Somehow I missed this. Buried deep in this excellent New York magazine piece on Felix Sater is this tidbit:
Cohen, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, had known Sater since they were teenagers.
I’m curious how these two met. Sater was born in Russia and grew up in the Russian enclave of Brighton Beach as a Mobster’s son. Cohen grew up on Long Island as a doctor’s son. About the only thing the two seem to have in common is that they are both Jewish and roughly the same age.
Update: Sater told Talking Points Memo he knew Cohen through Cohen’s wife, Laura Shusterman:
Sater said he most clearly remembers the beginning of his relationship with Cohen from the time the former Trump Organization attorney began dating his now-wife, whom Sater describes as a girl from his neighborhood of Jewish Soviet expatriates. Cohen told TPM the pair had known each other before then, in their teenage years, and that he hadn’t yet begun dating his wife, reportedly a Ukrainian émigré, when he was in his teens.
Their friendship puts a different light of the chummy emails between the two men in 2015, after Trump announced he was running for president. In the emails, obtained by The New York Times, Sater promised to use his contacts in Russia to help Trump win.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
Cohen had been in negotiations with Sater and foreign investors to build a Trump Tower in Moscow from September 2015 through the end of January 2016. Trump announced he was running for president in June 2015.
In January 2016, when negotiations stalled, Cohen wrote to Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. asking for help. But Mr. Cohen did not appear to have Peskov’s direct email.
That’s really strange. Why would he do this? As an attorney, he knows how important records are. It’s almost as if Cohen didn’t really expect a reply, but wanted to leave a trail.
And the White House has been referring questions about this whole matter to Cohen’s attorney, suggesting that this was Cohen’s deal, not the Trump Organization’s.
The Baltschug Hotel is one of Moscow’s most venerable hotels. Overlooking the Moskva River, across from the Kremlin, the Baltschug dates back to the reign of Czar Nicholas II. After the Russian Revolution, it became a dormitory, but the collapse of the Soviet Union saw the Baltschug restored to its former glory as a five-star hotel
And it was here on a Tuesday evening in September 2002, that Donald Trump arrived to sell apartments in New York to newly-wealthy Russians.
Trump wanted to make it easy for Russians to buy one of his New York apartments without even leaving the country. His real estate agent, Sotheby’s International Realty, had partnered with Kirsanova Realty to open an office in Moscow to sell his condos and apartments to Russians who were interested in buying abroad.
Trump is such a spectacle that we often forget to ask the interesting questions. What was interesting about the Baltschug event was not Trump himself. The interesting question to ask was who was buying. And the answer to that question is, well, we don’t know.
Guests at this event did not want to give their names, a reporter from the respected Russian business newspaper Vedemosti found:
However, potential customers present at yesterday’s presentation of New York real estate not only refused to reveal themselves, but also did not admit that they were interested in this real estate, insisting that they simply went in for “pies to eat”.
The Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper, also sent a reporter and noted the same thing:
When asked about the prospect of acquiring property through Sotheby’s and Kirsanova Realty, guests at Tuesday’s reception shied away from saying directly whether they were interested in the super expensive apartments. One guest said most were there to see “how the other side lives.”
Why would a Russian be embarrassed to admit they were interested in buying Trump property? That’s the interesting question.
The reason why the buyers at the event were embarrassed to give their names is because they didn’t want anybody doing exactly what these reporters from Vedemosti and The Moscow Times were doing: Asking questions.
Phllip Bogdanov of Kirsanova Realty said he didn’t consider his potential clients oligarchs, but rather owners of sustainable businesses. But that’s nonsense.
One of the few who wasn’t afraid to introduce himself to Vedemosti’s reporter was Pavel Syutkin, then the head of the investment department of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation. Today, Pavel Skyutkin is a food historian and author of an English-language cookbook about Russian cuisine.
