A Panama-based hotel bearing U.S. President Donald Trump's name has been linked to criminal organizations and rampant money laundering schemes. There is no evidence the Trump Organization was aware of the criminal activities, but some prosecutors have warned that the company could have been legally liable for not scrutinizing the property's practices.
In 2005, Trump agreed to license his name to the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, Panama. Since 2014, Trump had made $13.9 million from the licensing arrangement.
A journalistic investigation has found that the hotel's top sales representative, reportedly appointed by current White House special adviser Ivanka Trump, sold units to individuals linked to drug cartels, the Russian mafia and a terrorist organization. These individuals allegedly used the hotel to launder money.
On Nov. 17, NBC News and Reuters jointly reported they had interviewed Brazilian real estate sales executive Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who had sold nearly half of the Ocean Club's advance condominiums. In May 2009, Nogueira was charged with fraud by Panamanian authorities. He is currently an international fugitive.
Nogueira disclosed that Ivanka had hired him as the main sales representative for the Ocean Club condominium. The fugitive said that he was given no oversight when he sold the units.
"I had some customers with questionable backgrounds," Nogueira told NBC News. "Nobody ever asked me. Banks never asked. Developers didn't ask and [the] Trump Organization didn't ask. Nobody ask, 'Who are the customers, where did the money come from?' No, nobody ask."
Nogueira alleged that Ivanka was heavily involved in advising the property managers, describing the hotel as her "baby." Ivanka, who is the president's daughter and adviser, was featured in a promotional video for the hotel.
Former financial crimes prosecutor Mauricio Ceballos disclosed that Nogueira had sold condominiums to several clients with criminal ties. Nogueira sold up to 10 units to David Murcia Guzman, who is currently in U.S. custody for laundering money for South American drug cartels. Guzman has also been linked to FARC, a paramilitary organization the U.S. has designated a terrorist group.
Nogueira disclosed that roughly half the units he sold were to Russian nationals, several of them linked to criminal organizations. Among them was Arkady Vodovozov, who was charged in 1998 with kidnapping an Israeli citizen, and Stanislav Kavalenka, who had been accused by Canadian authorities of trafficking prostitutes. The majority of Nogueira's customers were kept anonymous through shell companies.
Ceballos said his investigation into the Ocean Club found that the hotel was used by numerous international criminals to launder their money.
"The majority of sales of this building were not to local residents, but rather to foreigners," Ceballos said. "They bought initially as an investment, knowing that once the building was constructed you could legalize your money."
There is reportedly no evidence Ivanka or the Trump Organization were aware of the illegal activities. Several legal experts have asserted the Trump Organization had exposed itself to risk of violating U.S. law by not practicing due diligence. Former assistant district attorney Arthur Middlemiss told Reuters the Trumps should have known that Panama was "perceived to be highly corrupt."
The Trump Organization released a statement in response to Nogueira's disclosures.
"The Trump Organization was not the owner, developer or seller of the Trump Ocean Club Panama project," the company said. "Because of its limited role, the company was not responsible for the financing of the project and had no involvement in the sale of units or the retention of any real estate brokers."
On Nov. 17, the international watchdog group Global Witness released its own independent report on the Ocean Club. The group asserted that Trump had profited from the financial crimes that were occurring in the Panama property, TPM reports.
"Trump may not have deliberately set out to facilitate criminal activity in his business dealings," Global Witness stated. "But, as this Global Witness investigation shows, licensing his brand to the luxurious Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama aligned Trump’s financial interests with those of crooks looking to launder ill-gotten gains."
The group added: "Trump seems to have done little to nothing to prevent this. What is clear is that proceeds from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking were laundered through the Trump Ocean Club and that Donald Trump was one of the beneficiaries."