Donald Trump will enter the White House with a network of unorthodox foreign contacts — some of them high-living risk-takers, some with past trouble with the law — who have done business with him in nations from Latin America to the Middle East to Asia.
Several of Trump’s foreign business partners have been investigated for financial improprieties, and some of them were required to pay large fines or settlements. Others were relatively inexperienced local developers who had major economic problems with their risky, Trump-branded mega-projects. Trump has also worked with businessmen with close connections to authoritarian governments.
Above photos by: Mohammed Salem/Reuters, Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg News, Tolga Bozoglu/European Pressphoto Agency, Fernando Lemos/Agencia O Globo, Michael Steele/Getty Images/Baku European Games Operation Committee, Kena Betancur/AP
Ethics lawyers have raised concerns about whether some of the Trump family’s overseas alliances could raise conflicts of interest for the incoming president or tie the White House to questionable characters.
“A businessman can deal with these types of businesspeople and hopefully be smart enough not to get sucked in or be taken advantage of,” said Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush and a vocal critic of Trump. “But when you move into public service as president of the United States, these are exactly the types of business entanglements you have to dispose of.”
Washington Post correspondents in nine countries reviewed the records of many of those whom Trump and his family have worked with on foreign real estate, golf and hotel projects. Like Trump, some are outspoken and larger-than-life characters with a taste for glitz and Rolls-Royces. A couple of them have also jumped from business into politics — one has a plan to “make Mumbai great again” and another said he intends to run for president of Indonesia.
Trump will be the first U.S. president who has built a fortune by turning himself into a global business brand, and his constellation of foreign contacts is unique. Many previous presidents had cultivated networks of diplomats, political leaders, military officers, intelligence officials and dissidents before entering the White House. But Trump’s overseas partners have been primarily businessmen looking to make a profit using his name.
THE NINE BUSINESS PARTNERS:
Trump on Wednesday announced a plan to shift his assets into a trust managed by his sons and a longtime employee and turn over operation of his business to them. The Trump Organization said it will also avoid any new foreign deals during his presidency. But Trump will still own the business, and concerns remain that policies he pursues in office could affect the value of his family’s holdings.
Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s general counsel, declined to comment specifically on the Trump partners reviewed by The Post. But he said that any with blemishes on their records are not “reflective of the portfolio as a whole,” which includes business dealings in at least 18 countries.
He also said the organization conducts thorough “due diligence” background checks on partners.
“The company does not engage in transactions that they’re not comfortable with at the time,” Garten said. “There’s always been close vetting and extensive diligence performed. I think going forward, vetting will be more intensive because it’s a much different situation now.”
Since his election, Trump has met with several of his foreign partners , raising questions about their continued relationship once he is in the White House. Trump representatives have described the meetings as social calls.
Hussain Sajwani, the Trump company’s billionaire partner in Dubai, and his family attended a New Year’s Eve celebration at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, according to a video obtained by CNN.
On Wednesday, Trump said at a news conference that Sajwani’s company, Damac Properties, offered him $2 billion this month to do new deals in Dubai — deals Trump said he rejected, even though “I didn’t have to turn it down.”
Sajwani, whom Trump described as “a very, very amazing man,” has had legal trouble in the past. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison on corruption-related charges in Egypt in 2011 over a real estate deal. He fought the conviction in an international arbitration court, eventually paying a fine of about $15 million, and the conviction was canceled, according to a lawyer involved in the case and Egyptian media reports.
“That’s why he [Trump] has got to divest from his business,” Painter said after the news conference. “We can’t have the president have these kinds of business contacts all over the world.”
Many of Trump’s partners operate in developing economies where bribery is common and ethical lines between business and government are not as sharply drawn as they are in the United States.
F. Joseph Warin, a former federal prosecutor and specialist on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act at the Gibson Dunn law firm in Washington, said that having foreign partners who had trouble with the law could be dangerous for any U.S. company, since a repeat of that behavior could potentially put an American company in violation of U.S. law. And there is even greater risk for an entrepreneur who becomes president.
