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Explained: what has Donald Trump got to do with Latin American drug cartels?

How Donald Trump made millions from selling his name to a luxury development used to launder drug money

The Trump Ocean Club in Panama was Trump’s first international licensing deal and one of his most lucrative.

Yet, as we reveal in our new investigation Narco-a-Lago: Money laundering at the Trump Ocean Club, Panama a raft of dubious characters bought units or brokered deals at the Trump Ocean Club. The true buyers were often hidden behind secretly owned companies. 

Trump’s apparent willingness to turn a blind eye to the source of their funds and the activities they were connected with proved extremely lucrative.

Watch this explainer to see what happened – and see the investigation for the full story. 


Warning signs for money laundering

Trump started promoting the Trump Ocean Club in 2006, when Panama was a major money laundering hub. Although the extent of Trump’s knowledge regarding the Trump Ocean Club buyers is unknown and he wasn’t in charge of selling the units, it is highly likely that the Trump Organization had the right to receive sales reports and to demand information on buyers.

There are many details of the project that would have raised money laundering warning signs for any responsible business person with the information. This is how it worked:

1. Units were bought in bulk

According to sources directly involved in Trump Ocean Club deals, many units were purchased in bulk. 

2. Sales were made in cash

These payments are subject to hardly any scrutiny.

3. Secretly owned companies were used 

Buying high-end real estate through such companies is a well-known way for criminals to stash the cash they make through crime, and to launder it to spend without scrutiny. It’s a tried and trusted method used by organized crime, drug cartels and oligarchs alike.