Keep Your Eyes on the Money – YOUR Money

There is rightly a major focus right now – among the media, in the House and Senate, by the FBI and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the American public – on President Trump’s possible connections to Russia. Meanwhile, however, a question that could be of equal importance may be getting overlooked: why did Donald Trump run for President in the first place?

The answer is likely many-fold, and can be explained by things that are easily knowable about the President, to the point where they almost define him. He likes to be the center of attention, and a Presidential run would feed that desire with months of ongoing coverage from the media and adoration from his supporters. He likes power, and the Presidency is arguably the most powerful position in the world. He has political views and policy ideas that he appears at times to feel strongly about; the Presidency would be a place where he could enact them.

But what else do we know about Donald Trump? What else defines him almost more than all of those things combined? He likes money. And in real estate, there is a term “OPM” that stands for “Other People’s Money.” When your career is buying real estate, OPM becomes an essential way to make yourself rich more quickly. You borrow – from banks, from wealthy friends, from relatives – to buy real estate that you believe will produce enough of a profit to enrich yourself and enable you to pay back your lenders (usually with interest). Of course, in the most ideal OPM situations, such as inheriting a fortune from your father, you don’t have to pay anyone back.

And what are a couple of other things that we have learned about Donald Trump since he came under closer scrutiny during the election and into the Presidency? He lies. Boldly. Bigly. He tells lies so big and so risky that most liars wouldn’t even consider telling them because of the lies’ audaciousness and the ease of proving them false (Obama is not an American citizen, the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was the biggest in decades, etc.).

We also know that Trump sometimes stiffs those who help him, like the numerous contractors who provided goods and services for his real estate empire, only to find themselves faced with having to accept a major loss when he chose not to pay them. He has been referred to by some as a conman, boosting people’s hopes for his own financial gain.

It is quite plausible that Mr. Trump planned to make money from the process of campaigning for President. As far back as 2000, he told Fortune Magazine “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.” According to Politico, by September 22 of last year, the 2016 Trump Campaign had paid Trump’s businesses $8.2 million.

And as some of us currently grit our teeth at the millions being needlessly spent each week by the American taxpayer for the excesses that accompany Mr. Trump’s Presidency – Melania living in Trump Tower instead of the White House, the President’s near-weekly trips to Mar-a-Lago and his golf courses, the Secret Service entourage to accompany the Trump kids on their frequent trips – we hardly notice that buried within those extravagances are arrangements from which the President or his family make a profit. As long as Melania lives at Trump Tower, the government (i.e., you and I) must pay rent to have a team of Secret Service living there. When the President visits Mar-a-Lago, he generates free publicity for his business – far better than any expensive commercial – at government cost, while dangling the exciting possibility that visitors might get to sit near the President of the United States at dinner or see him on his golf course. And who gets paid for the rooms that the President’s security and staff stay in at Trump’s posh Mar-a Lago hotel when Trump spends yet another weekend there?

And yes, it all reaks of conflict of interest and questionable ethics at best.

But – and I say the following as pure speculation that may well qualify me for a tin-foil hat – what if those millions being pocketed here and there are all just small change compared to a more expansive agenda? What if, as he began seeing the possibility of a win, his run for the Presidency evolved in part into the biggest lie ever, a con so big and so brazen and so thoroughly outlandish that Americans wouldn’t even think of it as a possibility until after it had already happened? You know, the way several months ago, we didn’t think that covert action by Russia could possibly play an influential – potentially even deciding – role in an American Presidential election? What if the bid for the Presidency actually evolved into a bid to siphon off one of the largest piles of OPM ever from the biggest mark possible – the federal government and, by extension, us, the American taxpayers? And what if  there were a way to move that money around silently behind the scenes – in order to pay off major debts, to stash vast amounts in anonymous overseas bank accounts, or to assist in some some other massively self-serving cause?

As Presidential Cabinet positions go, the Secretary of Commerce is not generally a glamorous or high-visibility position. If you asked even your most politically involved friends – friends who could quickly rattle off the names of every recent Secretary of State or Secretary of Energy – few could likely name even one recent Secretary of Commerce. The position just does not generate a lot of buzz: it works quietly behind the scenes, doing work related to the department’s mission “to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce.”

