From the Daily Mail
The Oligarch Files: Did a billionaire fertiliser baron bail out Trump by paying millions over the odds for this gaudy pleasure palace? And is THIS the Russian connection that could return to haunt the presidency?
Trumps’s election campaign was bedevilled by allegations of links with Kremlin
Story of Maison de l’Amitie is example of Donald Trump’s connections to Moscow
Close scrutiny of The Donald’s business history now suggests that if there is a real concern about Russian connections, it may instead lie in hard financial facts
For all his wealth now, it is often forgotten that in 2008 Donald Trump found himself in deep financial trouble. American property prices had crashed and were still falling.
However, some areas such as Miami fared better and that’s where Trump had a significant asset – the Maison de l’Amitie, for which the records show he had paid $41 million (£32 million) four years earlier.
It was widely reported that Wall Street had stopped lending to Trump and now the charismatic property developer was embroiled in legal action against Deutsche Bank, one of the few international banks that would do business with him.
Trump owed it £32.5 million after personally guaranteeing a loan to a failing hotel project in Chicago. He missed a major payment date and stalled for time by suing the bank, claiming that the financial crash was an ‘Act of God’.
Then, a buyer turned up for his Florida mansion in the shape of oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, a 41-year-old former cardiologist who had secured the rights to Russia’s vast potash fertiliser reserves after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Trump had already slashed the asking price by nearly a quarter. Having already expressed an interest two years earlier, Rybolovlev was agreeing to pay Trump $95 million (£48 million) for the house in June 2008, according to US property records.
This was viewed as a surprisingly high price in a crashing market and the most that had ever been paid for a single house in America – even if, as some reports suggest, Trump had made substantial improvements. Other reports say that it was riddled with mould. With typical braggadocio, Trump said of the deal at the time: ‘I love breaking records, and this is a record.’
It certainly aroused comment.
‘There are a lot of suggestions that Rybolovlev drastically overpaid for this property,’ said lawyer David Newman, partner in Sills, Cummis & Gross of New York, who represented Rybolovlev’s wife Elena in her divorce from the Russian oligarch. ‘If you look at the four years between Trump’s purchase and his sale to Rybolovlev, there were very few things that increased that much in value.
‘It raises a lot of issues, and nobody knows the answers except Rybolovlev and his close associates.’
He also – reportedly – bought 9.7 per cent of the Bank of Cyprus for £190 million, becoming its largest single investor. According to experts, the Bank of Cyprus has been up to its ears in Russian ‘flight’ capital – money transferred abroad to avoid taxes, inflation or maybe seizure by the state.
While the bank’s identity records, even for large shareholders, are murky, Rybolovlev appears to have retained up to a 3.3 per cent stake, even after the 2013 crash when the island’s entire financial sector failed (and had to be bailed out by the European Central Bank and the IMF).
This is where a second intriguing connection between Rybolovlev and Trump comes in, this time through the President’s new Commerce Secretary. In July 2014, Wilbur Ross and his investment group bought a 17 per cent stake in the Bank of Cyprus – one of the key havens for Russian finance and an offshore financial nexus of Russian oligarchs and ‘friends of Putin’. Ross became the bank’s co-chairman.
His fellow investors have included Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, said to be a former KGB agent and a long-time Putin associate, and Viktor Vekselberg, reportedly the seventh wealthiest Russian.
The links between Ross and Trump are strong, going back to at least the early 1990s, when he helped to salvage one of Trump’s failing Atlantic City casinos.
Ross was also a generous donor to Trump’s 2016 campaign.
None of this suggests any wrongdoing whatsoever by Mr Trump –but it makes the point that his links with Russian money are numerous and part of a chain, or series of chains, that go back ultimately to the Russian establishment.
Did Dmitry Rybolovlev’s ties to Donald Trump end with the rescue –deliberate or fortuitous – of the Trump property empire in 2008?
The oligarch has a private Airbus A319 whose registration M-KATE – named after one of his two daughters, Ekaterina – allows it to be tracked online.
M-KATE is normally based in Moscow or Switzerland, but made numerous flights all over the US from August 2016 through November 2016, the peak season for last year’s presidential campaign – right at the moment when American intelligence agencies believe Moscow was supposedly hijacking the election on Trump’s behalf.
According to flight logs from respected plane logging sites FlightRadar24 and PlaneFinder, as well as photos of planes on the ground during the campaign, M-KATE showed up at the very same cities, and the very same (otherwise unremarkable) airports where Trump happened to be – Charlotte, North Carolina, Concord, North Carolina, Las Vegas and Miami.
Indeed, early last month – on Friday, February 10 – M-KATE flew from Switzerland to Miami, where the President was due to party with hedge fund mogul Stephen Schwarzman. Why would Rybolovlev’s plane scurry back and forth from Moscow to odd destinations such as Charlotte and Concord, or to Las Vegas, New York and Miami, precisely when Trump and his team were in the neighbourhood? Was Rybolovlev some sort of Putin emissary, a go-between for Trump and Moscow?
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