President Donald Trump has been exposed many times as a shady businessman, and it seems old habits die hard as reports reveal he sold $35 million in real estate last year to mostly secretive buyers.
According to USA Today, Trump sold 41 luxury condo units in 2017 just in Las Vegas using limited liability companies (LLCs), which are corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without sharing all of the owners’ names.
Ironically, this has been an ongoing trend since Trump won the Republican nomination along the campaign trail. In the two years prior to the nomination, only 4 percent of Trump buyers used this strategy. However, in the year after, the rate leaped to approximately 70 percent and remained high through his first year in office.
The profits from selling the properties run through a trust managed by Trump’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., however the president is still the sole beneficiary of the trust and can withdraw money at any time.
The question surrounding Trump’s business ties and his conflicts of interest have been a point of contention since before he was sworn into office. As such, Congress and ethics experts have been keeping a close eye on him and calling upon him to be more transparent about his affairs.
However, Trump has hired his own independent ethics advisor, attorney Bobby Burchfield, who is responsible for reviewing all new deals. According to USA Today, Burchfield said a four-part test is used to evaluate deals.
The test involves determining if a deal "is at fair market value or in the ordinary course of business; is it an appropriate counterparty; is there any indication the deal is intended to curry favor with the president; and is there any likelihood the deal could compromise or diminish the Office of the President."
“If someone wants to do business with the Trump entities in the form of an LLC, we look behind the LLC to see who the owner of it is and where the funding is coming from,” Burchfield reportedly told USA Today. “If we can’t determine that, we won’t sign off on it.”
Despite Burchfield’s attempts to quell suspicion, other experts said there are some holes in his analysis. Ross Delston, a Washington, D.C. attorney specializing in anti-money laundering compliance, said Burchfield’s test is rather subjective.
“From what we know of the Trump Organization’s past real estate deals is they never see deals they don’t like,” Delston said. “Having an ethics advisor shut down a deal based on a test not mandated by law strikes me as somewhere between unlikely to unthinkable.”
Unsurprisingly, Burchfield would not confirm whether he declined to sign off on any deals in 2017.
Aside from those whose identities are obscured, last year's new buyers consisted of wealthy individuals seeking an investment, and vacation property and real estate investment funds.
Based on this report and Trump’s overall lack of transparency, it appears that the president is finding sketchy loopholes to legitimize funneling money from his businesses into his own pockets.
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