January 14, 2018

CRASS IN POCKET:

Secret Money: How Trump Made Millions Selling Condos To Unknown Buyers (Thomas Frank, 1/14/18,  BuzzFeed News)

More than one-fifth of Donald Trump's US condominiums have been purchased since the 1980s in secretive, all-cash transactions that enable buyers to avoid legal scrutiny by shielding their finances and identities, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found.

Records show that more than 1,300 Trump condominiums were bought not by people but by shell companies, and that the purchases were made without a mortgage, avoiding inquiries from lenders.

Those two characteristics signal that a buyer may be laundering money, the Treasury Department has said in a series of statements since 2016. Treasury's financial-crimes unit has, in recent years, launched investigations around the country into all-cash shell-company real-estate purchases amid concerns that some such sales may involve money laundering. The agency is considering requiring real-estate professionals to adopt anti-money-laundering programs.

All-cash purchases by shell companies do not by themselves indicate illegal or improper activity, and they have become more common in recent years in both Trump buildings and other luxury home sales across the United States. Developers such as Trump have no obligation to scrutinize their purchasers or their funding sources.

But federal investigations "continue to reveal corrupt politicians, drug traffickers and other criminals using shell companies to purchase luxury real estate with cash," Treasury's former financial-crimes chief Jennifer Shasky Calvery said at a Capitol Hill hearing in 2016.

Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) broadcast that concern in an August 2017 advisory to the real-estate industry warning that all-cash real-estate purchases by shell companies are "an attractive avenue for criminals to launder illegal proceeds while masking their identities."

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization responded to repeated requests for comment. A former longtime Trump Organization official who asked not to be named said that all-cash shell-company purchases are common among rich buyers, particularly foreigners trying to put their money in safe investments.

Trump condo sales that match Treasury's characteristics of possible money laundering totaled $1.5 billion, BuzzFeed News calculated. They accounted for 21% of the 6,400 Trump condos sold in the US. Those figures include condos that Trump developed as well as condos that others developed in his name under licensing deals that pay Trump a fee or a percentage of sales.

Some of the secretive sales date back more than three decades, long before recent worries that Russians tried to influence Trump by pouring millions of dollars into his businesses.

But a months-long BuzzFeed News examination of every Trump condominium sale in the US shows that such sales surged in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when some Trump businesses were in financial trouble and when Donald Trump Jr. made his now-famous remark about the Trump Organization seeing "a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

Posted by at January 14, 2018 8:41 AM

  

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