Readers of this site will recall that in 2008 Donald Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to a Russian billionaire named Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million. As we now know, Rybolovlev grossly overpaid.
This sale is remarkably similar to a real estate deal at the heart of a bribery scandal involving Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California, who sold his home to a defense contractor for much more than it was worth. Cunningham pleaded guilty to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes and in 2006 was sentenced to prison.
Well, there are two ways this bribery-scam-disguised-as-a-real-estate-transaction can work. You can overpay for an asset. Or you can sell an asset for much less than it’s worth.
Buried in The Washington Post’s recent story about Jared Kushner’s loans from Deutsche Bank, Trump’s favorite bank are interesting details about a real estate transaction that should invite scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, who is said to be investigating Kushner’s finances.
Kushner, it turns out, purchased four floors of a New York City office building for $296 million in October 2015. Fast forward 12 months and — presto! — Kushner’s office space was appraised at $470 million.
That’s a 59 percent increase in a year. Not quite as impressive as Trump’s 231 percent markup on the Palm Beach mansion he sold to the Russian billionaire, but still. Not bad.
What was Kushner’s secret?
An executive at Kushner Cos. told The Washington Post that the company had a “vision for the property when we purchased it that no one else had, and are proud to say that we executed on it.”
Translation: Kushner Cos. leased the space. When the four floors in the former New York Times building near Times Square were purchased, the offices were only been 25 percent occupied.
A great business move. Or …
Is there another explanation? Indeed, there may be.
The firm that sold Kushner Cos. the space in The New York Times building was Africa Israel USA, part of the conglomerate owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Leviev keeps a framed photo of Vladimir Putin on a shelf in his office. In a 2007 profile in The New York Times, Leviev described Putin as a “true friend.”
Did Leviev give Kushner a — wink, wink — good deal as a favor from friends overseas?
Leviev wanted to work with the Trump Organization on developing two hotels in Russia, according to Kommersant, the respected Russian business daily.
Astute readers of this site will recall that back in the 1990s, a corrupt Moscow city official named Vladimir Resin (aka The Russian with the Million-Dollar Watch) offered Trump the opportunity to develop a pair of decrepit hotels in Moscow, the Hotel Rossiya, just off Red Square, and the rundown Hotel Moskva.
During Trump’s meeting with Leviev, the Israeli billionaire offered Trump the chance to develop the very same hotels, the Rossiya and the Moskva, according to Kommersant.
The Moskva was a small, venerable Moscow hotel that is now run by the Four Seasons. The Rossiya was a 3,000 room concrete box that was plagued with vermin and organized crime. The hotel’s general director was shot dead in a December 1997 contract killing. The hotel has been demolished.
(I’m beginning to wonder whether the Rossiya and Moskva are some sort of code words, given how often they come up in Trump’s life.)
Nothing came of this meeting with Leviev. In a statement, Leviev said that he and Trump “never had any business dealings with one another, contrary to speculation.” [Trump sold his Palm Beach mansion to the Russian billionaire in July, a few months later after meting Leviev.]
Another coincidence overlooked by reporters: Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP represented Leviev’s firm Africa-Israel USA in the sale of the former New York Times building. The lawyer representing Trump in the Russia probe is Marc E. Kasowitz, a name partner at the firm.
Rotem Rosen, described as Leviev’s “right-hand man” in a bris invitation, is a former chief executive of Africa-Israel USA and CEO of the Sapir Organization, which jointly developed Trump SoHo, a 46-story Manhattan luxury hotel-condominium completed in 2010.
Trump hosted Rosen’s wedding to Sapir’s daughter, Zina, at Mar-a-Lago in December 2007. Both Trump and Kushner attended the aforementioned 2008 bris.
It’s these interlocking links that must be driving Mueller’s office nuts. What is coincidence and what isn’t?
Maybe Kushner’s big gain on the old New York Times building is just savvy business. After all, when Leviev’s Africa-Israel Investments purchased the building in June 2007 for $530 million. Just three years earlier, the newspaper had sold the property for $175 million, prompting this observation from the Donald: