August 10, 2017

Trump's cash only condos may blow his cover

David Von Drehle, Washington Post - A peculiar problem of despots and crime lords the world over is how to make dirty money look clean. Years ago, a federal prosecutor in Miami told me that cocaine cowboys would take as little as 50 cents on the dollar for seemingly legitimate income, passing their money through car washes, vending machines, convenience stores and other cash-intensive businesses. They even paid elderly pensioners steep commissions to deposit drug money in their innocent-looking bank accounts, then draw it back out as honest tender.

But few laundries can match the efficiency of an eight-figure luxury condominium in New York or San Francisco or South Florida. It works like this: The holder of a great deal of tainted money sets up a shell company, funds it through the shadow banking system, then uses the shell to purchase exclusive property. Voila! No one knows where the money came from or who the buyer might be. But when the condo is eventually resold, the proceeds emerge from the spin cycle as clean as Eliot Ness.

... At the Trump International, on the southwest corner of Central Park, the Times noted that more than half of all condo sales were to hidden buyers. A more recent study by USA Today found that the number of veiled transactions involving the Trump Organization took a big jump as the boss man’s political fortunes rose. Since Trump captured the Republican nomination last summer, the share of hidden buyers of his branded properties has climbed to 70 percent, the newspaper found.

The president may be waking to the possibility that Mueller will drag this unseemly marketplace into the glare of public scrutiny. In a revealing interview with the Times last month, Trump signaled that he expects investigators to find some transactions that will undercut his claims to do no business with Russia. “I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something,” he said. “I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?”

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