Continuing my theme of topical posts, today I thought I would spend a few minutes thinking about Donald Trump – the man an American friend refers to as the Cheeto-in-Chief (a wonderful pun on both his approach to things and his rather unusual colouring). I am disappointed that the Queen didn’t use her regal privilege to run him through with a ceremonial sword, but I feel oddly certain that the law will one day trip him up – and it may well be the money laundering law. After all, he’s made something of a career of sailing close to the wind.
The biggest laundering story involving the Donald is his connection with Paul Manafort. Wikipedia describes Manafort as “an American lobbyist, political consultant and lawyer” and features his prison mugshot, which is perfectly fitting. He worked for Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush and Bob Dole before finding himself heading up Trump’s election campaign. Enter the Russians. In August 2016, the US press started reporting that Manafort had allegedly received US$12.7 million in secret donations to the election campaign from the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions. And on 30 October 2017 Manafort surrendered to the FBI after being indicted by a federal grand jury as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign. He and his business associate Rick Gates were charged with, among other things, engaging in a conspiracy against the US, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, and money laundering (in Manafort’s case, more than $18 million). In February 2018 Manafort was further charged with tax avoidance and bank fraud, with the charge sheet alleging that between 2006 and 2015 Manafort laundered over $30 million through offshore bank accounts. Although initially held on house arrest, Manafort was hauled into jail on 15 June 2018 after being indicted for obstruction of justice and witness tampering. His trial will start on 25 July 2018. The Donald says that all of this happened before Manafort joined his campaign, so that’s alright – every potential world leader should be happy to have such a man on his team.
However, the laundering allegations may hit a little closer to home. This past weekend the Cheeto-in-Chief played golf at what he stated was his favourite course: Turnberry in South Ayrshire. According to the Trump Turnberry Resort’s own website, “in 2014, The Trump Organization purchased the hotel and set to work making it the finest golf and spa resort in the world. With an investment of £200m, the hotel was lovingly restored and the Ailsa course was transformed.” And to mark the C-in-C’s visit, the New Yorker magazine asks an interesting question: where did Donald Trump get two hundred million dollars to buy his money-losing Scottish golf club? I always support the idea of following the money, and indeed the article’s author Adam Davidson promises a weekly column – titled the Swamp Chronicles – in which he plans to “expose, explore, and analyze the financial activity of our President and his associates – including his family, his political appointees, and business partners – and make the case for greater transparency”. I’ll leave you to read the article yourself – it’s fascinating. A little taster: “All we know is that the money that went into Turnberry, for example, came from the Trump Organization in the US. We – and the British authorities – have no way of knowing where the Trump Organization got that money… Although we cannot say that Trump himself knowingly engaged in money laundering, we do know with certainty that much of his business in the past decade was in the industries most known for money laundering, in the locations most conducive to money laundering, and with people who bear the key hallmarks of money launderers.” You remember what they said about that duck? Quack quack!