The Russians who could afford a million-dollar apartment in New York were a special class of people who owed their wealth to their political connections, not their business skills. People get outrageously rich in Russia because the Kremlin allows it. The Kremlin lets them get rich; the Kremlin could take everything away. If you’re wealthy in Russia, your money is never secure. Your money was only safe if and when it moved out of the country, beyond the reach of the Kremlin.
Trump had spent a lot of time trying to put his name on something in Moscow in the 1990s. We’ve looked at his efforts to build a tower in Moscow and develop a pair of run-down Moscow hotels. At some point, Trump realized that building a tower in Moscow was the wrong way to go about it.
The Russians didn’t want to keep their money in Russia. The wealthiest of Russians weren’t interested in a Trump Tower in Moscow, but a tower in New York, now, that was something that interested them. Why not build luxury towers that served as deposit boxes for wealthy Russians and other foreigners who wanted to stash their money away? What if Trump could build right here in New York for Russian money?
This was Trump’s sales pitch. Come to New York. You can enjoy your money, no questions asked.
“Now, Russian connoisseurs of high-class housing will have the opportunity to become neighbors of well-known politicians, businessmen and Hollywood stars,” said SIR vice-president Mika Sakamoto.
Trump’s towers in New York were really safe deposit boxes for foreign money. Trump World Tower (pictured above), the 72-story skyscraper that opened in 2001, was a giant deposit box of Russian money.
Bloomberg found that Sam Kislin, a Ukrainian immigrant, issued mortgages to buyers of multimillion-dollar apartments in World Tower. An individual issuing mortgages for luxury homes is highly unusual.
One of the people Kislin provided mortgages to was Vasily Salygin, a future official of the Ukrainian Party of Regions. The Party of Regions is the Putin-linked party whose best known member is Viktor Yanykovych, the man who former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort helped win the presidency of the Ukraine before he fled to Russia.
Kislin was business partners with Tamir Sapir, who would later partner with Trump to build the scandal-plagued Trump SoHo condo hotel.
Bloomberg also turned up another person who bought in Trump World Tower. It was Eduard Nektalov, an Uzbekistan-born diamond dealer, who purchased a $1.6 million apartment in July 2003. He was being investigated by federal agents for a money-laundering scheme. Nektalov sold his unit a month after he bought it for a $500,000 profit. He was gunned down on Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue in 2004.
Kellyanne Conway and Michael Cohen, Trump’s consigliere, bought units in Trump World Tower. Cohen also persuaded his Ukrainian in-laws and a business partner to buy in the tower as well. Cohen also helped Trump take back control of the tower’s board from a group of apartment owners upset over the way the building was being run.
What began in 2002 was the steady influx of Russian money into the Trump Organization. The same Russian money that kept him afloat during the financial crisis and the same money that is now the subject of an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Eric Trump told the Russian publication Home Overseas that the “bulk of buyers” in Trump SoHo were “foreigners, among whom there are a lot of Russians.”
He also added that the Trump Organization was expecting Russian buyers in its planned tower on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. “We very much count on good demand from the Russians,” he said.
I haven’t seen these comments reported anywhere else before.
The comments from Eric Trump come in an article titled, “Luxury is Beyond Time,” on the website of the Russian publication. Although undated, it appears that he made the remarks around 2007-2008. Construction on the Dubai tower was halted at the end of 2008 as the financial crisis put the squeeze on the heavily-indebted Arab emirate.
Eric Trump’s comments in Home Overseas underscores what his brother Don Jr told eTurboNews in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York.”
Here is the full quote from Eric Trump:
In your projects, do you focus on domestic demand or are you looking for foreign investors?
It depends on the particular project. So, in the New York hotel-condominium Trump SoHo the bulk of buyers are foreigners, among whom there are a lot of Russians. The fact is that New York is one of the centers of international business and tourism, many foreigners often come here and want to have real estate. Quite a different situation in Chicago, where most buyers are from America.
Another example – a golf resort in Scotland is interesting both to local golf lovers, and to Americans who want to play in European fields. Also in the case of the Dubai project, our Palm Jumeirah tower will certainly attract not only investors from the Gulf countries, but also Europeans, Americans, and representatives of developed Asian states. We very much count on good demand from the Russians.
