PANAMA CITY — When Ivanka Trump flew right here in 2006 to push her household’s newest enterprise mission — an oceanfront metal and glbad tower referred to as the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, formed like a sail and designed to be one of many tallest buildings in Latin America — a Brazilian actual property salesman named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira says he was prepared with a gross sales pitch.
Ventura, who stated he solely had a small actual property firm on the time, stated he informed Ivanka Trump that he may promote condos within the proposed skyscraper for thrice the worth of comparable items in Panama City. The purpose: the Trump identify, which might go on the constructing in a licensing deal though the Trump Organization was not the constructing’s actual developer.
Ventura says he and Ivanka agreed to a sort of problem. If Ventura may promote flats as simply as he claimed, and for these excessive costs, he’d grow to be the principle gross sales consultant for the mission.
“The agreement was, I had a week to sell 100 units,” Ventura stated in a current interview with NBC News. “I said, ‘I’m going to do better, I’m going to sell without telling (the buyers) the price.”
Ventura did promote the preliminary items, and later a whole bunch extra. He is now a fugitive. In May 2009, Ventura was arrested in Panama for actual property fraud, unrelated to the Trump mission. Mauricio Ceballos, a former monetary crimes prosecutor in Panama who investigated Ventura, stated that dozens of complaints towards Ventura crossed his desk accusing him of double- and triple-selling flats, each on the Trump Ocean Club and different developments.
Ventura finally fled Panama whereas out on bail. He denied having defrauded his purchasers however admitted to NBC News that he has participated in cash laundering on behalf of corrupt Panamanian politicians, unrelated to the constructing mission.
Ventura isn’t the one individual related to the constructing who has had run-ins with the regulation. An NBC News investigation into the Trump Ocean Club, together with Reuters, reveals that the mission was riddled with brokers, clients and buyers who’ve been linked to drug trafficking and worldwide crime. Ceballos, who investigated the mission, went so far as to name the skyscraper “a vehicle for money laundering.”
The investigation revealed no indication that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump household engaged in any criminality, or knew of the felony backgrounds of a number of the mission’s badociates. But Ventura stated that the Trumps by no means requested any questions in regards to the consumers or the place the cash was coming from.
Legal specialists contacted by Reuters stated the Trumps ought to have requested these questions. Because Panama is “perceived to be highly corrupt,” stated Arthur Middlemiss, a former badistant district legal professional in Manhattan and a former head of JPMorgan’s world anti-corruption program, those that do enterprise there ought to carry out due diligence on others concerned of their ventures. If they fail to take action, he informed Reuters, they threat being liable below U.S. regulation of turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.
No one requested in regards to the cash
In the interview, Ventura admitted that a few of his brokers and purchasers who purchased and offered items within the Trump Ocean Club had been linked to the Russian mafia and different organized-crime teams, together with a convicted cash launderer who moved money for drug cartels.
“I had some customers with questionable backgrounds,” he stated. “Nobody ever asked me. Banks never asked. Developer didn’t ask and (the) Trump Organization didn’t ask. Nobody ask, ‘Who are the customers, where did the money come from?’ No, nobody ask.”
The Trump Organization was not the precise developer of the Panama tower. Thanks largely to the hit NBC tv present “The Apprentice,” the Trump identify was acknowledged everywhere in the world and the Panama deal was structured to capitalize on that model. For this deal, the Trump Organization would license its model, function the lodge and promote its experience in managing the constructing, receiving a minimize of each condominium sale. The precise improvement, together with all the dangers concerned, could be left to a neighborhood businessman with virtually no actual property expertise, Roger Khafif and different companions. Ventura stated he was invited to the badembly as Khafif’s gross sales consultant.
The interview with Ventura occurred in a European metropolis; Ventura agreed to fulfill NBC News together with Reuters, however requested that the precise location stay undisclosed and that he put on a disguise when showing on digicam.
Ivanka Trump, now senior adviser to President Donald Trump, didn’t reply to requests for remark about her involvement within the mission, as a substitute referring inquiries to the Trump Organization. In an announcement, the corporate distanced itself from each Ventura and the Panama mission.
“The Trump Organization was not the owner, developer or seller of the Trump Ocean Club Panama project,” the badertion stated. “Because of its limited role, the company was not responsible for the financing of the project and had no involvement in the sale of units or the retention of any real estate brokers.”
The badertion went on to say that the corporate has no relationship with Ventura, nor any information of any allegations towards him.
‘Ivanka Trump’s Baby’
But Ventura says that the Trump household, and Ivanka Trump specifically, was concerned within the particulars of the Trump Ocean Club, and that she interacted with him extensively.
Ivanka Trump is featured in a promotional video for the Trump Ocean Club, made in 2011, during which she praises “the beautiful pool decks” and “our 10,000-square-foot spa.”
“Buenos días,” she says within the video. “Hello, I’m Ivanka Trump. Welcome to Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, Panama, rising 70 stories above the glistening Panama Bay. We’ve taken inspiration from the beauty that surrounds us to create a new landmark for Panama.” She goes on to debate such particulars because the “tropical color palette” and the carvings on the guestroom headboards.
“The Trump Organization has to approve everything because of his name on the project,” Ventura stated, describing the mission as Ivanka Trump’s “baby.”
According to the Trump Ocean Club’s bondholder prospectus, Donald Trump was projected to make $74.2 million from the mission by the top of 2010. The disclosure types Trump filed with the Office of Government Ethics present that he continues to earn administration charges and royalties from the Trump Ocean Club. In the final three years, the paperwork present, he was paid as a lot as $13.9 million.
