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Convicted felon, Russian mobster and FBI informant Felix Sater with Donald Trump.

Source: Grant Stern/ The Trump Organization

In Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes deduces much from a dog that did not bark in the night. Like many True Lies newsletter subscribers, I downloaded the Mueller Report but couldn’t commit to reading all 448 pages from start to finish. Instead, I searched keywords and phrases. Conspicuous by its absence was Deutsche Bank, my former employer and Trump’s top personal and corporate lender. Mueller’s investigation had to have explored the Deutsche Bank angle: That the report is totally silent means that this is an ongoing investigation. I also searched for money laundering and uncovered only four references, none of them meaningful. I found these absences the equivalent of that silent hound and, curiosity piqued, dug more deeply into the Deutsche Bank-Trump connection.

 

In summary, the intersection of Deutsche Bank’s greed and Putin’s desire to gain leverage over Trump may have resulted in Russia’s covertly guaranteeing Deutsche Bank’s recent loans to Trump. There is no commercial reason why Deutsche Bank would lend over three-hundred-million-dollars to someone who had sued DB for three billion dollars in 2008. Unless, that is, a third party state, state-owned enterprise or crony oligarch offered to pay up if Trump defaulted yet again.

 

With three investigations ongoing post-Mueller, as Yogi Berra used to say, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

Next week the wife and I head to the Western Hemisphere for a first-ever vacation-cum-research trip to South America sandwiched between a London stopover, a New York week and a son’s college graduation.

 

Thanks to those readers* who have left reviews on End of Lies. Other True Lies subscribers, please leave a review if you enjoyed the novel. It’s my favorite of the Countless Lies series.

 

Bradley West

Singapore, April 24, 2019

*All but one of you (!)

 

“FOLLOW THE MONEY”

 

Two decades ago, I resigned from Deutsche Bank. I had joined in 1995 when the Grosse Bank (“big bank”) made the jump from commercial to investment banking. Initially, Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (“DMG”) housed this new venture, though it was renamed simply Deutsche Bank by the time I’d retired. For bankers looking to boost their net worth, signing on with Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (a.k.a. “Deutschemarks guaranteed”) was a good decision. From the start, DMG never lived up to investors’ expectations so the expensive staff came under heavy pressure to deliver the big profits that justified their paychecks. And with no unifying corporate culture, everyone at DMG did their own thing and fought constantly.

Headquarters of Deutsche Bank AG by night, Frankfurt am Main, Hesse, Germany, Europe. Source: https://www.agefotostock.com/age/en/Stock-Images/Rights-Managed/IBR-1845475

In that environment, corners were cut and mistakes made. A quarter century later, Deutsche Bank is in merger negotiations with rival Commerzbank and its dream dead of becoming an investment banking powerhouse.

With that thumbnail sketch as a backdrop, it’s easier to understand why Deutsche Bank (“DB”) lent to Trump when other banks wouldn’t touch either his businesses or the man. In aggregate, DB lent a cumulative two and one-half billion dollars over twenty-five fractious years that saw each party sue the other, and Trump or his companies default twice to DB (and five times overall).

Below are the highlights in date order:

2003: DB co-managed a four hundred-seventy-million-dollar junk bond offering for Trump Casino Holdings with an interest rate of 11% (versus the 8%-9% yield on bonds issued by other casinos: a testament to the higher perceived risk of owning a Trump-related debt instrument).

“If you covered over the Trump name on the prospectus, you wouldn’t have any trouble getting this deal done”

Source: an anonymous investor quoted by the New York Times (2003 January 31)

Trump Casino Holdings defaulted in 2004 leaving DB’s clients with heavy losses. The debt capital markets division of Deutsche Bank boycotted Trump thereafter, but Deutsche Bank was highly compartmentalized.

2005: Deutsche Bank’s commercial real estate division lent Trump six hundred-forty-million-dollars to build a Chicago hotel and skyscraper. Trump had personally guaranteed the loan, but by November 2008 the global financial crisis (“GFC”) was in full swing. Deutsche demanded Trump make good on a past-due forty million-dollar payment, causing Trump’s company to default on the three hundred-thirty-million-dollar sum still outstanding.

Trump countersued the bank claiming force majeure (an act of God) had caused the GFC. Therefore, the events beyond his control meant he didn’t have to honor his debts or his personal guarantee. Going even further, Trump claimed that Deutsche Bank had helped cause the GFC, so the bank owed him. Trump’s lawsuit sought three billion dollars in compensation. Deutsche Bank and Trump settled their lawsuits in 2010 (terms undisclosed).

“I figured it was the banks’ problem, not mine. What the hell did I care? I actually told one bank, ‘I told you you shouldn’t have loaned me that money.’ ” Donald Trump.

Source: Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and in Life (Donald Trump and Bill Zanker, 2007)

2011: Deutsche Bank began lending to Trump again, this time via the private banking division. The connection to DB was through New York-based wealth manager Rosemary Vrablic. One of her clients was Jared Kushner, and he made the introduction which eventually led to Trump’s somehow becoming a Deutsche Bank private client in good standing.