“Presidents must be ethically pristine, and associating with business partners with unsavory pasts diminishes the president’s reputation,” Warin said.
Michael D’Antonio, author of “Never Enough,” a Trump biography, said his research into Trump’s life and career suggests that even as president, Trump will be willing to reject traditional ways of doing things.
“He’s not that concerned about the usual definitions of conflict of interest or disqualifying backgrounds,” D’Antonio said. “If there’s advantage in it for him to partner with unsavory characters, he’ll do it.”
Trump has noted that he is not legally required as president to divest from his private business holdings. He has also said that voters were well aware that he had a global business.
In recent weeks, however, Trump has announced that he is pulling out of two of his most controversial foreign projects: a Brazil hotel and a hotel in Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic with a famously kleptocratic and repressive government.
In Azerbaijan, Trump partnered with Anar Mammadov, 35, whose companies have profited from more than a billion dollars’ worth of transportation and construction contracts by the Transportation Ministry, run by his father, according to investigations by media organizations and an anti-corruption watchdog group.
Human rights activists have voiced concern about Trump dealing with a man so closely linked to a government the State Department has criticized for “corruption and predatory behavior by politically connected elites.”
Before he ended the relationship recently, Trump had earned at least $2.8 million from the project since January 2014 — even though the hotel has never opened — according to his financial disclosure forms.
Trump ended his hotel deal in Brazil amid a federal investigation into potential bribery involving his local partners. Trump Organization officials have said their company was not a target of that investigation. No charges have been filed in the case.
Here are closer looks at some of Trump’s overseas business partners.
Hussain Sajwani, chairman of the real estate company Damac Holdings, shown in Dubai in 2007. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
Primary business/industry: Real estate
Affiliated with Trump: Since at least 2013
Hussain Sajwani’s company, Damac Properties, features some of the glitziest residential real estate in Dubai, selling apartments decked out in Versace furnishings and giving away Lamborghinis to buyers of multimillion-dollar homes.
All the bling contrasts with the 60-year-old billionaire’s humble beginnings. Sajwani is the son of a Dubai shopkeeper and built his fortune from scratch.
Sajwani started a catering company that served U.S. forces during the Persian Gulf War. He then founded Damac in 2002, jumping into Dubai’s booming real estate market.
Now Sajwani is the Middle East’s highest-profile business partner of the Trump Organization, with Damac teaming up with the Trump family company on two golf courses in Dubai. Weeks after Trump’s election, Damac announced plans for new villas on its Trump-affiliated, $6 billion Akoya residential development.
Sajwani recently attended a large New Year’s Eve party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Florida resort, where the president-elect praised him and his family as “the most wonderful people,” according to a video of the speech obtained by CNN.
Then on Wednesday, at his first news conference since the election, Trump said Damac this month offered him $2 billion to do a new deal in Dubai — one Trump said he turned down.
Like his American partner, Sajwani is no stranger to controversy.
In 2011, an Egyptian court sentenced him in absentia to five years in jail after he was convicted of corruption-related charges involving Damac’s 2006 purchase of land near Egypt’s Red Sea coast. Sajwani responded by suing Egypt before an international arbitration court. The two sides eventually reached a settlement, with the prison sentence dropped and Sajwani paying a fine equivalent to about $15 million, said Sherief Mahmoud, a lawyer who represented another defendant in the case. Sajwani’s conviction was canceled, according to Egyptian media.
In April, an investigation by Vice News found that migrant laborers working for a subcontractor at one of Damac’s Trump-affiliated golf courses were housed in squalid accommodations. It quoted the men as saying they received less pay than promised and had to turn over their passports to their employer.
Poor treatment of foreign laborers is common in Dubai, analysts said. The Trump Organization told Vice that it did not employ the construction workers but had “zero tolerance” for unlawful labor practices. No formal complaints were filed against Damac or Trump by the workers.
Still, the situation raises the possibility of a U.S. president backing a foreign project where workers’ rights are abused.