The Trump Organization’s connections with Russia in the scandal-plagued Trump SoHo project have been exhaustively covered.
I’ve written before about how Dubai was a favorite destination for Russian criminals and international money lauderers here.
As the cameras flashed, Donald Trump welcomed Demi Moore and Naomi Watts, Heidi Klum as they joined him at his party the Park Avenue Plaza in New York.
It was the summer of 2008 and Trump was launching his company’s newest hotel, The Trump International Hotel & Tower in Dubai.
This stunning 62-floor stainless steel and glass structure in the shape of a tulip would have sat in the center of Palm Jumeirah, Dubai’s iconic man-made archipelago in the shape of a palm.
I say would have because Trump’s Dubai tower was never built. It was a castle in the air, a fever dream built on the belief that good times would never stop rolling. Which they did not long after the New York party.
As Trump officially kicked off sales of apartments at his party in New York, the Dubai tower was attracting a lot of interest halfway around the world. Donald Trump Jr. famously said in September 2008, “In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. ” (emphasis added)
And these Russian buyers, whoever they were, were loaded. At the time of the New York party, pre-sales of the Dubai tower had fetched an average of $2,450 per square foot, with some units receiving bids as high as $3,270 per square foot.
After learning a little about Dubai, I’m not surprised that Russian money was attracted to Trump’s $1.1 billion project, his first venture in the Middle East.
Dubai is known for its sun-splashed towers and its man-made archipelagos but it also has a darker side. Sitting at the junction of Europe, Africa and Asia, Dubai was a crossroads for international criminals. When the emirate opened its property market to foreign buyers in 2002, Dubai quickly became a place where dirty money could be washed clean, particularly through property sales.
“During the boom, Dubai was a good place for money laundering, through property, land sales and the big projects,” Hamdan Abdullah al-Sayyah, a managing partner at Al Sayyah Advocates and Legal Consultants in Dubai, told The New York Times (for a 2010 story headlined “Dubai Labors Under Money-Laundering Image.”)
Dubai was and is a bright place for shady people. The emirate’s laissez-faire attitude allowed the vice president of Afghanistan to arrive in Dubai with $57 million in cash and continue on his way. The chairman of Kabul Bank owned 39 properties on Palm Jumeirah.
Russian criminals, too, could relax in Dubai. At least they could until 2006 when Zahar Kalashov, a top Russian Mafia boss, was arrested after leaving a party attended by members of the Georgian and Russia Mafia.
Another Russian criminal exposed in Dubai was Olga Stepanova, who, together with her now ex-husband, acquired three properties in Palm Jumeirah, the site of Trump’s tower, worth a combined $7 million. Quite a feat considering the couple reported an official joint income of $38,000.
It turns out Stepanova was a Russian tax official who had authorized $230 million in fraudulent tax rebates for organized crime groups. The scam was uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer working for financier turned human-rights campaigner Bill Browder.
Magnitsky was murdered in a Russian prison in 2009 and Browder has never forgotten him. The Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Obama three years later, seeks to punish those responsible for his death. (For details and photos of the Dubai properties, see the Website Russian Untouchables.)
Russians were well known for buying luxury properties that then sat empty. “Russians are still coming with suitcases of cash to buy flats which they never live in,” a UK financier working in Dubai told The Guardian of London in 2010 . “It’s easy to get resident permits. These sort of stories are rife. Russia is the biggest source. A lot of it is mafia.” Today one in five Dubai luxury properties sits empty, with many owned by Russians.
Hamdan Abdullah al-Sayyah, the attorney quoted earlier by the Times, cited a case he dealt with, where a person claiming to be a businessman filtered $10 million from Russia into a Dubai land deal. “The money arrived in small transactions, so the bank wouldn’t be suspicious, and he had a sales contract to show the bank,” Mr. Sayyah said. “At that time, nobody was looking into it because the country needed investors to come in.”
