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White House

Buyers tied to Russia, former Soviet republics paid $109 million cash for Trump properties

Washington

Aleksandr Burman, a Ukrainian who engaged in a health care scheme that cost the federal government $26 million and was sentenced to a decade in prison, paid $725,000 cash for a condo at a Trump Tower I in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. in 2009.

Leonid Zeldovich, who has reportedly done extensive business in the Russian-annexed area of Crimea, bought four Trump units outright at a cost of more than $4.35 million, three of them in New York City between 2007 and 2010.

And Igor Romashov, who served as chairman of the board of Transoil, a Russian oil transport company subject to U.S. sanctions, paid $620,000 upfront for a unit at a building adorned with the future U.S. president's name in Sunny Isles Beach in 2010.

Buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City, according to a new analysis shared with McClatchy. Many of them made purchases using shell companies designed to obscure their identities.

“The size and scope of these cash purchases are deeply troubling as they can often signal money laundering activity," said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a former federal prosecutor. "There have long been credible allegations of money laundering by the Trump Organization which, if true, would pose a real threat to the United States in the event that Russia were able to leverage evidence of illicit financial transactions against the president."

There's nothing illegal about accepting cash for real estate. But transactions that do not involve mortgages — which account for one in four residential purchases in the country — raise red flags for law enforcement officials as it could be a way to commit fraud or launder money.

In 2016, the Treasury Department targeted Miami and New York — where cash purchases account for half of residential sales — for increased scrutiny, requiring title insurers to report the names behind the shell companies buying homes with cash. It was later expanded to include a handful of other localities, including Broward County, Fla., which includes Fort Lauderdale and its wealthy suburbs.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has spent more than a year investigating whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, a widening probe that appears to include questions about his family business, the Trump Organization. "This is all about money laundering," former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is quoted as saying about the Mueller inquiry in the book, Fire and Fury.

Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm behind a dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russians, told the House Intelligence Committee in November that his group uncovered "patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering" at Trump-branded properties around the globe. "Generally speaking, the patterns of activity that we thought might be suggestive of money laundering were ... fast-turnover deals, and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the identity of the buyer," he said.

 
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