“It’s very difficult for anybody to operate ethically in an environment like that, in a place that facilitates appalling abuses that include effective slavery,” said Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who focuses on Persian Gulf countries. “Anybody with a reputation to protect should be very wary of that.”
Damac did not respond to requests for comment.
Sajwani appeared in a white, flowing Gulf-Arab robe at the October opening of Trump’s new hotel in Washington. He has talked about Damac expanding into the U.S. market.
He was elated by Trump’s victory the following month, telling CNN: “No question in the last 12 months, his brand became stronger and more global. I think it will have a positive impact on sales.”
–Hugh Naylor reported from Beirut. Heba Mahfouz in Cairo contributed to this story.
Hary Tanoesoedibjo, head of MNC Group, one of Indonesia's largest media properties, shown in Jakarta in 2012. (Beawiharta/Reuters)
Affiliated with Trump: Since at least 2016
Primary business/industry: Media (television)
An investigator for the Indonesian attorney general’s office started receiving alarming text messages in January of last year, when he was looking into possible tax fraud at a telecommunications company.
“We will eventually prove who is wrong and who is right, who is a professional and who is a thug,” one message said, denouncing what it called abusive law enforcement officers. It continued, “I will lead this country, and that is when Indonesia will be swept clean.”
The investigator filed suit against the man who sent the texts, billionaire media executive and politician Hary Tanoesoedibjo, who owned the company at the time of the alleged fraud.
In an interview, Tanoesoedibjo, who ran for vice president in 2014, said he had been frustrated with federal authorities because, he felt, they were engaged in politically motivated “character assassination” due to the fact that “my popularity is very high now.”
The blunt talk and combative stance — Tanoesoedibjo wound up countersuing the investigator for alleged defamation — are typical of the super-rich Indonesian entrepreneur, who is Donald Trump’s business partner on two huge projects in Indonesia: a luxury resort on the island of Bali and a golf resort near the capital city of Jakarta that Tanoesoedibjo said were worth more than $500 million.
Tanoesoedibjo says he plans to fly to New York for business meetings with Trump family members then on to Washington for Trump’s inauguration.
Tanoesoedibjo, 51, commonly known in Indonesia as Hary Tanoe, said he and Trump have a lot in common. Both are billionaire businessmen turned politicians, and both entered politics because they “want to do something” for their country, Tanoesoedibjo said.
And like Trump, the Indonesian billionaire organizes beauty pageants, has a taste for Rolls-Royces and Twitter, and admires Russian leader Vladimir Putin. In a 2014 interview with the Financial Times, Tanoesoedibjo said Putin “is very strong, very firm. We have to admire the way he’s turned around Russia.”
Tanoesoedibjo formed his own political party last year and said he is planning to run for president in 2019. That could create an awkward situation for President Trump: A candidate for leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation would be his family’s business partner.
Tanoesoedibjo gained much of his wealth in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, when he bought up distressed companies and turned them around. He acquired and developed many of the country’s largest media properties, and his MNC Group dominates Indonesian television. He is known for his aggressiveness.
“He doesn’t collect friends — he collects enemies,” said a former media executive who used to work under Tanoesoedibjo, speaking on the condition of anonymity fearing reprisals from a powerful former boss.
In 2013, Indonesia’s highest court decided that a TV station he owns was unlawfully taken from the station’s founder, Siti Hardijanti Rukmana, and that the shares should be returned. Tanoesoedibjo has refused to turn over the shares. In the interview, he said he is not liable and that he purchased the shares from a holding company rather than Siti directly.
Muhammad Jarman, a representative of the station’s founder, said at the time, “We have continued to wait, but he hasn’t been the example of a good citizen.”
In the more recent case, involving the telecommunications company, Tanoesoedibjo has said he was not involved with any possible fraud at the firm. He has faced no charges.
–Jon Emont reported from Jakarta.