Given this background, it’s not surprising then that Trump’s Dubai tower was getting a lot of interest from Russian buyers.
Trump’s partner in the deal was effectively Dubai itself. The developer on the project was Nakheel, a subsidiary of Dubai World, a giant conglomerate owned ultimately by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The terms of the deal made it a partial licensing deal and a partial partnership, Trump said during a 2010 deposition.
Trump and Nakheel were riding high in the summer of 2008. There was another party for Trump’s Dubai tower. This time it was at an even more star-studded affair in Bel Air, California. Christina Aguilera sang for the crowd of 1,000 guests at Tar’s home, which is known as the Cheateau d’Or , which included Pete Wentz, Orlando Bloom, Omarosa, P. Diddy, Hilary Swank, and Aaron Eckhart. The event was held at the estate of Yousuf Tar, a Pakistani who owns Bernini clothing company.
“The battle of the towers” was underway between Trump’s Dubai tower and the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, to see which one could sell the emirate’s most expensive apartment. (“Dubai high rises reach record prices as battle of the towers hots up,” Financial Trump was hoping to sell a penthouse in his tower for more than $30 million, which would smash the record.
No one seemed to notice danger signs. Nakheel itself had fueled its incredible expansion on debt and the credit markets were flashing red. Although sign that things were spinning out of control came in August 2008, just before the Bel Air gala, when two Nakheel executives, including the top sales manager, were arrested on suspicion of bribery. (Details on the case were not made public and Trump was never implicated.)
The end came quickly.
Within a few months of the Bel Air party, work on the project came to an abrupt halt, as Nakheel groaned under the weight of its massive debts. Trump’s Dubai tower, just one of the many mega-projects Nakheel had going. Planned and underway projects exceeded $310 billion (!) in 2008. All were predicated on the availability of cheap finance.
The collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing credit crunch forced Dubai to face reality and its massive debts. Its parent company, Dubai World, in 2009 ceased payment on its $59 billion in debts and had to be bailed out by neighboring Abu Dhabi.
In 2011, Nakheel revealed what everyone already knew. Trump’s Dubai tower would not be built.
But Trump’s Dubai dream never died.
Today in 2017, his company is selling the Trump Estates Park Residences in Dubai. He has a new partner, Hussain Sajwani of DAMAC Properties in Dubai, and a new site on the outskirts of the city.
The prices are lower: $800,000 will buy you a 4-bedroom villa with a complimentary 3-year family membership at Trump’s nearby golf course. DAMAC is also building a second Trump-branded golf course, designed by Tiger Woods, in Dubai.
I wonder who the buyers are.
As my readers know, I see 2008 as the critical year when Trump found himself on the hook with Russia.
It was the year that the Russian fertilizer king Dmitry Rybolovlev paid $95 million for Trump’s Palm Beach mansion, netting Trump more than $50 million in a shady transaction that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is said to be investigating.
It was in 2008 that Donald Trump Jr. famously declared: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. Click here for the full quote from eTurbo News.
By his own account, Donald Jr. made “half a dozen trips to Russia” between January 2007 and June 2008.
It was in June 2008 that he appeared in Moscow as the keynote speaker for the “Real Estate in Russia” conference.
Don Jr. tantalized the crowd by telling them that a Russian was interested in buying his father’s Palm Beach mansion and announced plans to build elite housing and hotels in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi and to license the Trump name.
The Russian projects never happened as developers balked at the costs of licensing the Trump name. Kommersant reported that, according to one Moscow developer, Trump was charging as much as a quarter of the project costs to put his name on the building.
But the money from Russia still poured into the Trump Organization. A man who claims to have sold Trump-branded properties in Russia at the time was a Belarusan American businessman named Sergei Millian.
“You could say I was their exclusive broker,” Millian told Russian state broadcaster RIA Novosti in April of last year. “Then, in 2007-2008, Russians bought dozens of apartments in Trump houses in the US. But I would not want to disclose specific amounts and names.”
