Blog | Dec. 5, 2017

Trump’s Panama Project: how the story broke, and what happens next?

On Friday November 17, 2017, millions of Americans tuned in to MSNBC to watch Richard Engel, sitting in for Rachel Maddow, share the results of our joint investigation into money laundering at the Trump Ocean Club in Panama. 

Earlier in the day, we released our investigation Narco-A-Lago: Money Laundering at the Trump Ocean Club, Panama revealing that Donald Trump had made millions from licensing his name to the property, which was used to launder drug money.

We worked with NBC and Reuters to show the world what really went on at the Trump Ocean Club – all going live with our reporting at the same time. Millions of Americans woke up to the news of Trump’s questionable licensing deal in Panama with an early-morning teaser clip of Richard Engel’s segment, which aired on NBC’s award-winning Today show

Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump was front and center, as the Panama licensing deal was seen as her “baby”. During the pre-construction period, she met with the Brazilian-born alleged fraudster and fugitive Alexandre Ventura Nogueira many times, according to Reuters. Ventura Nogueira was one of the key brokers at the Trump Ocean Club and chalked up nearly a third of the critical pre-construction unit sales.

Still, in a letter from the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer Alan Garten to Reuters, Garten claims that the organization and Trump family do not have “any recollection of ever meeting or speaking with this individual.” Photos of Ventura with Ivanka, and later Ventura with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, suggest a different story.   

Ventura Noguiera wasn’t the only shady character involved in brokering, investing or buying units at the Trump Ocean Club. Others include Colombian fraudster David Murcia Guzmán, who recently completed a nine-year sentence in the US for laundering millions of dollars' worth of illicit funds – including narcotics proceeds – as well as Louis Pargiolas, who in 2009 pled guilty in a federal court in Miami to conspiracy to import cocaine, according to NBC

Our investigation highlights several red flags suggesting money laundering in the project, which should have raised the alarm for a responsible businessperson looking to avoid being associated with dirty money. But, even while profiting from every unit sold, Trump and his children, Ivanka and Eric, appear to have turned a blind eye to the origin of those funds.

So what were the key warning signs of money laundering at the Trump Ocean Club? Our investigation shows that units were bought in bulk, sometimes in cash and anonymously through bearer shares and secretly-owned companies.

A closer look behind the scenes

According to Monte Friesner, a former, convicted money launderer who Richard Engel interviewed for NBC, Ventura Noguiera was targeting “Russians with dirty money,” including Russian mafia. Friesner goes on to rate the Trump Ocean Club a “Triple A” for money laundering. 

Ventura Noguiera himself admits to Engel that some of the buyers had links to Russian mafia – although he emphasizes he only learned that after the fact and that no purchases were made in cash.  

Friesner says otherwise. “Half a dozen lawyers would come pick up a million dollars in a satchel [at the Trump Ocean Club],” he asserts to Engel and stresses that Ventura marketed it as a place for the corrupt to park their dirty money. 

To Friesner, the Trump Ocean Club was “cocaine concrete”, built off the backing of drug money. 

If you missed this explosive edition of MSNBC’s On Assignment with Richard Engel, you can watch the full broadcast below.

What happens next?

Global Witness is calling upon appropriate law enforcement authorities, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and congressional committees (see here and here) to investigate the allegations raised in this report and, if appropriate, hold President Trump accountable for his actions.

As interest on the Hill mounts, Congressman Jim McGovern has released a statement urging further investigations from Congress, the Administration and Special Counsel Mueller given the serious allegations raised by this investigation. 

Please join our call to action by dialling +1-202-224-3121 to reach your members of Congress, telling them to investigate Trump's dubious business dealings in Panama.

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