”DRAIN THE SWAMP! DRAIN THE SWAMP! DRAIN THE SWAMP!”
Such was the battle cry from Donald Trump as he campaigned to become the most unexpected president in US history.
Inexplicably, the alleged (see below) billionaire managed to convince a large portion of the electorate that he would replace a political system made corrupt by bankers and the old guard of politicians and fight for the average working American.
If his Cabinet picks so far are anything to go by then Trump’s presidency will in fact be more of the same.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said of the appointments so far: “I call it the three ‘G’ Cabinet: Goldman, generals and gazillionaires.”
She is referring, of course, to the three former Goldman Sachs executives and three former armed services generals who have been given top spots - hardly a changing of the guard.
As for Trump’s own financial interests, things become a little murky.
As President he is supposed to be entirely transparent about any business dealings in order to ensure decisions he takes are for the good of the US and not for personal enrichment.
But Trump hasn’t even released his tax returns yet and refuses to yield information about his debts.
As for his established business interests, these are spread over around 28 countries across the globe - although due to the way in which they are structured it is difficult to disentangle them all, and there may be more that are not public.
Here’s what we do know...
Trump in May disclosed holdings in about 500 companies in at least 25 countries. But many of the 500 have no business operations, they’re shells set up to hold stakes in other companies, possibly to provide legal and tax protection. The disclosure document ran 104 pages, but revealed precious few details about how much each entity has borrowed, their profits, or purposes.
The details matter because government ethics experts note the possibility that Trump might be tempted to shape regulations, taxes and foreign policy to enrich himself or his business partners. Foreign governments could create plenty of trouble, too. They could seek to influence him by rewarding or punishing his business interests in their countries.
Trump had planned a news conference for Thursday on the future of his business but announced on Monday he would postpone it until next month. Trump transition team spokesman Sean Spicer said the legal team needs more time to work out a plan so “proper protocols are in place”.
Trump has said that while he’s running the country, he’ll leave management to his children and company executives. But he left open retaining his ownership stake.
What makes the situation so perilous is that no modern U.S. president has owned so much, had it spread so far around the globe, and disclosed so little.
Still, plenty is known about his company, the Trump Organisation.
- Trump’s business ties abroad sprawl, but it’s not clear they run deep. Trump owns little overseas. Since losing nearly everything in the 1990s from a debt-fuelled foray into casinos, he’s preferred to take care of his money and strike royalty deals that entail little more than renting out his name.
- Not every Trump building is owned by him. Many residential buildings bear his name, but many apartments in them have been sold off years ago. This is true of Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue where he lives and works and through whose gilded lobby he has been parading candidates for his cabinet.
- Ivanka, his 35-year-old daughter, is an executive vice president at the Trump Organisation but also owns her own company selling clothes and jewelry. Likewise, her husband, Jared Kushner, runs his own real estate and construction business.
Below is a cheat-sheet of sorts on Trump’s holdings.
Trump has his name on hotels, residential towers and resorts around the globe, from North America to Indonesia to Asia, South America and the Middle East.
According to the Trump Organisation’s website a full list is:
- South Korea
- St Martin
In Indonesia, he struck a deal for use of his name and management services for a resort and residential building in Bali owed by the MNC Group, a real estate company run by a politically active businessman, Hary Tanoesoedibjo. In his May disclosure, Trump said he made between $1 million and $5 million in licensing fees for this deal in the prior 17 months, as well as for similar deals in Turkey, Panama, the Philippines and India.
His partner in the Philippines venture, E.B. Antonio, was just named a “special envoy” to the U.S. by his country’s president. Trump faced criticism after India’s Economic Times reported that he held a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan shortly after the election with business partners in one of two Indian ventures - two residential towers in Pune in the western part of the country.
The Trump Organisation said before the election that it was looking to enter new countries. Several media outlets reported that Trump tried to speed along a project in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by mentioning it in congratulatory call from Argentine President Mauricio Macri. A Macri spokesman denied to The Associated Press that the subject even came up in the call.
Two other projects to watch: A complex of five office towers under development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that is tied up in a corruption investigation unrelated to Trump himself; and a stalled project in Baku, Azerbaijan, with the son of a government minister who was alleged in leaked diplomatic cables to have ties with an Iranian money launderer.
Trump’s tax returns might shed more light on his businesses abroad, but he didn’t release them during the campaign, breaking decades of precedent. As president, he is not required to publish public financial disclosures until his second year in office.
OFFICES, CONDOS, RETAIL
Much of Trump’s wealth is in just four buildings, according to Forbes magazine, which has been tracking his holdings for 33 years. Three of them are in Manhattan - a wholly-owned office building on Wall Street, stakes in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, and an office tower nearby in midtown - and one is in San Francisco.
Forbes’ estimate for the four buildings, after subtracting out debt on them owed by Trump? Some $1.5 billion, or 40 percent of the president-elect’s $3.7 billion total net worth. (Trump estimates his net worth at more than $10 billion and says the value of his brand name alone is nearly as much as the Forbes’ tally of everything.)
Among many other properties, Trump also has investments in a Chicago hotel and one in Las Vegas and, of course, the new Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. In the case of the latter, he doesn’t own the building, but rents it from the federal government.
Trump has been busy adding to his portfolio of golf properties in recent years, and here he has been risking his own money by taking ownership stakes. It’s a bold bet. The golf business in general is suffering as membership in clubs has fallen.
The Trump Organisation has 17 golf courses in total. They include three in Florida, as well as links in California, New Jersey and New York. In 2014, Trump completed deals for Ireland’s Doonbeg golf club and Scotland’s Turnberry resort, the site of several British Opens. He has also struck deals to open two clubs in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Eric Trump, the president-elect’s 32-year-old son in charge of the courses, told the AP last year that they were doing “fantastically”. In his May disclosure, Trump reported $306 million in revenue from his courses, more than a third of that from the one in Doral, Florida.
Trump did not provide estimates of costs or profits from the courses, so it’s not clear how much they are bucking the industry trend, if at all.
Trump has significant loans from Deutsche Bank and Bank of China who along with UBS Real Estate Securities and Goldman Sachs Mortgage Company provided a $950 million investment into an office tower at 1290 Avenue of Americas, near Rockefeller Center.
SUITS AND SOFAS, WINE AND COLOGNE
Don’t think your “Make American Great Again” hat is quite enough? Not to worry.
You can wear Trump suits and ties, cufflinks and eyeglasses. You can dab yourself with “Success by Trump”, a cologne that his website advertises contains hints of coriander and musk.
You can drink Trump Natural Spring Water or Trump wine from his vineyard in Virginia. You can do that in a Trump chair, next to your Trump sofa and sideboard, while reading “Crippled America”, one of his many books.
Trump reported that the books alone generated between $1 million and $5 million in income over the 17 months prior to the May disclosure.
Other ventures aren’t faring as well. The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, the new name of Trump University, a real estate seminar firm, reported $13,000 in income in the May disclosure. Trump announced last month that he would pay $25 million to settle three lawsuits alleging fraud at the school, but says he did nothing wrong.
AREAS OF INTEREST
According to Bloomberg the Trump Organisation is looking at possible business interests in:
- Abu Dhabi
- Saudi Arabia
Bloomberg also lists the following as countries the Trump Organisation might have interests but due to the murky way in which dealings are set up they can’t be easily confirmed: