Many of President-elect Donald Trump's international partners have political ties
Those ties include projects in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia
Watch CNN Investigations’ look into Trump’s international business partners on CNN’s “OutFront with Erin Burnett” at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Donald Trump’s real estate empire spans the globe, with Trump hotel, golf and condominium projects in South America, Europe and Asia.
Most of Trump’s overseas real estate ventures are licensing agreements: Trump is paid by foreign developers to use the Trump name and his company works with the developers on the project.
But as the President-elect prepares to hand over his company to his sons, Trump’s international partnerships are now coming under increased scrutiny.
A CNN analysis of Trump’s overseas businesses shows many of his partners have political ties, and some have been followed by controversy and even allegations of criminal activity. The extent to which Trump will distance himself from these business relationships remains to be seen.
Although Trump listed about 150 companies that have had dealings in at least 25 countries in his recent financial disclosures, it’s these real estate deals that have generated much of his foreign income. To date, Trump has signed at least 14 licensing deals with developers in foreign countries, earning millions of dollars in the process.
In Turkey, Trump has licensed his name to two towers in Istanbul, which opened in 2012. The property is owned by the business and media conglomerate Dogan Holding, founded by Turkish billionaire Aydin Dogan.
Dogan’s company and its news outlets have repeatedly clashed with Turkey’s government, which the watchdog organization Freedom House has accused of “intense harassment” of journalists.
In 2009, Turkey’s government slapped Dogan Holding with a $2.5 billion fine for unpaid taxes, which was reduced to about $700 million following an appeal by the company.
Earlier this year, Aydin Dogan was personally indicted by a Turkish prosecutor for allegedly participating in a fuel-smuggling scheme.
In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the company called the charges absurd and characterized them as a political witch hunt in response to at times unfavorable news coverage by Dogan’s news outlets, which includes CNN Turkey.
Trump’s dealings in Turkey have already pushed him into the middle of the controversy between Dogan and the Turkish government in at least one instance.
After Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US in 2015, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, criticized Dogan Holding and called for the company to remove Trump’s name from the Istanbul towers.
United Arab Emirates
In the United Arab Emirates, Trump has partnered with billionaire Hussain Sajwani and his company DAMAC Properties on two golf courses still under development in Dubai.
Sajwani’s company purchased the land for the projects from the UAE government for $350 million in 2012, and the company has licensed other popular brands for projects throughout the Middle East.
But in 2011, an Egyptian court found Sajwani guilty in a case involving allegations of government corruption over a land deal. The Canadian government then froze Sajwani’s assets between 2011 and 2014, a spokesperson for Canada’s foreign relations department confirmed to CNN.
A spokesperson for Sajwani’s company said the conviction was a result of political instability following the Egyptian revolution when a new government administration targeted officials from the former regime.
Sajwani eventually reached a private settlement with the Egyptian State Lawsuits Authority and avoided jail time.
“The case was settled on terms including the cancellation of the conviction,” a spokesperson for Sajwani’s company told CNN, noting that Sajwani was not present for the trial in which he was found guilty.
The Egyptian State Lawsuits Authority did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment on Sajwani’s case. A lawyer who represented the Egyptian government in the settlement, Yas Banifatemi, said DAMAC Properties withdrew the case and paid the cost of the proceedings.
In Indonesia, the Trump Organization has two deals in development with the Jakarta-based MNC group, which is run by billionaire media-magnate Hary Tanoesoedibjo. The business partners are planning to build two resort projects —one in Bali and another in West Java.
Like Trump, Tanoesoedibjo has jumped into politics, forming his own political party. In an interview with the Financial Times, Tanoesoedibjo said that the politician he admires most is Vladimir Putin, an elected official Trump has praised as a “leader” and someone who is “highly respected within his own country and beyond.”
Trump has already begun to cut ties with some of his international business partners.
Alan Garten, an attorney for the Trump Organization, confirmed to CNN Thursday that Trump has recently terminated his licensing deal for a hotel in Azerbaijan, a country identified by the US government as having a history of human rights abuses and corruption.
Trump’s business partner on the project was billionaire Anar Mammadov, whose father is the country’s transportation minister.
Garten also confirmed additional licensing deals for a Trump-branded hotel as well as five office buildings in Rio de Janeiro have been terminated.
“These deals are terminated under the applicable agreements” in which they were originally licensed under, Garten told CNN.
Garten referred to the recent scrubbing of these three projects from the Trump portfolio as “house cleaning.”
James Jeffrey, a former ambassador and current fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, views Trump’s foreign business deals as a potential liability, especially if Trump does not take steps to draw clear lines between his business and political office before inauguration.
“If you do not divest yourself of all foreign holdings and for that matter domestic holdings, put them in a true blind trust, you open yourself up obviously to these kinds of questions,” Jeffrey, who served as deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration, told CNN.
Jeffrey said Trump’s international business experience could help him to navigate some foreign policy issues, but he added that some foreign governments could try to use his business interests as leverage over his decision-making.
“A president can do what he or she wants to do, can have the assets, can have the relationships, and it’s up to the American people, the media, and the Congress in the end to pass judgment,” Jeffrey said.