While touting his commitment to avoiding conflicts of interest, President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday he recently turned down a sweet offer: A $2 billion deal from the Middle Eastern mega-developer of the “Beverly Hills of Dubai.”
That man, Hussain Sajwani, is the billionaire chairman of Damac Properties, a Dubai-based development giant that has paid Trump’s company millions of dollars in recent years — and whom Trump called a “very amazing man” and a friend.
The president-elect’s surprise call-out to the elite Dubai developer marked an odd addition to a speech intended to assure the American public that Trump would take steps to divide his private fortune from his public power.
But the two real-estate developers have forged a friendly relationship over the years, which could persist as Trump assumes the presidency and Sajwani pursues opportunities in U.S. real estate.
Trump said he rejected Sajwani’s $2 billion offer over the weekend because he didn’t want to appear to be taking advantage of the presidency, though he reiterated that, as president, he was exempt from federal conflict-of-interest laws.
“I turned it down,” Trump said. “I didn’t have to turn it down.”
Damac Senior Vice President Niall McLoughlin confirmed in a statement that “the discussions took place as stated in the media briefing but the proposals were declined.”
“These proposals were for a variety of different property deals,” McLoughlin added. The company gave no further details and did not make Sajwani available for an interview.
Sajwani, dressed in the flowing white robe normally worn by Emirati men, attended the October opening of Trump’s glittering new hotel in Washington. Sajwani and his family also attended the president-elect’s New Year’s Eve party at Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, with Trump saying onstage that they were “the most wonderful people,” according to a video released by CNN.
Sajwani’s company holds two Dubai golf-complex licensing deals with Trump, and the firm has paid Trump’s private company as much as $10 million for branding rights since the beginning of 2015, Trump financial disclosure filings show.
Trump’s first deal with Damac — the Trump International Golf Club Dubai, a sprawling golf course ringed by scenic villas — was announced in 2014 and is expected to open early this year. Trump and his daughter Ivanka were photographed with Sajwani at the Akoya development, which Damac advertises in brochures as “the Beverly Hills of Dubai.”
A second Trump-Damac course in Dubai is being designed by Tiger Woods, who hit the links with Trump over the holidays. Sajwani said last year he would love to expand development into U.S. “gateway cities” such as Los Angeles and New York.
Damac’s specialty is luxury real estate sold to an ultra-wealthy Middle Eastern clientele, and its branding deals include French supercar maker Bugatti and Italian fashion lines Fendi and Versace.
The odd coupling could gain renewed interest if the president-elect pushes policies that further benefit Sajwani or investors in Dubai at large.
Dubai — the emirate and the city bear the same name — is the most populous and best-known city in the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich nation famous for its luxury offerings, Western-style business culture and skyscrapers, including the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world.
The UAE is one of the U.S. military’s preferred partners in the Middle East and a major buyer of American military hardware. Its special operations forces work closely with the United States in Yemen in the fight against al-Qaeda.
Sajwani, the son of a Dubai shopkeeper, first launched a catering company serving U.S. forces during the Persian Gulf War. Forbes now estimates he has a net worth of more than $3 billion.
In an online statement, Sajwani says that Damac is now among “the Middle East’s leading developers” and that the company’s expertise is in “helping our customers bring alive their dreams of luxury living.”
Hugh Naylor, Missy Ryan and Alice Crites contributed to this report.