A major construction company owned by the Chinese government was awarded another contract this week to work on the Trump golf club development in Dubai, further raising questions about potential conflicts of interest between Donald Trump's presidency and his vast real estate empire.
Trump vowed his family business would not engage in any transactions with foreign government entities while he serves as president but the contract is just the latest in a series of business transactions involving his company and the Chinese government.
Trump’s partner, DAMAC Properties, awarded a $19.6 million contract to China State Construction Engineering Corp. for road and infrastructure work as part of the residential piece of Trump World Golf Club Dubai project called Akoya Oxygen, according to a news release dated Sunday. The development is expected to open later this year.
CSCEC was awarded a $32 million contract to build a six-lane road in early 2017, just as Trump was inaugurated, McClatchy reported in September. It was hired in February to construct one of the buildings at a cost of $163 million.
The latest contract — which involves three clusters of buildings consisting of 1,623 villas — was given based on a competitive bid, according to the company. The most recent news releases from DAMAC Properties omitted any reference to Trump.
“We are pleased to further strengthen our relationship with CSCEC, as we accelerate development in almost every part of our largest master community which will start to welcome its first residents at the end of 2018,” said Ali Sajwani, general manager of operations at DAMAC Properties.
Trump has been under fire in recent weeks — even from members of his own party — for making a deal to help save Chinese-controlled ZTE, just as his company was conducting additional business with Chinese-owned firms. He is also in the midst of negotiating a trade agreement with Beijing and working with China on persuading its neighbor, North Korea, to get rid of its nuclear weapons.
"This just furthers the troubling trend of the president's businesses benefiting from the actions of foreign governments," said Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "It raises serious questions as to whether his loyalties are divided. Will American foreign policy be impacted by the actions of foreign governments towards his personal business empire?"
Trump ignored calls to fully separate from his business interests when he became president. Instead, he placed his holdings in a trust designed to hold assets for his “exclusive benefit,” which he can receive at any time. He retains the authority to revoke the trust.
Trump received $141,000 in 2017 from the Dubai project, according to his financial disclosure statement. Trump's daughter, Ivanka — a senior White House adviser — received about $2 million in severance from the Trump Organization, according to her financial disclosure report.
The emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids government officials from accepting gifts gifts, titles of nobility or emoluments from foreign governments, and that no benefit should be derived by holding office.
The Trump Organization agreed to not engage in any new foreign deals or new transactions with a foreign entity — country, agency or official — other than “normal and customary arrangements” made before his election.
A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, which is run by the president’s adult sons, said the company is not the owner or developer of Trump World Golf Club, Dubai but rather licenses its name and brand to DAMAC Properties and has entered into an agreement to manage the Dubai golf course. The spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Chinese company was hired to work on the residential project, which is separate from the golf course. But marketing materials, including brochures, websites and news releases show them intricately tied together.
The Chinese company, known as CSCEC, is majority government-owned — according to Bloomberg and Moody’s, among others. It was listed as the 7th largest company in China and 37th worldwide with nearly $130 billion in revenues in 2014, according to Fortune’s Global 500 list.
The company, which has had a presence in the United States since the mid-1980s, was one of several accused by the World Bank of corruption for its role in the bidding process for a roads project in the Philippines and banned in 2009 from World Bank-financed contracts for several years.
The company’s contract is for work on the Trump World Golf Club Dubai project, which boasts of “living on a grand scale” with a golf course designed by American golfer Tiger Woods, thousands of sleek, modern villas, restaurants, shops, schools, nurseries and a lake. The development touts it will house Dubai’s first tropical rainforest complete with waterfalls and tropical birds under a sky dome.
“This unparalleled development provides luxury living on a grand scale, with over 2,000 hotel apartments of varying size, all offering exceptional views of the development, the lake and the lush fairways of the Trump World Golf Club Dubai,” according to a brochure. “The properties are fully furnished and our staff is available to you 24 hours a day, to ensure that you enjoy premium service on a par with the world’s finest hotels.”
Trump International Golf Club Dubai, part of a larger project built by DAMAC Properties on the outskirts of Dubai, includes more than 100 Trump-branded villas selling from $1 million to $4 million.
Hussain Sajwani, DAMAC’s chairman, offered the Trump Organization $2 billion in deals following Trump’s election, according to both sides. Trump said he rejected the offers to avoid conflicts of interest.
“Over the weekend, I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer from the Middle East,” Trump told reporters in January. “And I turned it down. I didn't have to turn it down because as you know I have a no conflict situation because I'm president... But I don’t want to take advantage of something.”
Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01