Trump’s Conflicts of Interest in the United Arab Emirates

An employee fixes a flag post on the green at the Trump International Golf Club Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 20, 2016 .

A $2 billion offer

President Donald Trump first attempted to pursue business opportunities in the United Arab Emirates in 2005, when the Trump Organization signed a branding deal with Emirati developer Nakheel LLC, an organization backed by Dubai’s royal family, to build a hotel. Due to a bribery and corruption probe into another Nakheel project unrelated to Trump—as a result of which two executives were charged with fraud but later cleared—and financial problems at Nakheel, the Trump project was delayed and eventually cancelled.

In 2013, DAMAC Properties, a large private real estate conglomerate in the Middle East, announced plans to develop the $6 billion Trump-branded International Golf Club Dubai in partnership with the Trump Organization. A second club, Trump World Golf Club Dubai, is currently being built by DAMAC Properties.

Hussain Sajwani is the billionaire head of DAMAC Properties and Trump’s business partner in Dubai. In 2011, an Egyptian court sentenced Sajwani in absentia to five years in jail for corruption-related charges involving a real estate deal. In response, Sajwani sued Egypt before an international arbitration court, and the suit was eventually settled, with Sajwani paying a $15 million fine. In October 2016, Sajwani attended the opening of Trump’s Washington hotel, and a few months later, he was a guest at Trump’s New Year’s Eve party at the then-president-elect’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where Trump praised Sajwani and his family during a speech.

Prior to the January inauguration, in an attempt to tout his commitment to avoiding conflicts of interest, Trump claimed to have turned down a $2 billion deal from Sajwani to develop more properties. Trump said, “I turned it down. I didn’t have to turn it down”—his reasoning being that as president, he would be exempt from federal conflict of interest laws. This was a breathtaking admission by the president-elect: that a foreigner immediately offered a $2 billion deal in the wake of his election, most likely as a way to win influence with the new administration. Moreover, in response to Trump’s electoral win, Sajwani said, “No question in the last 12 months, his brand became stronger and more global. I think it will have a positive impact on sales.”

Trump's Conflicts of Interest

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This interactive map of the world spells out President Donald Trump’s and his family’s conflicts of interest in 25 countries around the globe.

In February, for the launch of the first Trump Organization-tied business to open since Trump’s election, the president’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, attended the opening of the Trump International Golf Club Dubai, with U.S. taxpayers footing the considerable bill for Secret Service protection of the Trump sons during their business trip. Donald Jr. also recently returned to Dubai to meet with Sajwani, which Sajwani documented on his Instagram account. The caption on the Instagram post noted that the two had discussed, “new ideas and innovation” during their meeting. Such comments have raised concerns about the Trump Organization pursuing new deals in the country, although a company spokeswoman stated that the organization does not have any new deals pending specifically in Dubai.

In December 2015, following then-candidate Trump’s comments proposing a Muslim ban, his image and name were removed from a Dubai billboard advertising the golf club. Images of Ivanka Trump were also removed from outside the real estate development. After two days, however, DAMAC put Trump’s name, but not his picture, back up on the billboard. And when as president Trump signed an executive order suspending entry to the United States for citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—his suspension did not include citizens from Muslim-majority countries where the Trump Organization has conducted or pursued business, including the UAE.

Indeed, once UAE leaders realized that the country had been exempted from the travel ban, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan made comments in defense of Trump’s temporary immigration ban from the seven Muslim-majority countries. It was the first of such comments from a Gulf Arab state.

The U.S. headquarters for the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, which is owned by the Emirati government and has been registered in the United States as a foreign agent since 2012, is located on the 22nd floor of Trump Tower in New York City. As a Trump Tower tenant, the Tourism and Culture Authority is currently paying Trump’s business directly. As a result of this conflict, and other conflicts, of interest, a group of ethics experts and legal scholars have filed a lawsuit against Trump asserting that he is in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, a claim the president says is “totally without merit.”

Follow the paper trail

According to Trump’s July 2015 financial disclosure—which was not verified by regulators and therefore may not include all of his foreign deals or assets—Trump owned, had ownership interest in, or was a managing member of several companies related to his business in the UAE, including the following:

  • DT Dubai Golf Manager LLC, member, president, received “None (or less than $201)”
  • DT Dubai Golf Manager Member Corp., director, chairman, president
  • DT Dubai II Golf Manager LLC, member, president
  • DT Dubai II Golf Manager Member Corp., director, chairman, president
  • DT Marks Dubai LLC, member, president
  • DT Marks Dubai Member Corp., director, chairman, president
  • DT Marks Dubai II LLC, member, president
  • DT Marks Dubai II Member Corp., director, chairman, president
  • THC Dubai II Hotel Manager LLC, member, president
  • THC Dubai II Hotel Manager Member Corp., chairman, director, president
  • Trump Marks Dubai Corp., president, director, chairman
  • Trump Marks Dubai LLC, president, member

According to Trump’s May 2016 financial disclosure—which was not verified by regulators and therefore may not include all of his foreign deals or assets—Trump was paid as much as $10 million in royalties and owned, had ownership interest in, or was a managing member of several companies related to his business in the UAE, including the following:

  • DT Dubai Golf Manager LLC, member, president, received between $1 million and $5 million in royalties
  • DT Dubai Golf Manager Member Corp., director, chairman, president
  • DT Dubai II Golf Manager LLC, member, president, received between $1 million and $5 million in royalties
  • DT Dubai II Golf Manager Member Corp., director, chairman, president
  • DT Marks Dubai LLC, member, president, received “None (or less than $201)”
  • DT Marks Dubai Member Corp., director, chairman, president
  • DT Marks Dubai II LLC, member, president
  • DT Marks Dubai II Member Corp., director, chairman, president
  • THC Dubai II Hotel Manager LLC, member, president
  • THC Dubai II Hotel Manager Member Corp., chairman, director, president
  • Trump Marks Dubai Corp., president, director, chairman
  • Trump Marks Dubai LLC, president, member

According to both disclosure forms, Trump was paid as much as $10 million in royalties from the Dubai projects over the preceding years, and he and his children will presumably continue to receive money from this arrangement since the president has not divested himself from his business. According to former executives at the Trump Organization, Trump has said that he is personally invested in some of the Dubai projects.

The United Arab Emirates is a prime example of a country where U.S. taxpayers have every reason to suspect—because of his conflicts—that Donald Trump is willing to downplay concerns about human rights and corruption and to even shift his approach to terrorism because the Emirati government has been good for the Trump brand. Americans deserve a president who cares about U.S. interests more than he cares about the profits from his golf club and hotels in an oil-rich Gulf state.

Read the full series of columns here.

Carolyn Kenney is a policy analyst with the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress. John Norris is a senior fellow at the Center.