As the election tampering scandal swirls around him, President Donald Trump has denied close connections to the Russian government and Russian businessmen, but evidence has surfaced in a British legal case proving that he is lying.
In a newly unearthed video, Trump is seen toasting a controversial Russian businessman at a party in 2005 as, “my friend.”
During a party celebrating the opening of a new luxury hotel on Turkey’s coast, Trump called in via video chat. One of the real estate developers on hand was Russian businessman Tofik Arifov, who hosted along with at least two other Russian billionaires.
It was a celebration for the opening of the most luxurious resorts ever opened in Turkey, and it was Arifov’s birthday.
Arifov (aka Tofik Arif) is a Kazakhstan businessman and a former Soviet official who moved to New York City where he had his offices in Trump Tower.
Trump wasn’t able to attend the 2005 party, so in a video conference call he told the group to raise their glasses to Arifov, and added: “Tofik is my friend! Let’s toast Tofik!”
The toast by Trump was revealed in sealed documents that McClatchy news service obtained relating to a British lawsuit involving several Russians who law enforcement sources refer to part of Russian OCG’s – organized criminal groups.
Arifov and at least two others who were at the party, Alexander Mashkevich and Tamir Sapir, reported McClatchy, “have been linked to allegations of illegal activities – according to court documents, diplomatic cables, and news accounts. Mashkevich has been linked to allegations of money laundering.”
Mashkevich and Arifov have been alleged to have associations with organized crime. Sapir has been accused of nonpayment of loans for his New York real estate empire, as well as illegally importing rare animal parts.”
All three, reports McClatchy, were partners with the Trump Organization in a real estate project in lower Manhattan called Trump SoHo. It was developed by Arifov’s Bayrock Group, which at the time also had its headquarters in Trump Tower. That project ended up in numerous lawsuits.
Trump announced the 46-story SoHo project in 2006 on his NBC-TV show “The Apprentice.” It opened in 2008. There has been controversy over the financing, with Bank of America pulling out, shoddy construction and some buyers sued, claiming they were tricked by “deceptive” sales pitches.
Arifov’s partner in Bayrock was another Russian, Felix Sater, who at various times said he represented Trump in Russia and billed himself as a “senior Trump advisor,” according to Forbes. Sater spent a year in prison for stabbing a man, was convicted on racketeering charges and has ties to organized crime.
In 2007, Bayrock made a deal to trade profits from the Trump SoHo and other assets to an Icelandic company for $50 million. The deal led Bayrock’s finance director to file racketeering lawsuits, alleging money was diverted to others outside the company, the Financial Times in London reported in 2016.
Arifov also was arrested in Turkey for running a high-priced prostitution ring.
Trump also licensed his name to Bayrock for the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. That too ended up in financial trouble and lawsuits. Trump withdrew in 2010 and his name was taken off the project.
It has resulted in lawsuits, and forced Trump to make a rare settlement to avoid criminal charges, according to the New York Times.
If Trump had done his research, he would have known even then some of the Russians at the party were sketchy at best and should have raised red flags.
“The normal constraints of reputational risk,” former Senate investigator and money laundering expert Jack Blum told McClatchy, “just don’t apply to him [Trump}. And that is one of the reasons I think the Russians liked him so much. What they understood was he didn’t care. he didn’t see them as a reputational risk.”
Trump likes to claim anything that links him to questionable Russian businessmen, or directly to the Russian government, is “fake news.” However, this was real news that was reported in the Russian press and has been documented in the lawsuit in the United Kingdom.
Maybe Trump doesn’t worry about “reputational risk” because he thinks he can lie his way out of his association with these unethical businessmen and criminals. This is one time his toast to his friend actually has come back to burn him.