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What's in "Vladimir" Trump's tax returns?
At the same time, Deutsche Bank lawyers have left a thread of scathing memos accusing Trump of immoral behavior starting way back in 2008, when Trump refused to pay his debt to the German bank claiming that the economic crisis was a natural disaster that relieved of any responsibility to repay the debt. (Trump even accused Deutsche Bank of causing the economic crisis and therefore of owing him damages). As of 2017, Trump still owes Deutsche about $300 million. The funny thing is that suddenly Deutsche Bank reversed its attitude towards Trump, settled the dispute in 2010 and... started lending again. What made the bank suddenly trust again someone (a four-times bankrupt client) who had been so nasty to it just a few years earlier? Deutsche Bank has so far refused to answer. Deutsche Bank lent Trump money at a time when virtually no bank in New York was willing to. Deutsche Bank even started lending money to Trump's daughter Ivanka, to her husband Jared Kushner, and to Kushner's mother Seryl Stadtmauer (note that Jared's father Charles Kushner had just been sent to prison in 2005, which is not usually the best reference for getting loans from banks). We are not talking a few thousand dollars: the grand total lent to the Trump family is close to $1 billion. I doubt that i could get even $1 from Deutsche Bank if i had Trump's record with that bank.
Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank was going from scandal to scandal. After the financial collapse of 2008 the world learned from whistle-blower Eric Ben-Artzi that the bank had "cooked" the books and was doomed to bankruptcy, but someone managed to save it. In particular, the bank was fined for violating sanctions against Iran and Syria, two Russian allies in the Middle East.
In 2015 the New Yorker magazine unveiled another money laundering scandal involving mysterious Russian money and Deutsche Bank, the "mirror trades" scandal. See this article for a summary. Deutsche brokers helped Russian clients turn roubles (whose origin were dubious) into dollars stashed outside Russia. Deutsche Bank investigated this case, found that about $10 billion was laundered out of Russia, three Russian employees at the bank were fired (Tim Wiswell, who had previously worked for Russia's second-wealthiest man Mikhail Fridman, Dina Maksutova and Georgiy Buznik), but the bank could not find out whose money it was, and why it was moved offshore. There are rumors (repeated by Bloomberg News) that the money or some of it belongs to Putin's cousin Igor Putin and to two close Putin friends, the Rotenberg brothers, Arkady and Boris, who got rich thanks to billion-dollar construction projects awarded to them by Putin's government (their latest contract is for a bridge connecting Russia with recently annexed Crimea). Others point at Ramzan Kadyrov's family and friends, Kadyrov being the ruthless governor of Chechnya. The bottom line is that money laundering through Deutsche Bank continued until 2015.
In 2015 Deutsche Bank started its own investigation into ties between Trump and Putin. So far it has refused to disclose what it has discovered. But, put it this way: out of millions of clients, this bank is investigating one in particular for ties with Russia (the investigation started before Trump ran for president).
Meanwhile, the economy of Cyprus was about to collapse. Cyprus' largest bank had to be rescued by the European Union. Many objected that the bank was notoriously affiliated with Russian interests, and suspected of money laundering. In 2013 an article in the German magazine Der Spiegel claimed that the Bank of Cyprus held up to $37 billion of Russian money. In 2014 the bank elected a new vice-chairman: Wilbur Ross, nicknamed "the king of bankruptcy" in the USA for profiting from bankrupt manufacturing firms. Ross, whose group owned 17% of the bank, soon brought on board two new investors and executives: Viktor Vekselberg and Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former KGB agent in the 1980s and close friend of Russia's president Putin. Vekselberg, whose wife and children are US citizens, became Russia's richest man (and the 40th richest person in the world) in 2013 after selling half of Russia's third-largest oil company TNK-BP to the government-owned conglomerate Rosneft for $28 billion, a deal widely seen as a move by Putin to further centralize power because Rosneft is headed by Igor Sechin, the former Russian deputy prime minister who is considered Russia's second most powerful man after Putin. Ross and Vekselberg then hired Josef Ackermann, the former CEO of Deutsche Bank who was now working for Vekselberg's Renova, and Ackermann became chairman of the Bank of Cyprus (how many banks would hire as chairman a man responsible for a series of money-laundering scandals?) In 2017 Trump appointed Wilbur Ross (of all people) as secretary of commerce. Of all people, Trump had to pick a man who works for a bank de facto controlled by Russia and possibly implicated in laundering money of Russian officials. Investigations both in Europe and the USA are trying to determine the connections among the Bank of Cyprus, Russia's government and Trump's organization, in particular whether Trump's organization received money from this bank that is de facto controlled by the Russian government.
In 2016 Russia announced one of its biggest privatizations since the 1990s: the sale of 20% of the giant government-owned oil company Rosneft. The 20% stake was officially bought for $12 billion by a Singaporean financial firm that is actually a joint venture between Qatar and the Swiss conglomerate Glencore, but that acquisition seems to have been done on behalf of a firm registered in the Cayman Islands whose owner is not known. The Cayman Islands are a notorious "offshore tax haven". In 2017 the Cayman Islands became a topic of discussion in the USA when the New York Times (see this article) discovered that Steven Mnuchin was the director of an investment fund in the Cayman Islands; in other words, Mnuchin helped US businesses to avoid taxes. Mnuchin, a banker who had made huge profits out of the financial crisis caused by banks like his (Goldman Sachs), had just been hired by Trump as treasury secretary (i.e. Trump hired Mnuchin, of all people, to manage the money of the US government). A December 2016 dossier by a former British intelligence officer (see the dossier) hints at a deal between Rosnet's president Sechin and the Trump organization: remove the sanctions against Russia and we'll give you a share of Rosnet. Trump associates deny that there is any truth in that 35-page dossier... just like Trump denied all the other things that were later found out to be true. But the Cayman Islands connection is yet another amazing coincidence in this story of Russian-Trump coincidences.
For the record, the Guardian unveiled that British banks contributed to the money-laundering scheme (see this article). Alas, it wasn't just Deutsche Bank that helped Russian crooks. The Guardian hinted at a key role by the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB), the successor to the Soviet-era KGB (such as Alexander Grigoriev).
In parallel, a company named Prevezon was using Russian laundered money to buy "high-end commercial space and luxury apartments" (quote from the FBI report). The owner of Prevezon is Denis Katsyv, the son of Pyotr Katsyv, vicepresident of Russian Railways, a Russian state company (whose former chairman Vladimir Yakunin is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin and subject to US sanctions after the Ukrainian invasion). It would hard to believe that the son of one of Russia's most powerful man is laundering money without suffering extreme consequences unless the Russian government know and approve of it. In 2014 Denis Katsyv was certainly working for the Russian government when it hired the law firm BakerHostetler to hire Fusion GPS (aka Glenn Simpson) to spread disparaging reports about the lawyer lobbying in favor of investigating the mysterious death of Sergei Magnitsky (the Russian lawyer who exposed the money-laundering scheme). It us widely believed that Magnitsky was tortured and murdered (officially, he died of a heart attack). In May 2017 the Trump administration abruptly ended the investigation into this Russian money-laundering case. The court trial was supposed to begin in May 2017. We will never hear the testimony under oath of Louise Shelley (founding director of George Mason University's Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center) that was scheduled for 3 days later; nor will we hear the testimony of Jamison Firestone, Magnitsky's law partner.