Tony Tiah Thee Kian
Time affiliated with Trump: Since 2013
Primary business/industry: Finance and real estate (Malaysia)
Tony Tiah Thee Kian, a leading Malaysian businessman, pleaded guilty in 2002 to submitting a false report to the Malaysian stock exchange. He was fined $783,000, forced to quit as chief executive of his financial firm and barred from corporate boardrooms for five years, according to media reports about a case that was headline news in the Southeast Asian nation.
Now Tiah — a self-described “visionary” and evangelical Christian who says he consults with God on investment decisions — and his family are business partners with President-elect Donald Trump’s company in a flashy hotel in Vancouver, B.C., that will open soon after Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
Members of the Trump family are expected to travel to the booming Canadian city to officially open the Trump International Hotel & Tower, a 63-story, $270 million building consisting of a 147-room hotel topped by 217 luxury condominiums.
The Vancouver project was developed by two firms run by Tony Tiah and his family, although the entrepreneur’s 37-year-old son, Joo Kim, has led the effort. Trump has licensed his name to the project and the Trump Organization will manage the hotel, but the president-elect has no ownership stake.
At 70, Tony Tiah is the same age as Trump, and he has built a reputation in Malaysia for the kind of braggadocio for which his fellow real estate developer is famous. And like Trump, he has also been successful in business, building Malaysia’s largest retail brokerage firm, TA Enterprise, in the 1990s.
Tiah’s legal trouble initially involved charges that he helped a businessman defraud Omega Securities, a midsize brokerage firm, of millions of dollars in a complex series of transactions. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one charge of providing a false report to the stock exchange, according to numerous media reports.
The case was part of a broader government effort to crack down on corporate crime at a time when Malaysia was dubbed the “Wild West of stockbroking.” But some media reports said the campaign appeared to target business executives such as Tiah who had ties to a leading figure in the political opposition.
“Tony Tiah is a businessman who is operating in a country where the lines between business and politics can often be blurred, what is ethical or not can often be blurred,” said Ong Kian Ming, a member of Parliament with the opposition Democratic Action Party.
When Tiah returned to TA Enterprise’s board in 2009, he had lost none of his self-confidence.
“Without Tony Tiah, there is no TA,” he told the Malaysia Star. “My wife is good at operations. I am the visionary one.”
Requests for comment from Tiah’s firm and his son were not answered. Asked in May about his father’s conviction, Joo Kim told Vancouver’s Province newspaper that the case involved “an oversight in reporting certain wrong information to the stock exchange. . . . Subsequently my father was fined and the case was closed.”
Tony Tiah has promised to hand over the reins of the business to Joo Kim, a graduate of Oral Roberts University, but he is clearly reluctant to bow out completely.
While his son is chief executive for the companies involved in the Vancouver project, Tiah remains as nonexecutive chairman of TA Enterprise while his wife, Alicia Tiah, is chief executive.
–Alan Freeman reported from Ottawa. Jon Emont in Jakarta contributed to this report.
Developer Ricardo Hazoury in Cap Cana, Dominican Republic, in 2006. (Mauricio Ramirez)
Primary business/industry: Real estate
Time affiliated with Trump: 2007 to 2013
Ricardo Hazoury had whipped up a frenzy of anticipation. On a Caribbean cliff top with views of pristine beaches and a PGA Tour-quality golf course, the developer planned to erect dozens of mansions, a Donald Trump-branded cocoon of luxury inside his resort city that was already larger than Manhattan.
In the weeks before the May 2007 sales event for Trump Farallon Estates, Hazoury and his siblings hosted parties and dinners, serving champagne and lobster. Billboards went up in Times Square.
Trump, who licensed his name to the project, flew down to glad-hand. He said he was attracted to Cap Cana because of the “combination of land, nature and the union with Ricardo Hazoury,” according to an account that year in a business publication.
Hazoury, a local developer who had never built anything approaching the scale of the “The World’s New Great Destination,” made clients pay a $100,000 deposit just to secure a chance to buy lots that cost as much as $12 million, according to two purchasers. That first day the Dominican company recorded more than $300 million in sales, according to Hazoury.
“I have never seen better marketing than what they did,” recalled one buyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity fearing trouble with the Hazoury family. “I take off my hat. They are masters.” But ultimately, he said, he and others lost millions in the deal.
