Russian oligarchs and now “Baby Doc” too

Trump’s vicious smear of Haiti is coming back to bite him. 

On Monday, Haiti’s high court held an emergency session to allow the unsealing after 35 years of the documents from the indictments of former dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier for money laundering. After three decades under wraps, the timing of their release to the public can hardly be an accident. The revelation that in 1983 Donald Trump signed the deed and accepted $446,875 in cash from the brutal and corrupt tyrant for an apartment in Trump Tower followed on the heels of Trump’s widely reported slur of the Caribbean island.

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in 2011
by Marcello Casal Jr

Paying cash is one indication of possible money laundering; selling to unidentified buyers or shell corporations is another.

Haiti’s president had no knowledge of the sealed documents— he learned of them through the reporting of Buzzfeed News on Trump’s likely facilitation of money laundering by Americans and wealthy foreigners through the sale of apartments in his luxury condominiums.

The report took months to prepare. BuzzFeed investigated every sale of the 22 Trump-branded condominium high rises in the United States since the 1980s. They identified more than 1,300 all-cash sales to shell companies— no mortgages, so that the buyers had no imperative to reveal their real identities or finances.

Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in 2017 warned that

real estate transactions involving luxury property purchased through shell companies—particularly when conducted with cash and no financing—can be an attractive avenue for criminals to launder illegal proceeds while masking their identities.

BuzzFeed calculated that Trump condo sales matching the Treasury’s characteristics of possible money laundering totaled $1.5 billion. They accounted for 21% of the 6,400 Trump condos sold in the US and include Trump-branded buildings that pay the president(!) licensing fees or a percentage of the sales. BuzzFeed found that between 2008 and 2010, 11 buildings licensed by Trump sold condos to hundreds of shell companies, all paying an average of $1.2 million cash. Trump revealed in 2015, reports BuzzFeed, that his “real estate licensing deals” and other brands were worth $3.3 billion. 

Steve Bannon thinks Russian collusion won’t be Trump’s main problem with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff. “You realize where this is going,” Wolff says Bannon told Trump. “This is all about money laundering.”

Early on, Trump had warned Mueller not to cross the line by investigating his or his family’s finances. Bannon reportedly scoffed at the president, pointing out that by telling a prosecutor where not to go, you direct his investigation precisely there.

As it happens, Mueller has hired Andrew Weissman, a Washington attorney who used  to head the criminal fraud division of the Justice Department. He specializes in money laundering.

Steve Bannon will testify under subpoena before a grand jury tomorrow, and after losing his position in the Trump administration, his seat on the Breitbart board, his editorship of Breitbart News, his radio show, his financial backing from the billionaire Mercer family, not to mention his close friendship with Trump, what does he have left to lose?

Stay tuned.

Correction: It is not known when Bannon will before the Grand Jury.

Update

Bannon was subpoenaed by Mueller today to appear before a grand jury, a very unusual move. Normally, a conversation (not under oath) takes place first.

In an other very unusual move, The House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election issued a bipartisan subpoena to Bannon after he refused to answer questions in a nine-hour closed-door session. There has never been a bipartisan subpoena before.

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