Business projects of Donald Trump in Russia
Donald Trump has pursued business deals in Russia since 1987, and has sometimes traveled there to explore potential business opportunities. In 1996, Trump trademark applications were submitted for potential Russian real estate development deals. Trump's partners and children have repeatedly visited Moscow, connecting with developers and government officials to explore joint venture opportunities. Trump was never able to successfully conclude any real estate deals in Russia. However, individual Russians have invested heavily in Trump properties, and following Trump's bankruptcies in the 1990s he borrowed money from Russian sources. In 2008 his son Donald Trump Jr. said that Russia was an important source of money for the Trump businesses.
Efforts to build a Trump building in Moscow continued into June 2016, during which Trump was securing the Republican nomination for the presidential election.
In January 2017, BuzzFeed News reported the existence of the unverified Trump–Russia dossier (also called the Steele dossier), which alleges connections between Trump associates and Russia. Trump responded the next day, and again at a February news conference, that he has no financial connections to Russia. In response to ongoing questions, White House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated in May that Trump has no business connections to Russia. Also in May, Trump's tax lawyers sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying Trump had not received any income from Russian sources over the past 10 years "with a few exceptions".
Becoming well known
In 1987, Trump visited Russia to investigate developing a hotel, invited by Ambassador Yuri Dubinin whom he had met in New York the year before. British journalist Luke Harding alleged in 2017 that this trip likely began a long-term cultivation operation typical of the KGB's Political Intelligence Department, under written directives initiated by First Chief Directorate head Vladimir Kryuchkov, to recruit politically ambitious Westerners susceptible to flattery, egotism and greed.
In 1996, Trump partnered with Liggett-Ducat, a small company, and planned to build an upscale residential development on a Liggett-Ducat property in Moscow. Trump commissioned New York architect Ted Liebman, who did the sketches. Trump visited Moscow again with Howard Lorber to scout potential properties for "skyscrapers and hotels". During that trip, Trump promoted the proposal and acclaimed the Russian economic market. At a news conference reported by The Moscow Times, Trump said he hadn't been "as impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow" in contrast to other cities had visited "all over the world."
By this time, Trump had made known his desire to build in Moscow to government officials for almost ten years "ranging from the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev (they first met in Washington in 1987) to the military figure Alexander Lebed." Moscow's mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov, showed Trump plans for a very large shopping mall to be located underground in the vicinity of the Kremlin. The mayor complimented Trump's suggestion that this mall should have access to the Moscow Metro, and it was eventually connected to the Okhotny Ryad station. Although the 1996 residential development did not happen, Trump was by this time well known in Russia.
Trump's business strategy included Russia in ventures intended to internationally expand his brand. He transitioned in the mid-2000s from building and investing in real estate to simply licensing his name to hotels, condominiums, and commercial towers. Although a strategy of taking a percentage from the sales was successful in other countries, Trump's terms were not agreeable to Russians and conflicted with their way of doing business with American hotel chains.
From 2000 to 2010, Trump partnered with a development company headquartered in New York represented by a Russian immigrant, Felix Sater. During this period, they partnered for an assortment of deals that included building Trump towers internationally. For example, in 2005 Slater acted as an agent for building a Trump tower alongside Moscow River with letters of intent in hand and "square footage was being analyzed."
In 2006, Trump's children Donald Jr. and Ivanka, traveling with Sater, stayed in the Hotel National, Moscow for several days, across from the Kremlin, to see promising partners, with the intent of doing real estate development deals.
Trump was associated with Tevfik Arif, formerly a Soviet commerce official and founder of a development company called the Bayrock Group, of which Sater was also a partner. Bayrock searched for deals in Russia while Trump branded towers were attempting to further expand in the United States. Sater said, "We looked at some very, very large properties in Russia," on the scale of "...a large Vegas high-rise." In 2007, Bayrock organized a potential deal in Moscow between Trump International Hotel and Russian investors.
During 2006–2008, Trump's company applied for a number of trademarks in Russia with the goal of real estate developments. These trademark applications include: Trump, Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Trump Home. In 2008, he said as a speaker at a Manhattan real estate conference that he feared the outcome of doing business deals in Russia, but he really prefers "Moscow over all cities in the world" and that within 18 months he had been in Russia a half-dozen times.
In 2007, Trump announces that Trump Vodka will expand its distribution into Russia, his first foray into the Russian market. Trump "Super Premium" Vodka, bottles glazed with 24-karat gold, debuted in 2007 at the Millionaire's Fair in Moscow. It was successful only until sometime in 2009. Trump attempted to create a reality show in St. Petersburg, starring a Russian athlete. However, this was not successful.
In a 2015 interview, Trump said that his repeated attempts to launch business deals with Russians resulted in contacts with "…the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top of the government people. I can't go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary."
Efforts to build Trump Tower Moscow continued through June 2016, while Trump was securing his place as the Republican presidential nominee. However, Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen in 2017 told Congress that these efforts ended in January 2016, and as a result, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2018.
On January 10, 2017, BuzzFeed News reported the existence of the Trump-Russia dossier (also called the Steele dossier), a series of reports prepared by a private intelligence source in Great Britain. The unverified dossier alleged various connections and collusion between Trump associates and Russia before and during the 2016 presidential election. The next day, January 11, Trump tweeted, "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!" USA Today evaluated that assertion as "not exactly true". At a February 16, 2017 press conference, Trump said, "And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia."
On May 9, 2017, Trump's tax law firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which said a review of Trump's tax returns for the past 10 years did not find income from Russian sources during that period, save for "a few exceptions". The exceptions were the 2008 sale of a Trump-owned 6.26-acre estate in Palm Beach, Florida, for $95 million to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who tore down the 62,000-square-foot mansion shortly after and sold 2.72 acres of the site for $34 million, as well as $12.2 million in payments in connection with holding the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, plus a number[quantify] of "immaterial" deals. No independently verifiable evidence was provided, such as tax returns, and it has been noted that even disclosure of tax returns would not necessarily disclose Russian-source income. The letter also said Trump had received undisclosed payments over 10 years from Russians for hotel rooms, rounds of golf, or Trump-licensed products such as wine, ties, or mattresses, which would not have been identified as coming from Russian sources in the tax returns. The letter was a response to earlier requests from Senator Lindsey Graham asking whether there were any such ties.
On November 30, 2018, a day after Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump's business projects in Russia, Trump tweeted that it was "very legal & very cool" that he did "run for President & continue to run my business". Trump continued: "Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project."
- Timeline of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections
- Business career of Donald Trump
- Links between Trump associates and Russian officials
- The Trump Organization
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Mr. Trump repeatedly sought business in Russia as far back as 1987, when he traveled there to explore building a hotel
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