The world financial crisis in 2008 hit Cap Cana like an “economic tsunami,” Hazoury would later say. Financing dried up. Property values plummeted. The Hazourys, and many of the buyers, could not pay their debts. As Hazoury’s brother Fernando wrote in a 2009 letter to Trump’s son Eric that became public in court papers, the project’s finances were “precarious on the best of days and more akin to bungee jumping.”
Trump’s organization sued Cap Cana in 2012, accusing the company of owing him $14 million. The two sides settled for an amount that wasn’t disclosed. Dozens of other people are now suing the firm for alleged fraud, saying that promised amenities were never delivered.
Hazoury, 56, said some who lost money unfairly blamed the company instead of the financial crisis. “We continue to have an incredible business relationship with the Trumps,” he said in a statement, adding that he hoped to do additional deals with the family.
Before the Cap Cana calamity, the Hazourys, Dominicans of Lebanese descent, were mostly associated with education. Hazoury’s father was a renowned endocrinologist who founded the national diabetes institute and a private university.
The family, which also has a construction company and concrete business, started Cap Cana next to the popular resort of Punta Cana on the eastern tip of the country. Their glitzy project put the family on the map in a hurry.
Photos show Hazoury mingling with the elite, grinning with current and former Dominican presidents and celebrities such as baseball star Sammy Sosa.
The resort has made a slow recovery. The PGA Champions tour no longer plays at the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, but other duffers do. A new polo grounds opened last year. Snoop Dogg performed there last month.
Dozens of the Trump lots have been repossessed. The land where the estates were supposed to stand is a barren cliff top, overgrown with weeds.
–Joshua Partlow reported from Cap Cana, Dominican Republic. Gabriela Martinez in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Mangal Prabhat Lodha
Primary business/industry: Real estate developer and politician
Time affiliated with Trump: Since 2013
Mangal Prabhat Lodha is a state legislator who favors wrinkled shirts over fancy suits. He is also a billionaire who has been accused of wielding his political clout to help his real estate development business, one of India’s largest.
A rival politician in Lodha’s party was caught on video in 2015 explaining how Lodha flexes his political muscle. The colleague, Raj Purohit, said that most developers use bribes to try to keep their permits moving through local government offices.
“But if Lodha’s file is stuck,” Purohit said in the video, “he goes there and says: ‘I am a [state legislator]. Who is delaying my file?’ ” He later claimed the video, posted to YouTube, was doctored. Lodha denied any improper business practices.
Lodha, 61, is widely admired for building the Lodha Group, one of Mumbai’s most successful real estate development companies, from scratch. But in 2011 the company was swept up in a $30 million tax-evasion case, court records show.
Now Lodha and his family are partners with the Trump Organization in a soaring, gold-facade Trump Tower that is rising in Mumbai. The 75-story building will have 400 residences and amenities such as a private jet service for residents when it is completed in 2018, the company said.
Lodha and his two sons are often compared to the Trump family, with one newspaper calling Lodha “Donald Trump — minus the flash.” Like Trump, the Indian billionaire is a workaholic teetotaler. His website touts a plan for “making Mumbai great again.”
Lodha was first elected in 1995 as a state legislator from the now-governing Bharatiya Janata Party, of which he is vice president in his state, and his personal wealth has grown alongside his political power.
A company spokesman declined to make Lodha or his son Abhishek, who runs the day-to-day operations of the business, available for interviews.
Lodha is well known in his community for supporting temples and health-care clinics and giving every child about $150 when he or she passes 10th-grade exams.
But his conservative, Hindu-nationalist political views have sometimes caused controversy. He has supported legislation that limits religious conversions and proselytizing.
In 2011, an investigation by Indian tax authorities found that the Lodha Group had about $30 million in untaxed income, coming from the sale of parking spaces, cash interest on loans and sale of scrap from construction sites, court documents show.