Interestingly, Millian was also a source, apparently unwittingly, for former MI6 officer Christopher Steele’s Trump dossier. (The White House and Trump consigliere Michael Cohen have dismissed him as a publicity-seeking hanger-on.)
Roger Khafif also hosted sales meetings in Russia for Trump for a property in Panama. “Russians like brands,” he told The Washington Post, “and Trump was famous in Russia” during the early 2000s real estate boom. “These were good days for Trump. He was the only man in town for real estate.”
And 2008 was also the year Trump invited a correspondent for Chayka, a Russian magazine, to breakfast at Trump Tower. Here is the lead of that story (translated by Google Translate):
Donald Trump invited us to report on a new project, which is largely designed for Russians.
The project was Trump SoHo, arguably the shadiest of all Trump’s shady deals. This was the project that employed Felix Sater, a felon with ties to Russian and American organized crime. Sater worked for Bayrock, a firm backed by Russian money close to Putin, according to a lawsuit filed by a former employee. Later, Sater worked for Trump himself.
The story goes on to quote Trump:
I have very good business relations with the Russians. A Russian recently bought a house for me in Florida for $100 million. Some Russians buy houses at 50 million each. Great buyers! People with good taste and good money understand the value of the Trump brand. It is always a guarantee of quality and a win-win location. Investing in “Trump,” you invest for sure. By the way, I really like Vladimir Putin. I respect him. He does his job well. Much better than our Bush.
Trump goes on:
Russian buyers got to taste the building we built in Palm Beach, Florida.
Maybe this is a mistranslation, but it’s not clear which Florida project Trump is referring to here. Is he talking about Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, a development known as “Little Moscow”? Is he talking about his planned tower in Palm Beach that was launched in 2007. Or is he talking about a sales event attended by potential Russian investors and celebrity guests like Regis Philbin at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach in January 2008?
And 2008 was also the year when Trump assured the Scottish government that he had the funds to build the “greatest golf course in the world” on the northeast coast near Aberdeen, Scotland. “The money is there, ready to be wired at any time,” Trump attorney George Sorial said. “I am not discussing where it is, whether it is in a Scottish bank or what, but it is earmarked for this project. If we needed to put the development up tomorrow, we have the cash to do that. It is sitting there in the bank and is ready to go.”
But 2008 was also a very challenging year for Trump and this, more than anything, may explain his tilt toward Russia. The global financial crisis put the squeeze on his finances and pushed him to the wall. Within a year, Trump-branded projects in Tampa; Vancouver, Canada; Dubai; and Baja California went bust or were put on hold. Trump Entertainment Resorts, the operator of the Trump Taj Mahal, filed (again) for bankruptcy.
In December 2008 Trump made the fateful decision to sue his lender, Deutsche Bank, when he failed to make good on a $40 million guarantee on a loan for Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. Amazingly, Deutsche Bank continued to lend to him. The bank now finds itself in the cross hairs of many Russia investigators.
Trump, of course, emerged from the wreckage of the financial crisis, and some think he did it with Russian money. As Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, told Prospect Magazine, “what lingers for Trump may be what deals – on what terms – he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money” when other banks and lenders would not risk the money.
Something happened around 2008 that tied Trump’s future to Russia. Was Trump the subject of Russian kompromat or blackmail? Did he meet Putin, as he long claimed he did? Did Russia give him much-need capital when no other banks would in the midst of the financial crisis?
I don’t know the answer, but I hope that someday, we will find out.
This is a guest post by Terry J. Clark, a frequent reader of this site who follows the Trump-Russia story.
As we now know, on June 9th, 2016, Donald Trump Jr., the future president’s son, met with several Russian operatives at Trump Tower in New York City.
The meeting is the best evidence yet of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Don Jr. had been lured to the meeting by a promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russia.
One of the operatives at the June 9th meeting was a a former Soviet intelligence named Rinat Akhmetshin, who was working as a lobbyist in the United States. Akhmetshin, like everyone else who attended the meeting, has been the focus of intense scrutiny. A profile in The New York Times described him as a “master of the dark arts.”