The person whom Donald Trump appointed to that role is a man named Wilbur Ross. On February 27, 2017, MSNBCs Rachel Maddow did a segment looking into the background of Mr. Ross. (New Commerce Secretary at Nexus of Lucrative Trump Russia Deal). While I highly recommend taking the 22 minutes to watch Maddow’s report, the Cliff’s Notes version is as follows:

  • In January 2017, Deutsche Bank was fined $630 million by the US Department of Justice for money laundering (i.e., processing tainted money in a way that makes the money appear “legitimate”). Deutsche Bank had moved approximately $10 billion out of Russia as part of a stock fraud scheme. Some of the people involved were close friends and relatives of Vladimir Putin (the Russian government also fined Deutsche Bank a whopping $5,000 for the incident).
  • When Deutsche Bank’s money laundering activities for this scam began in 2011, its CEO was Josef Ackerman. Ackerman left Deutsche Bank in 2012 after serving there for ten years. In 2013, deposits to Deutsche Bank began to be seized in the wake of questions arising over the $10 billion. In 2014, Ackerman was appointed Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.
  • Cyprus is a Mediterranean island off the coast of Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. It is known to be a major hub where Russian oligarchs use the banking system to launder their money.
  • The Bank of Cyprus has two Vice Chairmen: one is Viktor Vekselberg (second wealthiest man in Russia and a close personal friend of Vladimir Putin) and the other is long-time Trump friend Wilbur Ross. Vekselberg and Ross are both the largest shareholders in the Bank of Cyprus. Vekselberg and Ross were the ones who brought in Ackerman as the new CEO of the Bank of Cyprus.
  • Another large shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus is a Russian oligarch named Dmitry Rybolovlev. Rybolovlev began a divorce from his wife in 2007 or 2008. The divorce was finalized in 2015. At some point, a judge awarded Rybolovlev’s wife $4.5 billion as part of the settlement. During the divorce proceedings, she accused Rybolovlev of “secreting and transferring assets in order to avoid his obligations.”
  • In 2006, Donald Trump bought a tacky Palm Beach mansion called la maison de l`amitie for $40 million. The property sat vacant for two years, In 2008, Trump sold it to Rybolovlev, who inexplicably paid $100 million for it, netting Trump a quick $60 million in profit. Rybolovlev reportedly never lived in the house.
  • At the time, Trump was having financial difficulties and was fighting to avoid paying off a large loan from Deutsche Bank.
  • Rybolovlev and Trump never met: they performed their entire multi-million dollar real estate transaction through intermediaries. The person who introduced Russian oligarch Rybolovlev and Trump was Wilbur Ross, one of the two Vice Chairmen of the Bank of Cyprus.
  • Trump nominated Wilbur Ross to be US Secretary of Commerce, and Ross was confirmed for that role in February, 2017.
  • Some intelligence officials believe that “one reason the Russians compiled information on Trump during his 2013 trip was that he was meeting with Russian oligarchs who may be stashing money abroad.”

Summary:

Wilbur Ross, the man whom Donald Trump has appointed to structure and oversee the moving around of large amounts of America’s money, is the largest investor in and has had a very recent (possibly still active) high-level controlling role in the Bank of Cyprus, a bank with deep ties to Russia, a bank which, according to Maddow, is known for laundering large amounts of money for wealthy Russians. The bank’s Chairman, appointed by Ross, previously headed Deutsche Bank during a time when Deutsche Bank began laundering $10 billion, including money from governments, for the benefit of wealthy individuals, notably wealthy Russians and friends of Vladimir Putin.

The President’s recently proposed budget made headlines for its staggering cuts to numerous government programs and agencies. Some programs were zeroed out, while others were cut by double-digit percentages. If even a fraction of that proposed budget is enacted by Congress, it will mean that enormous amounts of American taxpayer money will be in flux, and things are likely to get very hazy and disorienting for awhile.

As Mr. Trump does what he does best – saying and doing things that completely captivate the attention of the American media and American public – keep your eyes on your money … and keep your eyes on Wilbur Ross and the Department of Commerce.

– rob rünt


 

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