The company was eventually asked to pay a fine of about $1 million and settled the tax bill for an amount that wasn’t disclosed, court records show. A Lodha spokeswoman, speaking on the condition of anonymity, declined to comment on the case, saying it was “old” and was not related to the Trump project.
–Annie Gowen reported from New Delhi. Rama Lakshmi reported from Mumbai. Swati Gupta contributed to this report.
Mehmet Ali Yalcindag
Primary business/industry: Media and real estate development
Time affiliated with Trump: Since at least 2012
In 2012, Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka celebrated the opening of the Trump Towers in Istanbul, two soaring, scissor-like buildings with apartments, offices and upscale shops.
In pictures in the local news media , the Trumps appeared smitten with the city and their business partners in Istanbul, posing with them wearing 3-D glasses at the cinema and in evening wear on a deck looking over the Bosphorus.
“They’ve really become beyond partners,” Trump said of the Dogan family, which licensed the Trump name for the towers. “They’ve become very good friends.”
Now that friendship has become politically delicate, with Trump shifting roles from real estate entrepreneur to president and preparing to navigate relations with an increasingly authoritarian Turkish government that has had a fraught relationship with the powerful business clan.
Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, 52, has been the face of Dogan Holding’s partnership with the Trump Organization. He is one of Turkey’s most prominent business leaders, along with his wife, Arzuhan Dogan Yalcindag, a former Dogan Holding chief executive.
For a time, Mehmet Yalcindag directed editorial policy for Dogan’s media holdings, which include some of Turkey’s most influential independent outlets. But he was forced to step down last year when emails released by a hacker group appeared to show Yalcindag currying favor with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as coordinating with the head of a rival, pro-government media conglomerate.
In one email, he suggested that an anchor with CNN Turk — one of his own employees — was an “enemy” of the government and detailed his efforts to rein in the anchor. Yalcindag has denied sending the emails, according to Turkish media.
More recently, Yalcindag has positioned himself as an intermediary between Trump and Erdogan, who has a tense relationship with Washington.
In November, Yalcindag was a topic of conversation between Erdogan and the U.S. president-elect, according to Amberin Zaman, a Turkish journalist and public-policy fellow at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center who broke the news of the call.
Serious matters were discussed, including Erdogan’s concerns about the Islamic State and Kurdish militants, Zaman wrote in Diken, an independent news outlet in Turkey. Trump also praised his business partners, including Yalcindag and his billionaire father-in-law, Aydin Dogan, the founder of Dogan Holding.
Yalcindag is a “good friend,” Trump said, while assuring Erdogan that the Turkish businessman was a “big fan of yours,” according to Zaman.
Yalcindag did not answer emailed questions about his relationship with Trump.
Dogan has had a more troubled relationship with Turkey’s president than that of his son-in-law, stemming in part from critical coverage of Erdogan in some of his group’s news outlets. Turkish authorities have levied hefty fines on Dogan, including a $2.5 billion penalty for unpaid taxes sent to Dogan Media Group in 2009. That fine drew criticism from the European Union and international press groups.
During his campaign, Trump acknowledged the sensitivities about the Istanbul towers. “I have a little conflict of interest, because I have a major, major building in Istanbul,” Trump said in a radio interview with Stephen K. Bannon, then the chief of Breitbart media site and now a close adviser.
During the interview, Bannon raised the issue of what American voters might think about Trump’s potential conflict.
“They say: ‘Hey look, this guy’s got vested business interests all over the world. How do I know he’s going to stand up to Turkey?’ ” Bannon said.
Trump did not directly address the question.
–Erin Cunningham reported from Istanbul. Kareem Fahim reported from Cairo.
Aras Agalarov, founder of Crocus Group, and his son, Emin Agalarov, both shown in Moscow in 2014. (Photos by Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg News)
Aras and Emin Agalarov
Industry: Real estate developers. Emin is also a pop-music star.
Time affiliated with Trump: Since 2013
A week after Vladimir Putin awarded him a medal for service to Russia, billionaire developer Aras Agalarov was trying to broker a meeting between Putin and Donald Trump.
