Donald Trump’s assertion Wednesday that he does no business in Russia looks past extensive business dealings with Russians who have partnered with him and bought his properties.
His relations with Russia drew greater scrutiny with the release Tuesday by news website BuzzFeed of an intelligence dossier that, without substantiation, alleged that the Kremlin had pursued ties with him for more than five years and held compromising information on him. Trump labeled the report “fake news” and on Wednesday denied doing business in Russia.
“I have no deals. I have no loans (from Russian lenders). I have no dealings,” Trump said at a news conference Wednesday.
However, he and his family have had many dealings in Russia and with Russian émigrés elsewhere.
Donald Trump Jr., for example, was a keynote speaker at a Moscow real estate conference in 2008.
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump Jr. said during his speech, according to reports from the time. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
The younger Trump was a paid speaker at the invitation of a conference group that is part of Trinity Events Group in London.
“We routinely select the best possible speakers for our events,” explained Jane Gelfand, managing director of Adam Smith Conferences, adding that former President Bill Clinton had spoken at the group’s October 2005 International Leadership Summit in Moscow. “We can confirm that we have no relationship with any government, Russian or other.”
One high-profile past tie was when Trump’s former company put on the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013. The report circulated by BuzzFeed alleged that Azerbaijan business associate Aras Agalarov had knowledge of compromising information about Trump. Agalarov helped cover the costs of putting on the pageant in Moscow, and at the time of the pageant he and Trump appeared in numerous photos together.
The Washington Post last June quoted Agalarov’s son Emin as saying they’d discussed with Trump the possibility of adjacent buildings in Moscow. The Post report also cited 2013 comments from the elder Agalarov that he’d struck a deal with Trump to build in Moscow.
And while Trump insisted Wednesday that he does no business in Russia, his son Eric said just last Friday that it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
Quoted in the Argentine paper La Nacion, Eric Trump confirmed that for years “we’ve looked at deals in Russia and we’ve never been comfortable with any of the deals we’ve seen.” Deals in Russia are still likely, he said, but must now wait until his father leaves office.
There are other examples of Trump ties to Russian business interests.
Talon International Development and Bayrock Group
Talon was the developer of the Trump International Hotel & Tower that opened in Toronto in 2012 and went into bankruptcy receivership last year. Trump licensed the use of his name on the tower and his developer partners at Talon were billionaire Alex Shnaider and Eduard Shyfrin, Russian émigrés who settled in Canada but made their fortunes in Russia and Ukraine. They have since fallen out with Trump.
Similarly, Bayrock Group partnered with Trump for projects in New York’s swank SoHo district and a Florida beachfront property in Fort Lauderdale. Trump licensed his name to both projects, which went bust and ended in litigation.
The main Bayrock Group owner is Tevfik Arif, a Turkish citizen born in Kazakhstan and raised in the Soviet Union. He was charged in Turkey with running a prostitution ring involving young Russian women, but charges were later dropped. Russian émigré Felix Sater, another Bayrock founder, left the company after a stock-fraud conviction but was given office space in Trump Tower and a business card that read “senior adviser to Donald Trump.”
“He was given on a very temporary basis office space,” Alan Garten, executive vice president and general counsel of the Trump Organization, told McClatchy on Monday. “He was effectively operating his own real-estate brokerage business and was given a period of time in which to use office space to try to source potential deals.”
Trump has said he doesn’t really know Sater, but the former Bayrock Group partner told The Washington Post last year that he’d escorted Trump Jr. and sister Ivanka around Moscow.
The Russian-born businessman has introduced Trump to Russian investors and runs a small U.S.-based Russian-American business group. Millian once boasted of having an exclusive deal to market Trump properties to Russians, and last fall he told ABC News that the “level of business (investment) amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Garten told McClatchy that Millian, who reportedly met Trump in 2007 during a “Millionaires’ Fair” in Russia, overstates his connections.
“Sergei Millian does not work for the Trump Organization, is not affiliated with the Trump Organization, has no connections with the Trump Organization,” he said, adding that “we don’t have an agreement with him. Nobody knows who he is.”
Millian has previously worked as a translator for the Russian military and foreign service, according to a former U.S. official with extensive experience in Russian matters. The official spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity in discussing intelligence. Millian is believed to have left the United States.
Russians are important buyers of Trump-branded condos. A document obtained by McClatchy last year as part of its Panama Papers investigation into offshore shell companies found that the sales department of Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in Panama had a team and sales brochures dedicated solely to attracting wealthy Russian buyers. This has been confirmed by McClatchy.
The Miami Herald reported last year that Russians attracted by Trump’s celebrity status and glitz have snapped up pricey units of Trump Towers in the Sunny Isles section of Miami dubbed Little Moscow. Several Russian buyers were linked to organized crime or charged with other illegal activities outside and in the United States.
Two of them — Michael Sall and Anatoly Golubchik — were convicted in 2014 in New York for their roles in an illegal sports-betting operation that had Russian ties. Their condos, according to the Miami Herald, were valued at $2.3 million.
Russians are now even more interested in Trump properties, said Gil Dezer, the Miami developer whose company partnered with Trump on projects in Sunny Isles.
“Russians love their brands. Trump is very hot now that he’s president,” he told McClatchy late last year.
Kumar reported from New York. Stone is a McClatchy special correspondent.