Since becoming president in January, Donald Trump has vehemently refuted suggestions he may, through his vast Trump business empire, have interests in or ties to Russia.
But while US lawmakers and intelligence officials have heavily scrutinised any Russian connection within Trump’s inner circle, little has been revealed about Russian investments in Trump businesses in the United States.
A Reuters investigation, however, has found that Russian elites have invested nearly €100 million in Trump properties in southern Florida before Trump became president.
According to Reuters, as many as 63 people with Russian passports or addresses bought property in seven Trump luxury towers.
The exact identities of who bought what and for how much, according to the Reuters investigation, is difficult to confirm.
It found that nearly one third of the 2044 units within the seven Trump residential towers – at least 703 – are owned by limited liability companies.
Also known as LLCs in the United States, limited liability companies have the ability to hide the identity of a property owner, and Reuters says, it was unable to verify the identity of many of the properties’ buyers.
But among those it was able to confirm, include Alexander Yuzvik, Andrey Truskov and Alexey Ustaev.
Yuzvik was a senior executive at Spetstroi, a state-run construction firm which was involved in the construction of the FSB’s training academy. The FSB is the Russian equivalent of the US’ CIA.
Truskov is a founder and co-owner of Absolute Group, a company involved in wholesale electronics, banking and property development.
Ustaev is the founder of St-Petersburg-based Viking Bank, one of the first Russian private investment banks after the fall of communism.
Reuters said it found no evidence of wrongdoing by either President Trump or his company, nor were any of the investors part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
Nevertheless the investigation says, they belong to higher echelons of Russian power, and members of the US intelligence community, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Russian officials sometimes channel funds at high-value targets in order to curry favour.
Six of the Trump properties are additionally located in the resort town of Sunny Isles Beach, which, according to US census data, has among the highest number of Russian-born residents in the US.
Nearly 1,200 Russians live in the area, Reuters said.
Representative Adam Schiff, a ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said to Reuters the amount of Russian investment in Trump businesses should be a concern for all Americans.
“While the president has denied having invested in Russia, he has said little or nothing about Russian investment in his businesses and properties in the United States or elsewhere,” Schiff said. “This should concern all Americans and is yet another reason why his refusal to release his tax returns should be met with considerable scepticism and concern.”
According to the investigation, six Trump-branded towers generated roughly €2 billion in initial sales from which Trump is said to have earned a commission.
Gil Deezer, the building manager, did not give a figure for how much Trump may have earned citing confidentiality agreements.
But a Miami developer estimated to Reuters Trump could have earned between one and four percent in initial sales commissions totaling between €20 million to €80 million.
And according to disclosure forms Trump filed during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump makes money on one of these six towers, earning as much as €1 million from a business called Trump Marks Sunny Isles LLC.
Trump makes no money on the seventh residential tower. An investment fund called BH3, Reuters said, took over the management of the seventh tower as part of a foreclosure sale.
BH3, however, paid Trump an estimated licensing fee of €25,000 each for 180 of the building’s 200 units, Reuters said.
Reuters estimates if those same fees were applied to the remaining 20, Trump could have earned nearly €5 million.
Reuters’ report was compiled using Florida property records and interviews in both the United States and Russia.