The Trump Organization is set to distance itself from one of its biggest headaches in the Russia probe18:50 10.11.2017
- The Trump Organization will end its contract with the real estate investment firm that owns the Trump SoHo hotel in New York, effectively ending Trump’s relationship with the troubled hotel.
- In walking away early from the deal, the Trump Organization will also distance itself from the controversial firm it worked with nearly a decade ago to develop the troubled hotel: Bayrock.
- Bayrock and its cofounder, Felix Sater, are now under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining Trump’s business dealings as part of his investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow during the 2016 election.
The Trump Organization will cut ties with New York’s Trump SoHo Hotel after years of financial hardship and even boycotts following Donald Trump’s presidential run and electoral victory in November.
In walking away early from the licensing deal it struck with the California-based real estate investment firm CIM Group, which owns Trump SoHo, the Trump Organization will also distance itself from the controversial firm it worked with nearly a decade ago to develop the troubled hotel: Bayrock.
Trump worked with Bayrock on at least four projects throughout the 2000’s, including the Trump SoHo. Some of those projects ultimately failed. Bayrock was co-founded by the Russian-born businessman Felix Sater, who was accused nearly two decades ago of being a co-conspirator in a $40 million fraud and money-laundering scheme involving four Mafia families.
A lawsuit brought in 2010 against Sater and others, which is ongoing, alleges that «for most of its existence [Bayrock] was substantially and covertly mob-owned and operated,» engaging «in a pattern of continuous, related crimes, including mail, wire, and bank fraud; tax evasion; money laundering; conspiracy; bribery; extortion; and embezzlement.»
The lawsuit, filed by Bayrock’s former finance director, Jody Kriss, accused Sater and Bayrock’s founder, Tevfik Arif, of cheating him out of millions of dollars via fraud, money laundering, and racketeering, among other misconduct. In December, a New York judge ruled that the lawsuit could move forward as a racketeering case.
Sater and Bayrock are now under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining Trump’s business dealings as part of his investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow during the 2016 election. Mueller is probing whether Russia ever held any financial leverage over Trump that was, or could be, used as blackmail.
‘It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia’
According to Kriss’ complaint, Sater and Arif began negotiating with the Trump Organization in 2003 to market certain projects under the Trump brand but didn’t tell Trump about Sater’s criminal past.
In a 2007 deposition, Trump said his organization would never have agreed to partner with Bayrock on the development of Trump SoHo had he known about Sater’s past. Trump also said he would not be able to identify Sater if they were in the same room.
But Bayrock’s office was once two floors below Trump’s in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. A person familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution by Sater or his associates, told Business Insider that Sater and Trump had standing meetings each week.
Sater has said in a deposition that he met with Trump «on a constant basis,» Bloomberg previously reported, and Kriss told the publication that Trump valued Sater’s loyalty — and his Russia connections.
«It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia,» Trump said in the 2007 deposition. «Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.»
Sater was evidently still in touch with Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as recently as late January.
The two met at a New York hotel on January 27 to discuss a peace plan for Russia and Ukraine that was drafted by a Ukrainian politician, Andrey Artemenko. Cohen was said to have delivered the plan directly to Michael Flynn before he resigned as national security adviser on February 13, though Cohen has disputed that in subsequent interviews.
‘I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected’
Sater came back into the news over the summer when emails surfaced showing that he had been pushing for the Trump Organization to pursue a massive real-estate deal in Moscow during the 2016 presidential election.
Emails exchanged between Sater and Cohen — who have known each other since they were teenagers — in November 2015 indicate that they were preparing to celebrate not only Trump’s election victory, but also the potential Russia deal. The Trump Organization, which employed Cohen at the time, had signed a letter of intent to pursue the deal.
Sater boasted of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the emails, which were obtained by The New York Times, telling Cohen that he would «get all of Putins team to buy in» on the Moscow deal.
«Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,» Sater wrote. «I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.»
Two months later, Cohen emailed Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, asking for his «assistance» in pushing the deal through, according to emails submitted to congressional investigators and read to The Washington Post.
«Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower — Moscow project in Moscow City,» Cohen wrote Peskov. «Without getting into lengthy specifics the communication between our two sides has stalled…As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance.»
Cohen sent the email to a generic Kremlin email address that was not Peskov’s. The Kremlin said later that it had received the email, but Cohen told The Post that he never heard back — and that the deal was scrapped by late January 2016.
Sater was spotted at Trump Tower about six months after the deal collapsed. He told Politico at the time that the purpose of his visit was «confidential.» But his presence there seven months after the Moscow real-estate deal fell through, and less than three months before Election Day, raised questions about who in Trump’s orbit he was still in touch with — and why.
Sater showed Ivanka Trump and her brother Donald Trump Jr. around Moscow in 2006 when their father was scouting real estate in Russia. They stayed for several days at the Hotel National Moscow opposite the Kremlin, according to The Times.
Sater also acted as a fixer to help the former Kazakh cabinet minister Viktor Khrapunov buy three apartments in Trump SoHo using shell companies, the Financial Times reported. The Kazakh government has alleged that Khrapunov stole those funds from the state.
Khrapunov’s use of shell companies to buy Trump real estate was not unique — a USA Today investigation found that approximately 70% of buyers of Trump properties since June 2016 were limited-liability companies, compared with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.