Exclusive: Trump’s 2015 Deal In Moscow Is Tied Directly to His Ocean Club Hotel in Panama
Law firms in Cyprus and Panama — both with links to allegations of money laundering — connect Trump, his Moscow developer, and his Panama Hotel
By: Scott Stedman
Newly obtained documents and open source information have revealed that Trump’s Ocean Club Hotel in Panama and the 2015 Trump Tower Moscow Letter-Of-Intent with Russian developer IC Expert both trace back to the same Cypriot lawyer, Christodoulos Vassiliades.
The shared connection is through Trump’s Panamanian law firm Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee, or Alcogal for short. According to their investor relations brochure, Alcogal “advised the Trump Organization in connection with all matters associated with the acquisition of a casino and the operation of a hotel in Panama”. Alcogal can also be found as the registered agent for several anonymous LLCs that own condo units in Trump’s Ocean Club. On their website, Alcogal is described as an international law firm based in Panama with offices around the world. The firm’s co-founder, Jaime Aleman, is part of a well-connected family and once served as the ambassador to the United States under former President Ricardo Martinelli.
Aleman’s Cyprus office address has now been matched to the address for the law firm Christodoulos G. Vassiliades & Co. LLC, owned by its namesake Vassiliades. This is the same Cypriot lawyer who our reporting has revealed owns at least 60% of IC Expert, the Russian developer Donald Trump signed a letter-of-intent with in October 2015. Further, the financial trust for the Panamanian law firm is managed by Vassiliades through the Cyprus-based company Apex International. Vassiliades’ company Ionics Nominees serves as a director and secretary for the LLC, meaning Vassiliades has the power to oversee all of the firm’s assets. Official documents show that in 2014, Apex International received at least $4.2 million in dividends.
The connection between Vassiliades and Aleman doesn’t end there — it ties directly to the Trump Tower Moscow deal. As previously reported in our series about the 2015 LOI, IC Expert Chairman Andrey Rozov falsely certified that he owned 100% of IC Expert when he signed the agreement. Our reporting found that IC Expert is in fact owned by two companies in Cyprus and one in Marshall Islands. The Cyprus company with a 60% stake, Colinsen Trading Limited, is owned by Vassiliades through the same Ionic Nominees that manages Alcogal’s trust. New documents now show that the company with a 15% stake, Capilana Trading Limited, traces to the British Virgin Islands and is registered to Alcogal.
ALLEGATIONS OF MONEY LAUNDERING
This newfound connection between Trump, IC Expert, Vassiliades, and Alcogal adds to a multi-country web of various financial crimes including fraud and money laundering.
As detailed in our previous reporting, Christodoulos Vassiliades is a prominent lawyer who owns an international law firm based in Cyprus. After the 2013 crash that nearly wiped out Bank of Cyprus, Vassiliades was personally nominated by the Bank of Moscow to assume an 8.37% proxy share of the bank. The share represented, at least in part, the amount Vassiliades’ anonymous Russian clients had deposited in the bank. A source familiar with Cyprus’ banking system said that Vassiliades primarily functions as an “introducer” between wealthy Russians and Ukrainians and the Bank.
Panicos Demetriades, former Governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus, and author of A Diary of the Euro Crisis in Cyprus: Lessons for Bank Recovery and Resolution — a book that explains how politically connected law firms facilitated financial flows between Russia and Cyprus — confirmed that Vassiliades was one of the most influential law firms in the country.
Vassiliades has been connected to money laundering and embezzlement schemes involving oligarchs and businessmen from multiple countries — largely through his company Ionics Nominees. Vassiliades, who serves as the honorary consul to Belize and has in the past worked for the law firm owned by the President of Cyprus, is connected to these allegations of financial crimes by way of the anonymous LLCs he sets up for clients. The three most prominent allegations of money laundering and embezzlement come from Ukraine, Austria, and Romania. These three cases all allege that Ionics Nominees Limited helped wash money illegally obtained by businessmen and politicians.
Mokas, The Unit for Combating Money Laundering in Cyprus said they were aware of reports tying Vassiliades to these crimes. However, they stressed that Vassiliades “is not and never has been under investigation.” After providing additional details proving that Vassiliades owns Ionics Nominees Limited, Mokas said “This office does not intend to continue correspondence with you on this matter.”
Alcogal has been mired in money laundering investigations of their own. An investigation found that introducers contracting with BSI bank in Switzerland used Alcogal to move money out of the UK and into off-shores through a series of shell companies. Alcogal was fined in 2015 for failing to review and keep up to date customer due diligence information. Apart from this fine, Alcogal has been connected to numerous money laundering schemes. An ICIJ report in 2016 found that Alcogal set up at least five companies that were used by Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s former dictator. A Panama Papers report declared Alcogal, “an infamous Panamanian offshore provider that has…aided in the laundering of money for well-known criminals.”
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
Allegations of money laundering and other scandals associated with Trump’s Panama Ocean Club have been well-documented and reported on. However, the link between Trump’s law firm in Panama, the Ocean Club hotel, and the 2015 Moscow deal has never been made until now. The implications of the deal are better understood when evaluated within the context of Trump’s fledgling presidential bid.
Trump’s management company was fired by the Condo Board in Panama just one month into a campaign that Trump repeatedly claimed would be “self-funded”. Angry condo owners accused the Trump-installed team of mis-management, misuse of funds, and a refusal to share financial records.
At the time, the Ocean Club hotel was by far Trump’s most lucrative international licensing and management deal. Reports of Trump’s earnings have been estimated between $32 and $50 million since the deal was inked in 2006 and doors opened in 2011. In Trump’s 2015 financial disclosures, which have never been independently verified, Trump claimed earnings of at least $5.8M over the previous 18 months. One of his Panama companies claimed “$5M and above” in the document, meaning the true amount could really be anything.
While it is unclear how the firing affected Trump’s access to bank accounts and payments from the hotel at the time, what is clear is that Trump did not intend to walk away from the 40-year lease without a fight. An AP exclusive in November 2015 revealed that Trump had secretly filed a $75 million lawsuit against both condo owners and the developer.
We now know that at this same point in the campaign, work on the Trump Tower Moscow deal was already underway with a company owned by the same Cypriot lawyer who managed the trust and provided the Cyprus office address for Trump’s Panamanian law firm. As Michael Cohen has disclosed, the Trump Organization had already gotten to work picking out architects and designers, while Cohen himself was involved with financing discussions.
Earlier this year we learned that despite the July 2015 firing, the settlement of Trump’s lawsuit eventually allowed his company to retain management of the hotel. In Trump’s 2016 financial filings he declared earnings of $6.8 Million from the hotel. According to a press release from the Ocean Club sales agency, condo units that had remained unsold for years sold out completely during the 2015–2016 campaign season.
Given these revelations connecting Trump’s Moscow Deal to his existing business in Panama, it grows increasingly less credible that the deal would have fallen through for the reasons Michael Cohen publicly alleged — because he had “lost confidence [IC Expert] would be able to obtain the real estate, financing and government approvals necessary to bring the proposal to fruition.” Coupled with our exclusive reporting that shows that IC Expert received a loan of at least $184M from Sberbank three weeks after the LOI was signed, and that amnesty for negligent homicide was granted by the government to Chairman Andrey Rozov, Cohen’s statements appear misleading.
Congress must release the testimony from Michael Cohen. Given the breadth of knowledge gained from the Fusion GPS testimony, it is likely that Cohen’s testimony includes details that deserve to be seen by the public.