DUBAI — The red carpet was laid out Saturday for President Trump’s sons, Eric and Don Jr, the guests of honor at a plush event that brought out Dubai’s business elite and government officials to toast the launch of the Trump International Golf Club.
The guests, a mix of foreigners and locals, walked past lighted palm trees and were greeted by a line of Western women dressed in black with cream-colored shawls. Waiters served dim sum, quail egg canapes and lemon meringue tarts as an eight-person string orchestra played Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”
It was the first opening of a Trump-branded property since the president’s inauguration, illuminating how much his business interests are thriving despite concerns over potential conflicts of interests that could open the presidency up to foreign influence. While he has given control of his global empire to his children, Trump has not divested his ownership, which means he will benefit from any commercial success of the golf resort.
The Trump-branded golf resort, the first of its kind in the Arab world, is located inside a sprawling residential community of 9,000 villas and apartments, about a half-hour drive from downtown Dubai. The development was built by DAMAC Properties, a large Dubai-based luxury real estate developer that signed a multimillion dollar branding and management contract with Trump’s company to operate the golf resort.
The president and Hussain Sajwani, the billionaire founder of DAMAC, are close friends. At a New Year’s Eve party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., the then president- elect described Sajwani and his family as “the most beautiful people from Dubai.”
On Saturday, it was Sajwani’s turn to return the compliments. Standing at a lectern, with Eric and Don Jr seated in front, Sajwani said that “working with the Trump family, and Trump Organization was totally a pleasure,” and he described the family as “a great” combination of “class, achievement and honesty.”
Minutes later, Eric Trump stepped up to the lectern and praised Sajwani.
“We have a partner who is also a great friend with a truly amazing family,” said Eric Trump. “I love being with them.”
Legal and ethics experts have raised concerns over Trump’s chumminess with Sajwani, saying it suggests the president has little interest in separating himself from his company’s business interests. Sajwani, whose company had a U.S. government contract to provide meals during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, has considered investing in real estate projects in the United States.
The close friendship between Sajwani and President Trump is one reason Saturday’s opening attracted a large gathering of people in the business community.
“Many people are here because of the Trump name,” said Ashok Kumar, a businessman who said he was hoping to meet with the Trump sons for possible networking opportunities. He added that Sajwani had also become more celebrated and influential in the United Arab Emirates because of his proximity to the American president.
“This is unusual to see such a gathering for a golf club opening,” chimed in another Dubai businessman nearby.
Niall McLoughlin, an senior DAMAC executive, said that the company owns the golf course and the residential community, and that it had no ties to the UAE government. But during his speech, Sajwani made it clear that his fortunes in part rested on the goodwill of the government. He thanked Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum as well as various local government bodies, including the land council, the electricity department and the Dubai police.
Legal analysts think that Trump’s foreign business interests could violate the emoluments clause in the Constitution intended to shield the United States from any corrupting foreign influences. It prevents public officials from receiving gifts or payments from foreign government without the consent of the U.S. Congress.
On Saturday, Trump’s sons hobnobbed with elites in a separate VIP area. They both received a box containing a pearl as gifts from DAMAC to celebrate their partnership, which Don Jr. described in his speech as one that is going to last for many years. The evening ended with a spectacular fireworks display that lit up the sky over the golf course.