Global Witness, a nonprofit anti-corruption watchdog that’s usually vital of companies and their connections to authorities officers, stated Panama provided Donald Trump a brand new solution to generate income at a time when his companies had been struggling. (The Trump on line casino empire filed for chapter in 2004.) The group is publishing the findings of its investigation into the Trump Ocean Club on Friday.
“In the mid-2000s Panama was known as a money laundering hotspot,” stated Patrick Alley, co-founder of Global Witness. “At that time the Trump companies were in dire trouble. He changed his business model to license his name and his brand to other people’s developments, and very often they would be inexperienced developers, low-profile people who needed a name to sell their developments. So Trump would go into a licensing deal, which meant he invested nothing, but could make a profit from it.”
Ventura estimates his firm, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services, offered 350 to 400 items, about $100 million value of property. Ventura says he was such an efficient salesman that he was invited to a 2008 celebration at Trump’s Florida property, Mar-a-Lago. Ventura supplied images of himself with Donald Trump on the occasion, and different images of him with Ivanka, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.
Links to drug trafficking
Ventura stated the Trumps by no means requested about his purchasers, the individuals who had been shopping for the condominium items, and he by no means informed them. To cite one instance, he stated that he offered seven to 10 items within the Trump Ocean Club to a person named David Murcia Guzmán, founder of a giant Colombian advertising and marketing firm.
Guzmán is now in U.S. custody, awaiting extradition to Colombia after being convicted by a U.S. federal court docket of laundering cash for drug cartels, together with by way of actual property. According to a Colombian information report, citing the police, Guzmán additionally had monetary ties to the FARC, a paramilitary group listed by the State Department as a terrorist group.
Guzmán isn’t the one hyperlink connecting drug trafficking to the Trump Ocean Club. One of the early buyers within the mission was a person named Louis Pargiolas. In 2009, he pleaded responsible in a federal court docket in Miami to conspiracy to import cocaine.
Ventura says about half of the items he offered on the Trump Ocean Club had been to Russians. To badist deal with them, Ventura went into enterprise with a number of Russian-speaking actual property brokers, who he admits have had checkered pasts, together with one named Stanislav Kavalenka. According to Ontario court docket paperwork, Kavalenka was charged in Canada with various offenses, together with “compelling” and “procuring” girls to interact in prostitution. The case was withdrawn when the 2 girls failed to look in court docket to offer proof towards him.
Another investor in Ventura’s agency was Arkady Vodovozov. According to court docket information cited by Reuters, he was convicted of kidnapping in Israel. A 3rd consultant of the brokerage agency, described by Ventura as an occasional purchaser on the Trump Ocean Club, was Igor Anapolskiy, in line with Ukrainian court docket paperwork. He was convicted in September 2014 by a court docket in Ukraine of forging journey paperwork, in line with Global Witness.
The identities of all the consumers and sellers of the constructing’s items is troublesome to find, nonetheless, as a result of lots of the items had been purchased and offered by way of nameless shell corporations, in line with paperwork from the Panamanian workplace of public data. Ventura says he arrange a whole bunch of these firms, charging roughly $1,000 every.
Ceballos, who says he investigated transactions badociated to the Trump Ocean Club throughout his stint as an anti-corruption prosecutor in Panama, describes the constructing as a magnet for worldwide organized crime, significantly from Russia.
“The majority of sales of this building were not to local residents, but rather to foreigners,” he stated. “They bought initially as an investment, knowing that once the building was constructed you could legalize your money.”
He added: “We were able to find out that people with some kind of criminal history acquired apartments there.”
Ceballos stated lax regulation enforcement in Panama made cash laundering simple. To launder cash, he stated, consumers utilizing nameless firms would carry soiled cash to Panama, usually in money, use it to purchase actual property with no questions requested, promote it, and deposit the proceeds into native banks, which might settle for the funds, additionally with out asking questions. The actual property purchases, Ceballos says, had been solely a solution to get the cash into banks and into the worldwide monetary system; few consumers meant to stay within the condos.
Lights off and hallways empty
During a current go to by NBC News, the Trump Ocean Club seemed to be largely empty, with just about nobody within the eating places at evening. The hallways had been persistently empty. The lights had been off in lots of the items after darkish. Ventura stated most of his purchasers by no means meant to stay within the Trump Ocean Club.
Miguel Antonio Bernal, a professor of constitutional regulation on the University of Panama and a campaigner towards corruption, stated many buildings in Panama City had been constructed particularly to be autos for cash laundering; the Trump Ocean Club matches the mould.
“There are more than 500 buildings like this,” he stated. “But this – the difference of this – is that this has the name of the actual president of the United States. And he keeps the name here.”
Ventura now lives below a brand new identify, as do two different brokers who used to promote the constructing’s condos. He stated he admires President Trump and doesn’t take into account himself to be a detractor or accuser. Ventura stated his job was merely to promote and never ask questions. As for Trump, he stated: “It could be that he didn’t want to know… I believe that he didn’t know.”
Sarah Chayes, a corruption knowledgeable working with a bunch of legal professionals making an attempt to carry an unrelated case towards the president for violating the Emoluments clause of the Constitution, stated it was troubling that the Trump Organization appeared to pay no consideration to the shady backgrounds of its companions and purchasers.
“Anyone who thinks that members of FARC, that drug dealers, Russian oligarchs who have been looting their own country, represent normal business partners,” she stated, “doesn’t quite understand the free enterprise system that I think is central to a healthy America.”