A figure who has mostly escaped attention is a GOP operative working quietly behind the scenes with Akhmetshin. The operative is Lanny F. Wiles, a genial Southerner whose family is closely tied to Trump.
A week after the Trump Tower this meeting took place, Akhmetshin asked Wiles to hold a seat for someone at a June 14, 2016 hearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee on “U.S Policy Toward Putin’s Russia.”
The person whose seat Wiles was saving at the June 14 hearing turned out to be Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian attorney who lured Don Jr. to the Trump Tower by claiming that she had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton which she had obtained from the Russian government.
Wiles told ABC News he has “absolute, zero connection” to any relations the Russian lawyer may have had to the Trump campaign. But Wilkes clearly had a connection to Russia: He was working for it.
Wiles was working with Akhmetshin to undo the Magnitsky Act, a law despised by the Kremlin that sanctioned Russian officials connected to Sergei Magnitsky’s 2009 death. Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who had worked for American-born investor Bill Browder to uncover a $230 million Russian government corruption scheme
The night of the June 14 House hearing, Wiles organized a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club, a private social club for Republicans. The dinner guests included Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya as well as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who is seen as Vladimir Putin’s staunchest ally in Congress, and Paul Behrends, the congressman’s staff director (who was recently fired over his Russia connections).
According to this excellent Politico story, Rohrabacher and Behrends had, with Akhmetshin’s help, planned the day’s hearing to be a show trial of investor Bill Browder, the man behind the Magnitsky Act. That plan was nixed by senior committee Republicans and replaced with a panel that included two former US ambassadors to Russia.
Akhmetshin had been hired by Denis Katsyv, the owner of the Cyprus-registered company Prevezon Holdings, Ltd., which was linked to the Magnitsky case. Some of the money stolen in the scam uncovered by Magnitsky turned up in US bank accounts controlled by Prevezon.
Together, Katsyv and Akhmetshin recruited Wiles to undermine the Magnitsky Act.
While Wiles was working on behalf of Russian interests, he did not register as a foreign agent as required by the US law. Wiles told Politico that Akhmetshin told Wiles he wouldn’t have to register because he would be working for the law firm BakerHostetler.
[Side note: Fusion GPS, the DC firm that commissioned former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele to produce what became known as the Trump dossier, was also hired by BakerHostetler to dig up dirt on Bill Browder. (See Browder’s letter.) The firm is the subject of a July 19 hearing before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, at which Don Jr. is also expected to affair.]
Why Wiles was brought in for this anti-Magnitsky work is unclear. He was a longtime DC lobbyist for the PGA Tour and a Florida utility. Clients have included a companies that produce anthrax vaccines. His areas of expertise, while wide-ranging, don’t involve foreign affairs.
What may have brought Wiles into the world of Russian lobbying is his friendship Rep. Rohrabacher. The two men have been friends since their days in the Reagan administration, according to Politico.
Wiles got his start working on Ronald Reagan’s failed 1976 run for the White House. When Reagan won four years later, Wiles became a Reagan advance man. In 1983, Wiles was taken hostage inside the pro shop at famed Augusta National while Reagan golfed. Wiles managed to talk his way out.
Wiles went on to work on many campaigns, including Sen. John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 failed presidential runs. (McCain is a strong supporter of the Magnitsky Act). Both Wiles and his wife worked on the campaign of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who was asked about his former aide’s connections to Russia.
Wiles’ wife, Susie, is the former co-chair of the Trump presidential campaign in Florida. Trump credited Ms. Wiles with the crucial Florida victory.
Wiles’ daughter, Caroline, was named director of scheduling at the White House until February of this year when she was “escorted” out of the White House after failing an FBI background check.
Wiles heads Wiles Consulting LLC in Florida. He’s also listed as president and chief executive of TransEuro America, which he formed in 2015 after “seeing a need to assist US aerospace and defense companies to achieve greater market share in the dynamic Middle East and international business environment in the most efficient manner.”