Trump wanted to capitalise on his business partner’s criminal past
Donald Trump appeared unconcerned by the criminal history of Felix Sater, his former business partner. Sater was co-owner of the real estate development company Bayrock, used by Trump to build a New York hotel-condominium known as Trump SoHo. In December 2007, it emerged that Sater had failed to divulge his criminal activities to Trump. Sater was found guilty of assault, and of a 40-million-dollar stock manipulation scheme. He was also discovered to have connections with the mafia. Trump announced his intentions to get to the bottom of the matter. However, internal documents from the Bayrock corporation, now in the hands of the Dutch TV programme ZEMBLA, show that Trump’s tried to turn the situation to his own financial advantage.
This is what Sater writes to a Bayrock investor in an email dated 28 January 2008: “Donald who saw an opportunity to try and get development fees for himself.” The documents imply that Trump apparently made this remark during an important business meeting of the Trump SoHo partners on 23 January 2008, one month after Sater’s criminal past was exposed. Prior to the meeting, Sater appears to have been in touch with Trump. In an e-mail, Sater tells his colleagues: “Donald is happy with me”.
The silence surrounding Sater’s criminal affairs could mean serious trouble for Trump. As business partner, Trump is jointly liable for Bayrock’s criminal dealings, such as committing fraud by concealing Sater’s convictions. And yet, in 2008 and even later, Trump evidently has no intention of severing ties with his shady business partner. It was already known that, after leaving Bayrock, Sater was poised to accept the role of senior advisor at the Trump Organization in 2010. Later, Trump distances himself from Felix Sater. In 2013, in a deposition made under oath, Trump claims he can barely recall Sater: “If he was sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like”. The White House, the Trump Organization and Felix Sater decline to answer ZEMBLA’s questions.
Contact between Trump and Sater appears to reignite in January 2017. Various media report that Sater played a key role in a pro-Russian peace plan for the Ukraine that ended up in the White House. The links between Trump and Sater also come into question during the public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in March 2017. In the context of the investigation, FBI director James Comey is unable to respond to inquiries regarding Sater.
Compiled by: Sander Rietveld
Research: Annette Schätzle
Final editing: Manon Blaas