President Donald Trump made tens of millions of dollars in profits by allowing Colombian drug cartels and other groups to launder money through a Trump-affiliated hotel in Panama, according to a new investigation by the organization Global Witness.
In the early 2000s, Trump was having financial difficulties and began selling his high-profile name to real estate developers around the world, the report said. One of these developed Panama’s Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower.
The report said the drug cartels purchased hotel units to hide the origins of money earned through drug trafficking and other criminal activity, and Trump is estimated to have earned tens of millions of dollars from the deals.
Some observers are saying it is time for Congress to begin investigating the president’s finances and potential conflicts of interest.
“This is inherently a political problem,” Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, told Newsweek. “The government can investigate a company, even the president’s company. The problem here is that it’s about the president, and Congress is not holding him accountable for what he has done in this context. They aren’t holding hearings about the Trump Organization, and the president himself is not being transparent.”
The Sunlight Foundation has compiled a list of what it claims are Trump’s conflicts of interest: It numbers more than 600 for the president and 1,100 for the first family.
The report said the Panama project is a textbook case of money laundering.
“Investing in luxury properties is a tried and trusted way for criminals to move tainted cash into the legitimate financial system, where they can spend it freely,” the report noted. “Once scrubbed clean in this way, vast profits from criminal activities like trafficking people and drugs, organized crime, and terrorism can find their way into the U.S. and elsewhere.”
“In the case of the Trump Ocean Club, accepting easy – and possibly dirty – money early on would have been in Trump’s interest; a certain volume of pre-construction sales was necessary to secure financing for the project, which stood to net him $75.4 million by the end of 2010.”
Numerous investigations have shown that Trump rarely looks into the people he hires or does business with. Instead, observers say he has a pattern of entering into business deals with people suspected of money laundering and corruption. The business in Panama was an example.
One of the men involved in the scheme was David Eduardo Helmut Murcia Guzmán, who a U.S. court subsequently sentenced to nine years in prison for laundering millions of dollars. Another was Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira, who sold units at the Trump Ocean Club and later admitted that some of the people he did business with were members of the Russian mafia.
Trump family members were allegedly involved in directly managing the Panama project.
The White House did not immediately respond to request for comment.