As he prepares for his inauguration on January 20, Donald Trump faces an unprecedented ethical quagmire, according to government watchdogs.
The President-elect oversees a vast real-estate empire with gleaming outposts around the globe, as well as lucrative business ties to key geopolitical allies and adversaries. Based on the financial disclosure report he filed last year, Trump appears to own or control more than 500 businesses in some two-dozen countries around the world.
But his holdings remain largely shrouded in secrecy, in part because the President-elect defied long-held precedent by declining to release his tax returns to the public. What’s clear is that the Trump Organization's portfolio—which ranges from luxury towers in Turkey to a New York City lease agreement with China, and from developments in Indian cities to a new hotel on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue—presents potential conflicts of interest that could complicate his presidency.
Trump has promised to transfer control of the family-owned company to his adult children, who he says will pursue “no new deals” during his time in the Oval Office.
But legal experts from all sides say Trump will be subject to ethical questions about potential conflicts of interest unless he sells off his business assets and places his investments in a blind trust, standards that U.S. presidents have abided for decades. Yet Trump has so far resisted such steps, though he is expected to address the situation in a long-awaited press conference on Tuesday.
Here’s a look at Trump’s business dealings around the globe:
Shortly after his election in November, Trump spoke on the phone with Argentina's President, Mauricio Macri. According to a prominent Argentine journalist, the call included a discussion of the permit issues bogging down the construction of a Trump-branded office building in Buenos Aires. On Nov. 17, the Argentine development firm YY Development Group announced that the stalled project would move ahead. The journalist later said he was “half-joking, half serious” and a spokesman for Macri disputed the report, igniting a firestorm of scrutiny. In January, the Trump Organization announced it had abandoned plans to pursue the project. Back to map.
In December, the Trump Organization scrapped a business deal to license the President-elect’s brand for a hotel in Baku. The deal was struck in 2012 with Anar Mammadov, the billionaire scion of Azerbaijan's transport minister, who was described in a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable as “notoriously corrupt.” According to Trump’s financial disclosure, the real-estate magnate earned around $2.5 million in management fees from the hotel, which was due to open in 2015 but never did. Trump’s lawyer Alan Garten said that the move to extricate the President-elect from the licensing deal was “normal housekeeping.” Back to map.
One of the companies that Trump lists on his FEC filing is called DJ Aerospace (Bermuda) Limited. The Royal Gazette, a Bermuda newspaper, suggests the investment could be linked to a Bermuda-registered jet Trump once owned, but notes that it's unclear whether the company is still active. Back to map.
Amid the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and with the Brazilian economy buoyed by the discovery of new offshore oil reserves, Trump licensed his name to a lavish beachfront development called Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro. Although the hotel officially opened in time for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, it remains unfinished, according to press reports. Meanwhile, Trump has soured on his plans for the BRIC nation, dropping his licensing deal with the hotel as well as a plan dating back to 2012 to build office towers elsewhere in Rio. That idea was scrapped amid a Brazilian investigation into his local development partners. Back to map.
Trump appears to have stakes in 14 companies related to his Canadian business interests, which include two hotel and condo towers. Trump’s first property in the country, which is America’s second-largest trading partner, was Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto, a 65-story skyscraper in the city’s financial district. Opened in 2012, the property is owned by Talon International, a real-estate development firm owned by a Russian-born Canadian national. The firm paid the Trump Organization to license the brand and manage the building, which was placed into receivership in November after Talon failed to make debt payments. Trump also has a licensing and management deal to operate a hotel-condo tower in Vancouver. The deal is with Holborn Group, a Canadian developer whose CEO, Joo Kim Tiah, is the scion of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest families. Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver put off a planned 2016 opening until at least early 2017. Back to map.
Trump has wanted to bring his brand to the Middle Kingdom for years. On his 2016 financial disclosure statement, he lists positions in multiple companies that could be connected to business in China. Trump Hotel Collection CEO Eric Danziger was quoted in Chinese media last fall as saying the company plans to build 20 to 30 hotels in the country. At least two planned ventures have failed in the past: a 2008 office-building project with Chinese developer Evergrande Group, nixed in the aftermath of the global recession, and a 2012 deal that was junked because one of the project's partners, State Grid Corporation of China, became enmeshed in a corruption scandal. Meanwhile, Trump has significant Chinese business ties stateside: the biggest tenant in New York’s Trump Tower has been the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), a state-owned bank whose lease is set to expire in 2019. According to ethics watchdogs, the renewal negotiations could place Trump—who pledged during his campaign to impose tariffs on Chinese imports and label the nation a currency manipulator—in violation of the so-called “emoluments” clause in the Constitution, which prohibits accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments. Back to map.
Trump has positions in two companies that may be related to business in Egypt: Trump Marks Egypt and Trump Marks Egypt LLC. Both Egypt’s autocratic leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Trump have lavished praised on one another. Back to map.
