March 29, 2017

Manafort's curious real estate deals

NBC News - Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, made millions through his work over the years for Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs.

Manafort also bought New York City real estate, some of it in what appeared to be all-cash deals. And in a series of complex transactions involving various companies, Manafort took out more than $13 million in loans on several of those properties — including $6.5 million borrowed this year from a bank run by an economic advisor to the Trump campaign.

Now, with Manafort figuring in an FBI investigation into allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, his dealings in New York City are coming under renewed scrutiny. They fit a pattern that experts say raises questions about how Manafort was moving money.

"The first thing is, where did the person get the money to pay cash for multi-million-dollar properties?" said Ross Delston, a Washington, D.C.-based independent attorney and anti-money laundering expert. Delston said he was speaking in general, not about Manafort in particular.

In a statement to NBC News, Manafort said he was "sorry to disappoint the conspiracy theorists," but the mortgages were ordinary business transactions and using LLCs to buy real estate is "common practice in New York City and elsewhere."

Manafort said his transactions were "executed in a transparent fashion and my identity was disclosed — in fact my name is right there on the documents in one of today's news reports."

"The more convoluted the transaction, the more remote from a reasonable business purpose, the more suspicious they are," said Stefan Cassella, former deputy chief of the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.

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