Over the next four years, more than three hundred million dollars made their way to Trump, including the funds he used in 2011 to pay off the remainder of the ill-starred Chicago real estate loan:

  • 2012: The private bank lent Trump one-hundred-million-dollars to buy the Doral Resort in Florida.
  • 2015: The private bank lent Trump another one-hundred-seventy-million-dollars to convert the Old Post Office Building in downtown Washington D.C. into the Trump International Hotel that has so richly benefited from his presidency.

2016: Trump sought another loan while running for president according to the New York Times. The private bank’s leaders wanted to approve the loan. This in turn triggered a review by the Integrity Committee of Deutsche Bank’s board which concluded that Trump was a poor credit risk and given to false proclamations. Board members found that the Trump relationship exemplified the bank’s culture of getting deals done at any cost. The loan was declined, but by November the total exposure to president-elect Trump stood at three-hundred-million-dollars.

2017: At Trump’s inauguration in Washington, Rosemary Vrablic sat in the VIP section of the audience only a few rows from the front.

Note Rosemary Vrablic (circled upper right) in audience

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/business/trump-deutsche-bank.html

THIS AWFUL MOVIE’S NOT OVER YET

Deutsche Bank pled guilty in 2016 to laundering over ten billion dollars of Russia-sourced funds. DB paid fines totaling six hundred-ninety-three-million-dollars—$475 million in the US and £163 million ($218 million) in the UK—as the price of staying in business. Trump is an admirer of Russia and its leader, and perhaps Putin reciprocated in a benign . . . or perhaps not-so-friendly fashion via loans or guarantees.

 

“In terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Donald Trump Jr. (September, 2008).

Source: “Bridging U.S. and Emerging Markets Real Estate” Conference, New York City

 

Felix Sater, mobster and Trump partner

Source: The Nation.

Felix Sater is an interesting character in the Trump-Russia saga. The son of a Russia crime lord, he moved to the US as a child and grew up outside New York City. In 1998 Sater pled guilty to involvement in a forty-million-dollar penny stock pump-and-dump stock price manipulation scam organized by the Russia mafia. From 2003-2010 Sater fronted the Bayrock Group LLC (backed by Tevik Arif of Kazakhstan), the culmination of which was the successful financing and completion of the Trump SoHo in Manhattan. For several years, Bayrock’s offices were two floors down from Donald Sr’s in Trump Tower, and for a while Sater had his office on the “Trump Floor” (one that Michael Cohen occupied at one time). Despite that proximity and Sater’s testimony to the contrary, the president claimed he could barely remember who Sater was.

 

“I don’t know [Felix Sater] well at all.” Donald Trump, 2013 (sworn deposition).

 

That wasn’t the case with at least Michael Cohen, as Sater and he had a lively time trying to make the Trump Tower Moscow project viable.

 

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Felix Sater wrote in an email to Michael Cohen in November 2015. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”  

 

In 2002, Sater became an FBI informant on a money laundering and organized crime investigation. As of early 2019, he was still working with the Feds.

 

Retail laundering on an industrial scale

Perhaps Trump-related corporate entities helped launder overseas-sourced funds independently of Deutsche Bank and Putin. If so it would be easy to imagine given that it was only in November 2018 that the real owners behind purchases of real estate by anonymous corporations for more than three-hundred-thousand-dollars had to identify themselves in key laundering cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City.

 

A study by BuzzFeed News (Secret Money: How Trump Made millions Selling Condos to Unknown Buyers, January 2018) showed that shell companies bought more than 1300 Trump and Trump-branded condos for one and one-half billion dollars in cash, more than twenty percent of aggregate sales. At the Trump SoHo Hotel Condominium New York, seventy-seven percent of sales were to shell companies that paid cash (hinting that Felix Sater worked his network hard on this project).

 

“…the only people who were willing to buy [Trump’s condos] were tasteless Russians, people who like the absurd, ostentatious gold-leaf lifestyle he has.” Anonymous, 2018.

Source: https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/12/21/how-russian-money-helped-save-trumps-business/

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The rabid anti-Trump press was devastated by Mueller’s less-than-wholly-damning report. After two weeks of histrionics and editorializing, the NYT, Washington Post and CNN are looking for a place to hide while Trump and his supporters seek payback. Meanwhile the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York investigation rumbles on, and a democratic House gears up to pursue Trump with the House Committees on Intelligence (under Adam Schiff) and Financial Services (under Maxine Waters) each subpoenaing Deutsche Bank as part of their probes.

 

There was a truly terrible Sci-Fi movie released in 1997 called Event Horizon about what happens when a spacecraft flies into a black hole. We could see the same metaphorical outcome for Trump’s one-term presidency before November 2020 rolls around. Deutsche Bank will be compelled to turn over its lending records, and then the knives will be out in earnest.

Source: https://bloody-disgusting.com/news/3251082/poll-is-event-horizon-amazing-or-terrible/