It was November 2013, and Agalarov had paid $14 million to stage the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant, which Trump had flown in to personally oversee. Agalarov knew Trump admired the Russian president, so he spoke to Kremlin contacts to set up a meeting.
Putin canceled at the last minute, but Agalarov said the Russian leader sent Trump a “friendly letter” and an elegant lacquer box.
With the meeting off, Agalarov and his son, Emin Agalarov, a pop star who is also an executive in the family real estate company, treated Trump to a taste of Moscow’s famed nightlife, hitting parties in an armored Mercedes stretch limousine, the Agalarovs said in an interview last year.
The Agalarovs and Trump had first met each other a few months earlier at the Trump hotel in Las Vegas, after Emin Agalarov hired a Miss Universe winner to appear in one of his music videos.
That led to plans to bring the pageant to Moscow, a coup for the Agalarovs, who have said their fortune began humbly, with Aras Agalarov selling bootlegged videotapes.
On his visit to Moscow, Trump demonstrated his friendship with his new Russian pals by appearing in one of Emin’s music videos. On a set that looked like “The Apprentice,” Trump played himself while Emin daydreamed about bikini-clad pageant contestants until Trump finally told him, “You’re fired.”
“He really did me a favor by being in the video,” Emin Agalarov said in the joint interview with his father earlier this year.
Perhaps most importantly, the Agalarovs said, they and Trump started talking about bringing the Trump brand to Russia. Trump and his family have been talking about building a Trump Tower in Russia since the waning years of the Cold War.
In the Agalarovs, Trump appeared to have found potential partners who shared his fondness for the massive. The Agalarovs’ Crocus City complex on the outskirts of Moscow features a huge concert venue, Russia’s largest movie theater and a giant shopping mall called Vegas.
And like Trump, Aras Agalarov loved to put his name on his creations.
“I convinced my father it would be cool to have next to each other the Trump Tower and Agalarov Tower,” Emin Agalarov said.
Those plans never got off the ground, due mainly to Russia’s crashing economy. The Agalarovs still hope it happens, and at the Crocus site, one muddy field is still reserved for a Trump Tower.
Months before the election, Aras Agalarov said he worried that if Trump won, U.S. conflict-of-interest laws could put a damper on his overseas business ventures.
But Emin said he thought President Trump would be great for U.S.-Russia relations: “He thinks America, instead of fighting Russia, should bond and be friends. . . . This could be an amazing breakthrough if he becomes president and actually becomes friends with Putin.”
–Michael Birnbaum reported from Moscow.
Primary business/industry: Real estate developer
Time affiliated with Trump: Since 2005
Roger Khafif’s sleek yacht bobbed gently at anchor in the bay, in front of the gleaming 70-story hotel that Donald Trump’s name helped him build.
Fifteen years ago, Khafif was a small-scale Panamanian property developer who had done a few successful projects, but mostly, he said, real estate “was a hobby.” When three acres of newly backfilled land on Panama City’s waterfront came up for sale in 2002, however, he paid $2.7 million for it and started dreaming bigger.
He put together a bold plan to build a massive, sail-shaped hotel, condominium and office complex that was going to cost $230 million. He knew he could never get that kind of financing on his own, so he decided to take a chance on signing up the biggest brand in real estate.
“In those days,” he said in an interview earlier this year, “Trump was the brand.”
And, he said, “it was a Trump-sized project.”
Khafif said he sent a certified letter in 2002 to Trump, who he had never met, detailing the project. He heard nothing. In 2005, a friend helped him land a long-sought meeting with Trump. He said he flew to New York and pitched his plan to Donald and Ivanka Trump in Trump Tower.
He didn’t want Donald Trump’s money. He just wanted to attach the Trump name to the project.
The next day, he said, Trump called him and said: “Roger, I’m excited. I really love that thing. I want this for Ivanka.”
Khafif recalled that Trump told him that his daughter, then 24, was taking a bigger role in the company and he wanted the Panama project “to be her baby.”