Back to Trump. Fortune magazine estimates that during the 1990s Trump accumulated more than $4 billion in debt to more than 70 banks (see this Fortune magazine article). In the 2000s, devastated by a series of bankruptcies in New York, Trump developed a close relationship with the Bayrock Group, a financial firm founded in 2001 by a former Soviet official, Tevfik Arif, whose managing director was Felix Sater, convicted in 1998 of stock racketeering and fraud (you decide if a honest bank would hire a man convicted of fraud). That conviction came out during an investigation of a money-laundering scheme involving Russian mobsters. In 2010 the Bayrock Group funded Trump's first big project in the USA since his multiple bankruptcies, the Trump SoHo in New York. Former prosecutor Kenneth McCallion wrote on his blog in October 2016 that the Trump SoHo project "was largely financed by illegally obtained cash from Russia and Eastern European sources, including money provided by known international financial criminals and organized crime racketeers". In 2011 the former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed by the old pro-Putin government of Ukraine, filed a lawsuit against three people whom she accused of a $3.5 billion racketeering and money-laundering scheme: Semyon Mogelivich, identified by the Justice Department as an international mobster, Dmitry Firtash, a Ukranian gas executive who has been indicted of bribery in the USA, and Paul Manafort (Trump's associated and future campaign manager). Also in 2011 Belgium accused an investor in the Trump SoHo project, Kazakh billionaire Alexander Mashkevich, of a money-laundering scheme. Three owners of Trump condos in Florida and New York (Anatoly Golubchik, Michael Sall, and Vadim Trincher) were accused of belonging to a Russian mob. In 2014 Viktor Khrapunov, the former mayor of Kazakhstan's biggest city Almaty who happened to purchase three Trump SoHo units, was accused of money laundering. This USA Today article has details about all these gentlemen, and this other USA Today article details Trump's (direct or indirect) deals with Russian mobsters. In 2013, while Trump was in Moscow, Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire, acted as a liaison between him and Putin, and arranged a meeting with Herman Gref, CEO of the state-controlled Sberbank, the country's biggest bank. (See this Washington Post article and this Bloomberg News article). In March 2014 the USA and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia to protest Russian invasion of Ukraine (See Obama's executive order 13660 ) which caused a sudden drop in Russian exports of money to the USA. In 2015 Trump's Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City was fined $10 million by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the largest penalty the agency ever levied against a casino, for failing to report money-laundering transactions. In June 2015 Trump formally announced his candidacy with a speech at Trump Tower in New York City. Just before the Trump inauguration, in December 2016, his son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, whom Putin appointed as chairman of VneshEconomBank, Russia's biggest state-owned commercial bank that is under US sanctions because Putin used it as a vehicle to fund destabilizing programs against other countries. Its full Russian name means "The State Corporation Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs". This bank has been used as a frequent cover for Russian spying activities (see the recent case of Russian spy Evgeny Buryakov).
In 2017 Trump was subject to an investigation about his contacts with Russia. One important element of that investigation was the "Steele dossier", prepared by Christopher Steele, a well-respected former British secret agent, for Fusion GPS. One year into the investigation, Fusion GPS suggested that investigators should look into "the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump's businesses". Quote: "We told Congress that from Manhattan to Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., and from Toronto to Panama, we found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.". And then concluded with the obvious question that Trump never answered: "Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?"
What's in Trump's tax returns? It must be something terribly embarrassing if he still keeps them secret. Something truly embarrassing would be, for example, that Deutsche Bank loaned him Russian money at a time when noone else was willing to save him; or that he owns a large share of Rosnet; or both. If that is indeed what happened, i doubt that Putin did it out of charity.
There is a very easy way for Trump to prove that he has no financial involvement with Russia, and that everything written here is mere coincidence: all he has to do is to release his tax returns.
So far every single statement that Trump and his cohorts made about Russia (and pretty much about everything else) has been proven to be false. He also tweeted (january 2017): "I have nothing to do with Russia - No deals, no loans, no nothing!" You decide.
Addendum of november 2017: The "Paradise Papers" leaked to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and provided to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed thousands of secret deals that went through the Bermuda law firm Appleby, including deals by Wilbur Ross, Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economic adviser and former Goldman Sachs executive, and Rex Tillerson, Trump's secretary of state and former Exxon Mobil executive. In particular, Wilbur Rossís firm Navigator in the Cayman Islands conducted business with Sibur, owned by Putinís close friend (and, famously, judo partner) Gennady Timchenko and Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov.
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TM, ®, Copyright © 2017 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.