such public support, the Mafiya will see to it that he doesn't finish his term alive. They would almost be doing the US a favor.

IIRC, there was a Russian kidnapped in Lebanon during the time when Brits and Americans were regularly taken. The Russian was released when the ear of a relative of the kidnappers was sent as a warning. The Russians don't let little things like laws stop them from achieving their goals, something Trump wishes he could get away with.

At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There have been articles of impeachment introduced by democraps. Of course, the judiciary committee being a tyranny of Rs, nothing will be done. But if the house flips in 2018 it will put Pelosi in a familiar situation. She had articles of impeachment against cheney and AG gonzalez spiked (by then chair conyers) by the tyranny of the democraps.

Pelosi has already foresworn any impeachment, again vowing to violate her oath of office.

Show of hands... who thinks THIS TIME she'll do her fucking job (provided the house flips and she buys her speakership again)? I see Howie with his hand up. Anyone else?

Maybe we should find another party to give our support to.

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Maybe we should find another party to give our support to."

Do you think maybe we could interest Jeremy Corbin into establishing an American chapter of the Labour Party? Bernie doesn't seem willing to take that task on.

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At 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

3:34, quite so. Even the Greens put out a feeler to Bernie after his thorough ratfucking by the Clinton/DWS/brazille DNC. He rebuffed them.

He never wanted to be a revolutionary, in spite of the title of his book. He was an opportunist who took an opportunity and tried to become president. The bribe money lined up against him, gooned the process even further, and he just took it like a freshman at a hazing.

I will happily look at ANY alternative. Elizabeth Warren could be a catalyst but she also seems content to take money from the party bribe-takers and coast. There really are no other good Ds with enough muscle to lead the exodus alone. Jayapal, Lieu and a couple of others COULD band together, but even so, not enough.

I loved that the Greens tried to have recounts done. WI and MI had some really odd aberrations in their counts (as does OH always). But our courts remained consistent in opining that actually counting votes could only be harmful to the media-declared winner, therefore should not be done.

How an electorate in a democratic system can stand for that from the courts is beyond me. But if the voters don't give a fuck, why should Bernie or Elizabeth or I?


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