Although Khafif was fairly small potatoes, even in Panama, the Trump name was enough to persuade Bear Stearns in New York to do a $220 million financing deal, he said.
Khafif said that partnering with a “hobbyist” with a big idea showed Trump’s imagination as a businessman. “Maybe the hobbyists are the ones thinking outside the box,” he said.
The hotel opened in July 2011. Flanked by beauty queens, Trump smiled for the cameras and addressed a crowd that included Khafif and Panama’s then-president, Ricardo Martinelli.
The hotel project was beset with problems, almost immediately. Khafif’s company was forced into bankruptcy when Panama’s economy crashed and demand for luxury condos all but dried up. The Trump Organization and owners of the condominiums engaged in nasty disputes that ended in litigation and ultimately a confidential settlement.
Today, after a bankruptcy-court restructuring and renewed economic growth, the hotel remains a busy landmark on the Panama City waterfront. Trump has earned at least $50 million on the project on virtually zero investment, according to two people who are familiar with the details who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s general counsel, declined to disclose financial details of the project.
–Kevin Sullivan reported from Panama City.
LEFT: Paulo Figueiredo Filho in November 2015. (Fernando Lemos/Agencia O Globo). RIGHT: The former Trump Hotel, foreground, in the Barra da Tijuca district of Rio De Janeiro. (Nadia Susman/Bloomberg News)
Paulo Figueiredo Filho
Primary business/industry: Real estate/hotel developer
Time affiliated with Trump: 2012 to 2016
The outspoken young conservative whom Donald Trump chose as his hotel business partner in Rio has an unusual calling card — his grandfather was the last president of Brazil’s longtime military dictatorship.
Until March 2016, Paulo Figueiredo Filho was the chief executive of LSH Barra, the Brazilian company that owns the luxury Trump Rio de Janeiro hotel, which partially opened in July.
Last month, after federal authorities confirmed an investigation into questionable investments in the hotel, the Trump Organization abruptly pulled out of the project and severed ties with its owners, saying that “their vision for the hotel no longer aligns with the Trump brand.”
“I was really upset,” Figueiredo Filho, 33, said in an interview.
He had cultivated ties with Trump and defended some of the president-elect’s most controversial statements, such as attacks on undocumented Latino immigrants and lewd comments about women. His Facebook page features a photograph of him with Trump.
Figueiredo Filho has always expressed pride in the connections provided by hisgrandfather, João Baptista Figueiredo, the last president in Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship, which ended in 1985.
“I met Reagan, Bill Clinton,” he told El País in a November 2015 interview. “I grew up my whole life surrounded by federal deputies and governors and met all the presidents of Brazil.”
Figueiredo Filho has said in interviews that he was lunching with Ivanka Trump at a West Palm Beach, Fla., golf club in 2012 when her father arrived in a helicopter. According to Figueiredo Filho, Trump said hello and was leaving when his daughter mentioned who the young Brazilian’s grandfather was.
“Then he got a chair and sat down,” Figueiredo Filho told El País.
In an October interview with Public Radio International, he defended Trump’s comments about groping women that had been recorded on video.
“The type of conversation he had, a private conversation, is very common in Brazil,” Figueiredo Filho said. “He almost sounded like a Brazilian.”
The Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro was announced in January 2014 in New York and opened partially last July. It is scheduled to be completed next year. The Trump Organization licensed its brand and managed the property but did not own it.
In October, federal prosecutors said in court papers that they were investigating whether any “illicit payments or bribes” were involved in the decision by two public-sector pension funds to invest nearly $40 million in the hotel. No charges have been filed, but the criminal investigation cast a cloud over the hotel, which has been removed from the Trump Hotels website and is now called the LSH Barra Hotel. Trump Organization officials said they are not a target of the investigation.
Figueiredo Filho now lives between Rio and Miami. He said he is no longer involved in management of the hotel, did not deal with raising money for the fund that controls it, and is one of 17 shareholders, though he declined to specify his stake.
“I was never told where the fund’s resources came from,” he said.
–Dom Phillips reported from Rio De Janeiro.