In 2012, Trump unveiled plans to build a $250 million luxury residential high-rise in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi. But the project stalled, perhaps in part due to the ouster of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a supporter of the project. After Trump’s victory in November, the project’s Georgian developer told a reporter that the plans were back on. Yet in December, Garten said that the Trump Organization was taking steps to extricate itself from the project. A former business partner told Reuters in January that Trump had done so to sidestep a potential conflict. "The only reason [for the project's termination] was that Mr. Trump was elected as the U.S. president and could not continue business abroad as it would pose a conflict of interest," the former partner said. Back to map.
Trump has a range of business interests in the world’s most populous democracy, including a pair of modern towers in Pune and a planned development in the megacity of Mumbai. Shortly after his November victory, one of Trump’s Indian business partners posted a photo on Twitter that documented a meeting between the President-elect and three Indian property developers. Other photos indicate Eric and Ivanka Trump were also present, raising questions about the lines of demarcation between Trump and the company he has said he will transfer to his children. The vice president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs India’s parliament, also founded the company behind Trump Tower Mumbai. Back to map.
In 2015, the Trump Hotels Collection announced a deal with Indonesian company PT Media Nusantara Citra (MNC) to build a golf course and luxury hotel in West Java, as well as another overlooking the Indian Ocean in Bali. According to his personal financial disclosure statement, Trump raked in up to $5 million in royalties for each of the properties, which the Trump Organization says are so luxurious they will merit “six-star” ratings. Trump's subsequent campaign threat to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. generated protests in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country. But at the height of the controversy, MNC Group's billionaire founder Hary Tanoesoedibjo stayed quiet on the then-Republican candidate's politics. Media mogul Tanoesoedibjo, one of the 30 richest people in Indonesia, formed a new political party last year and says he is considering a presidential bid in 2019. Back to map.
Trump owns a hotel and golf resort in Doonbeg. His organization’s plans to build a long sea wall to protect against erosion on the course’s coastline met opposition from local environmental activists. In December, Trump’s representatives said the organization would soon submit a modified plan. Back to map.
In July 2011, Trump unveiled The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, developed by local partner Newland International Properties Corp. At the time, the 70-story sail-shaped building was the tallest in Latin America, and it afforded Trump the opportunity to smooth things over with Panamanian politicians he'd angered by saying that the U.S had “stupidly” given back the Panama Canal. In 2016, Trump's incendiary remarks about immigrants riled Panama anew: In July, the nation joined Costa Rica and Mexico in pulling out of Trump's Miss Universe pageant. Back to map.
Trump once included the Philippines on a list of “terrorist nations” from which the U.S was admitting “animals.” But he has also described its capital, Manila, as “one of Asia’s most spectacular cities” while promoting the 57-story tower on which he has a licensing deal. Trump Tower Manila is the most advanced of a series of Trump-branded buildings planned by property magnate Jose E.B. Antonio (though it remains under construction today, with scaffolding up, exposed pipes and breeze blocks stacked outside). Just before Trump's election, the Philippines appointed Antonio as its special envoy to the U.S. The U.S. has had a fraught relationship with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has threatened to distance the nation from the U.S. in favor of stronger ties with Russia and China and carried out a campaign to stamp out drugs, which has been marked by the extrajudicial killing of thousands. Trump's stance toward Duterte have raised eyebrows. In a December phone call, according to Duterte, Trump told the Philippine leader that he was going about the war on drugs "the right way.” Back to map.
Trump has stakes in four companies that appear to be tied in business in the desert nation. The country’s state-owned carrier, Qatar Airways, has leased an office in Manhattan’s Trump Tower since 2008. Ivanka Trump told Hotelier Middle East in 2015 that the Trump Hotel Collection was eyeing opportunities in Qatar. Back to map.
"For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” Trump tweeted in July, one day before he called on the country to “find" a batch of emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Nonetheless, Russia's extraordinary meddling in the 2016 U.S. election—a declassified report released by U.S. intelligence agencies in January disclosed that intercepted conversations captured senior Russian officials celebrating Trump’s win—as well as Trump’s complimentary remarks about Russian President have stirred widespread questions about the President-elect's pursuit of closer ties with Moscow. Several members of Trump’s inner circle have business links to Russia, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who consulted for pro-Russia politicians in the Ukraine. Former foreign policy adviser Carter Page worked in Russia and maintains ties there. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser, has been a regular guest on Russia’s English-language propaganda network, RT, and even dined with Putin at a banquet. During the presidential transition, former Georgia Congressman and Trump campaign surrogate Jack Kingston told a gathering of businessmen in Moscow that the President-elect could lift U.S. sanctions. According to his own son, Trump has long relied on Russian customers as a source of income. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. told a Manhattan real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of trade publication eTurboNews. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Back to map.
Shortly after his presidential campaign got underway, according to his financial disclosures, Trump registered eight companies that could be related to a development project in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-biggest city. "Saudi Arabia, I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me," Trump said at a campaign rally. Four of the eight companies have since dissolved. In February 2016, Trump said Saudi Arabia “blew up the World Trade Center.” (Fifteen of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.) Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud reminded Trump on Twitter that he had helped “bail” him out in the past; according to the New York Times, the prince agreed to take majority control of New York’s Plaza Hotel when Trump faced financial upheaval in the 1990s and also bought a Trump yacht when the President-elect’s Atlantic City casinos were struggling. Back to map.
