The list of troubling relationships between Donald Trump and numerous foreign nationals is getting too long to list – from Argentina to Japan to Kuwait to the Filipino trade envoy for his literally homicidal leader, Rodrigo Duterte.
This week, the Democratic Coalition uncovered two Trump companies registered in Cyprus, the tax haven and money laundering island serving Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs. Senior advisor Scott Dworkin released the information on Trump’s Cyprus shell companies for the Democratic Coalition via Twitter as part of his #TrumpLeaks investigations:
One of Trump’s companies in Cyprus was opened in 2008, during the height of the global financial crisis.
Trump’s ownership of a pair of offshore companies in Cyprus raises the most direct link yet exposed to the Russian oligarch class. An additional 250 Trump named companies in Russia discovered by the Dworkin Report in November. Donald Trump has an extensive business presence on a Mediterranean island with major Russian ties and he just made a Cabinet appointment of the Vice Chair of the island’s largest bank.
Earlier this year during the Republican presidential primary, Trump worked with a notoriously corrupt Cypriot company to bid for a casino license on the island according to both Global Sources and Israel’s Haaretz. The Trump company made a joint venture with a Nevada firm and paid big bucks to employ former-high Cypriot government officials as lobbyists in a bid that local media panned as a “desperate.” The President-elect’s company lost in the first round of the process when ultimately he did not make the final round of three bidders for the casino license.
But that does not explain why Trump has had a company there since 2008, or if he holds bank accounts and if so, at what institutions. Russian companies tend to concentrate ownership rights in Cyprus to extract money from Russian companies tax-free and then lend them to other jurisdictions around the world – all while island authorities don’t tax corporate profits. Considering Trump’s portfolio of Russian companies and Cypriot companies, it’s wholly possible they’re engaged in a like business arrangement.
Donald Trump also recently named Wilbur Ross to his Cabinet, who is the Vice Chair of the largest Bank in Cyprus, whose ownership is primarily Russian, including an ex-KGB friend of Vladimir Putin, and Ross’ partner, the oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Cyprus is an offshore banking center known to be a tax haven for Russian oligarchs and the site of what The Guardian called a sinister invasion of Russian expats. Nobel Prize-winning Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman once called the Cyprus Banks a haven for money laundering in his New York Times column “Treasure Island Trauma,” as mostly for Russian interests:
Why are Cypriot banks so big? Because the country is a tax haven where corporations and wealthy foreigners stash their money. Officially, 37 percent of the deposits in Cypriot banks come from nonresidents; the true number, once you take into account wealthy expatriates and people who are only nominally resident in Cyprus, is surely much higher. Basically, Cyprus is a place where people, especially but not only Russians, hide their wealth from both the taxmen and the regulators. Whatever gloss you put on it, it’s basically about money-laundering.
Cyprus’ government and/or banks have been bailed out three times since 2010, twice by Putin himself and once by the EU. The allure of warm beaches and a cozy off-shore banking center is luring Russia back to Cyprus according to CNBC’s 2015 report, which is reinforced by what the Panama Papers found earlier this year. In April, the Guardian identified Cyprus as a major way station in Vladimir Putin’s global cash flow schemes, a place where ownership is placed, and then money loaned to companies in Russia at favorable terms without certain repayment. Putin said that he was the main target of the Panama Papers in April to the USA Today and the Financial Times listed him as one of the main figures exposed in the scandal.
Notably, Cyprus is the only EU country which has given the Putin the right to freely use their bases for Russian Navy and Air Force operations. Putin inked the military deal just a week after he forgave 10% of his original bailout to Cyprus. It has raised the specter of a Russian vassal state rising within the EU’s periphery.
It’s clear that Donald Trump could have other financial interests in his relationship with Wilbur Ross, or with Russia’s billionaire class, or to Vladimir Putin or one of his agents. The proof is the existence of two companies in a small island nation with a microscopic GDP and a tremendous amount of bank deposits.
Owning an off-shore company isn’t itself illegal, but without transparency, it presents a natural conflict of interest scenario and the specter of direct ties to foreign adversaries. And as the Panama Papers exposed, off-shore shell companies in tax havens and money laundering centers are considered instrumental in government corruption around the world.
Trump’s international business ties are already considered a constitutional violation waiting to happen by bipartisan legal experts and political operatives, including even the notorious author of Clinton Cash. There’s no easy way for oversight of how an American government official would use such companies, besides reviewing their US Tax returns.
Notoriously, Donald Trump has refused to release any tax returns whatsoever, after earlier promising full disclosure during the Republican primary campaign, which plainly hid from public view, that these shell companies exist, tucked into off-shore tax havens like Cyprus.
Grant Stern is an Editor-At-Large for OccupyDemocrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition