This Week in Conflicts: Chinese Win Another Trump Contract, Russian Cash Sales for Trump Properties and Broken Promises from Wilbur Ross


Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Image Credit: Gage Skidmore)

This week, a Chinese government-owned construction company was awarded another contract for work on the Trump-branded golf club being built in Dubai, an investigation traced millions in cash payments for Trump properties made by people connected to Russia or former Soviet republics and a closer look at Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’ business ties.

A giant billboard advertising the Trump International Golf Club hangs at the Dubai Trade Center roundabout, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, February 2017. (Image Credit: Associated Press)

Chinese Win Another Trump Contract

A construction company owned by the Chinese government was awarded another contract for work on the Trump-branded golf club being developed in Dubai, McClatchy D.C. is reporting. 

The Trump World Golf Club Dubai project called Akoya Oxygen is being developed by the Trump Organization’s business partner, DAMAC Properties and is expected to open later this year.

According to a company news release, DAMAC awarded China State Construction Engineering Corp. a $19.6 million contract for road and infrastructure work at the club. The same construction company was awarded $32 million in 2017 to build a six-lane road for the Trump-branded residential area of the club and in February it received another contract for $163 million to build one of the Akoya Oxygen towers.

A spokesperson for DAMAC said the latest contract awarded to the Chinese-government owned construction company was given after a competitive bid process. The news release announcing the award did not mention the Trump Organization or President Donald Trump.

“This just furthers the troubling trend of the president’s businesses benefiting from the actions of foreign governments,” Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told the McClatchy D.C. news organization.  “It raises serious questions as to whether his loyalties are divided. Will American foreign policy be impacted by the actions of foreign governments towards his personal business empire?”

Official portrait of Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. (Image Credit: U.S. Department of Commerce)

Ross’s Broken Promises

Wilbur Ross, the United States Secretary of Commerce, promised he would divest himself from almost all of his business holdings. In November he confirmed that promise in writing with the Office of Government Ethics.

Forbes is reporting those promises were not exactly kept. According to the news organization’s investigation:

  • For most of last year, while Ross was serving as secretary of commerce, he also was maintaining stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government and a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
  • Instead of getting rid of his holdings in these and other companies, Ross sold some of them to Goldman Sachs and put others in a trust for his family.
  • Ross shorted stock in the shipping firm Navigator Holdings five days before news surfaced about his connection to the Kremlin-tied company positioning himself to make money when share prices in the company dropped. 

“Ross appears to have broken one law, however: submitting a sworn statement to federal officials in November saying he divested of everything he had promised he would—even though he still held more than $10 million worth of stock in financial firm Invesco, his former employer,” Forbes reports. “He also continued to hold a short position in a bank called Sun Bancorp, a company he had promised to divest. The next month, Ross got rid of interests in both.”

A spokesperson for Ross told Forbes, “the secretary did not lie,” and Ross filed amended paperwork that is currently under review by the Office of Government Ethics.

Sunny Isles Beach, Florida and actually it’s the Trump Palace tower. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Flikr User: Theme Park Mom)

Millions in Cash for Trump Properties

People connected to Russia or former Soviet republics paid nearly $109 million in cash to purchase properties at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City, the McClatchy D.C. news organization is reporting. “Many of them made purchases using shell companies designed to obscure their identities,” according to the news story.

Some of those purchases include:

  • A $725,000 cash purchase in 2009 by Aleksandr Burman for a condo at Trump Tower I in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. Burman was sentenced to a decade in prison after engaging in a healthcare scheme.
  • Leonid Zeldovich, a businessman who has worked in the Russian-annexed area of Crimea, bought four Trump units costing more than $4.35 million between 2007 and 2010.
  • Igor Romashov, a former chairman of the board of Transoil, a Russian oil transport company the U.S. sanctioned, paid $620,000 for a unit at the Trump-branded Sunny Isles Beach development in 2010.

“The size and scope of these cash purchases are deeply troubling as they can often signal money laundering activity,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a former federal prosecutor, told McClatchy. “There have long been credible allegations of money laundering by the Trump Organization which, if true, would pose a real threat to the United States in the event that Russia were able to leverage evidence of illicit financial transactions against the president.”

As the McClatchy D.C. news organization points out, accepting cash sales for real estate is not illegal, but they raise red flags for law enforcement officials because it could be a way to commit fraud or launder money.

The Trump Organization did not respond to specific questions about the cash sales.

More conflicts of interest in the news

About this Project

Sunlight’s “Tracking Trump’s Conflicts of Interest” presents a comprehensive, free, searchable database detailing all of President Donald J.Trump’s known business dealings and personal interests that may conflict with his public duties as president of the United States. Read our reporting to stay current on related news, learn more about conflicts of interest at every level of government and search our database. If you’re familiar with any of the conflicts we’re tracking you can email us or contact us here to contribute to the project.

Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning freelance journalist who has worked in investigative, data and TV journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. She produces content focused on government accountability, public access to information and freedom of expression issues. She’s also helping to rebuild trust between newsrooms and the public through the Trusting News project.