People connected to Russia or former Soviet republics have paid cash for 86 Trump-branded properties, a total of $109 million, with many of them using shell companies, McClatchy has reported.
President Trump once described those deals more modestly. "I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe pageant — which I owned for quite a while — I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia," he said in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt in November 2017.
Accepting cash for real estate is legal, but the practice — along with buying under a shell company, obscuring the identity of the buyer — raises red flags at the Treasury Department for potential money laundering. Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign has reportedly broadened to whether Trump's real-estate businesses helped Russians launder money.
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“The size and scope of these cash purchases are deeply troubling as they can often signal money laundering activity," Rep. Adam Schiff (R-CA), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, 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."
The progressive group American Bridge 21st Century compiled the data by examining real-estate records for 2,769 condo units at 10 luxury buildings that the Trump Organization either develops or licenses in Miami or New York City. They include Trump Soho, Trump Place, Trump World Tower and Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York.
Some of the buyers appeared to spend above market value for their properties, another red flag for investigators.
"We've long suspected that Donald Trump's businesses were a front for money laundering and our research suggests it could be true," said Harrell Kirstein, communicators director for the Trump War Room at American Bridge. "The millions of dollars in previously unreported, all-cash real estate deals we discovered raise troubling questions about who is funding his businesses, why, and what they're getting in return."
The Trump Organization hasn't commented on the findings.