Trump’s name adorns six condominium buildings in Seoul, Busan and Daegu. Dubbed "Trump World," they were erected by Daewoo, the South Korean corporation, which pays Trump for the use of his name. Back to map.
Trump's most recent financial disclosure lists two companies, Excel Venture I LLC and Excel Venture I Corp., which appear to be linked to residential retail properties on the Caribbean island. Back to map.
Trump’s first foray into the Caribbean was more than a decade ago on Canouan, a lush island belonging to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where Trump built dozens of luxury villas and a golf club that opened in 2004. He also took over the management of a local casino. Yet as of November 2016, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported that Canouan is now a Trump-free zone: the villas were bulldozed and the casino, which went bust, had been converted into a hurricane shelter. Back to map.
Trump has a licensing deal to use his name on two luxury towers in Istanbul, one commercial and the other residential. By his own admission, the project, for which he earned up to $5 million in 2015, presents complications for the incoming President. “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul,” Trump told his future White House strategist Steve Bannon in December 2015, during an interview on Bannon’s radio show. “It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers—two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two.” Trump also has a licensing deal with Dorya International, a Turkish design company, to manufacture Trump branded furniture. These substantial holdings may already be shaping Trump’s stance toward Turkey, a key geopolitical ally and vital player in the fight against the Islamic State. Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. drew sharp criticism from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; soon after, Trump defended the Turkish strongman, saying he had a right to crack down on dissidents after a failed coup attempt. When Erdoğan called Trump after his election, according to media reports, Trump used the occasion to praise his Turkish business partners, whose corporate shares leaped after Election night. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's incoming national security advisor, wrote an op-ed on Election Day that cast Fethullah Gülen, a cleric based in the U.S. whom Erdoğan publicly accused of orchestrating the failed coup, as a “radical.” As President, Trump will have the power to extradite Gülen. Back to map.
United Arab Emirates
Trump has a tangle of business interests in the UAE. His first venture in the country was a branding deal in 2005 to build a hotel with Nakheel, a developer backed by Dubai’s royal family. The project was canceled in 2008 following a corruption and bribery probe into two Nakheel executives. In 2013, Trump struck a branding deal with Damac Properties Dubai Co., to build luxury villas and a golf course. Damac is also building another Trump-branded course designed by Tiger Woods. In December 2015, local groups called for a boycott of those properties in response to Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. (Damac briefly removed Trump’s image and name from its properties, but reinstated them two days later.) The Trump International Golf Club in Dubai is set to open early this year. On New Year’s Eve, during a celebration at his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, Trump gave a speech to hundreds of paying guests that praised Damac executive Hussain Sajwani and his family. “The most beautiful people from Dubai are here tonight,” Trump gushed. Back to map.
Trump owns two golf courses in Scotland: Trump Turnberry, on the rugged Ayrshire coast, and Trump International Golf Links, near Aberdeen. During a visit to mark Turnberry’s re-opening in June 2016, Trump noted the economic upheaval generated by Brexit—which he egged on as a candidate—could be good for his bottom line. “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly,” he told reporters. According to the New York Times, Trump encouraged British politician Nigel Farage, one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, to oppose offshore wind farms that mar the views offered by his courses. Trump also tweeted that Farage should be named Great Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. Back to map.
The vast majority of the 500-some legal entities in which Trump has a position are based in the U.S. These include the bulk of his most profitable assets, such as his commercial real-estate portfolio in Manhattan and the golf resorts scattered around the country that bear his name. But two trophy properties stand out for posing potential conflicts of interest. One is Trump Tower, the Fifth Avenue skyscraper that houses the President-elect’s business headquarters as well as the penthouse triplex that is his primary residence. The building’s biggest tenant is the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), a state-owned bank that is the world’s largest lender by assets. The bank’s lease is set to expire in 2019. According to watchdog groups the renewal negotiations could place Trump—who has pledged to impose tariffs on Chinese imports and label the nation a currency manipulator—in violation of the so-called “emoluments” clause in the Constitution, which prohibits accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments. Another potential source of conflict is Trump’s newest property, a luxury hotel that opened in October in Washington’s Old Post Office building, just a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Trump does not own the 263-room hotel; he leases the building from the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA), paying $3 million per year for the next 60 years. As President, Trump will have the power to appoint the GSA’s administrator. Ethics experts have urged him to extricate himself from the lease, from which any government official is barred from benefiting. Trump says he won’t be in breach of contract because his children will run the company. But the hotel has already held at least one event designed to entice foreign diplomats to stay at the hotel, which some observers say could also violate the emoluments clause. Back to map.
In 2012 Trump licensed his name to a gleaming, cylindrical residential tower in Uruguay's Punta del Este. At the time it was heralded as Trump International Realty's first project in South America. The development is being built by Uruguayan company Aetos SA, an affiliate of Trump's Argentine partner YY Development. Back to map.
With reporting by Alex Altman, Joseph Hincks and Tara John