Trump’s extensive deals in India raise conflict-of-interest concerns
A general view of the construction site of the luxury apartment block, “The Park” also dubbed as “Trump Tower,” in Mumbai. The development bears Donald Trump’s name under a license agreement.
NEW DELHI — Donald Trump’s company has partnered with Indian developers to create more business ventures than in any other foreign nation or territory, a Washington Post analysis of financial filings shows. In doing so, the Trump Organization has forged deals with leading moguls here, and with a billionaire politician.
One Trump-branded project is under investigation for land-
acquisition irregularities, among several projects in India now prompting conflict-of-interest concerns.
The president-elect — who has called India a “great country” — is involved in at least 16 partnerships or corporations here. Those business interests — and the financial relationship with a leading member of the governing party — will be a significant backdrop to Trump administration policy toward the world’s most populous democracy — and toward its warily hostile neighbor, Pakistan.
At an October campaign event with the Indian American community in New Jersey, Trump boasted of his “massive” and “very beautiful” development projects in the country and vowed that the relations between India and the United States would be “the best ever.”
The Trump Organization has struck lucrative licensing deals to lend its name to a luxury high-rise Trump Tower in Mumbai, a residential project in the smaller city of Pune, a large office-and-
retail complex in the high-tech hub of Gurgaon, outside the capital, and another residential project and tower in Kolkata. Two Trump businesses associated with the Kolkata project were organized in November 2015, after Trump had formally begun his campaign for president.
Donald Trump’s many potential conflicts of interest, explained Play Video2:50
Donald Trump has a lot of potential conflicts of interest as president – but there’s no law that specifically requires a commander in chief to remove themselves from all of their business interests. The Fix’s Peter W. Stevenson explains why presidents usually put their assets in a “blind trust” to avoid problems. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
At least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories across South America, Asia and the Middle East, the Post analysis showed, ranging from luxury real estate complexes to small holding companies and branding deals. Some of the properties had multiple entities created for a single deal, records showed.
A consortium of watchdog groups has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest and called for the president-elect to set up a proper blind trust for his vast empire, instead of turning over the day-to-day management to his three grown children, as he has suggested he will do.
“To sell the Trump name in a foreign country, that’s just an excellent way to have him receiving gifts from all over the world. They’ll say, ‘I’ll just pay you to get the name Trump on my building,’ as a way to curry favor,” said Richard Painter, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota who was the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.
Painter said that if “foreign government money got in there through the back door,” that would be a violation of the constitutional ban on foreign gifts to U.S. officials, a potentially impeachable offense.
“It’s a big problem,” Painter said.
Pictures that emerged of three Indian businessmen posing for the cameras with Trump during a visit to Trump Tower in New York last week raised additional concerns about the president-elect’s ability to separate his own business interests from his new role.
Two of the men in the photo are brother developers of a residential tower complex bearing Trump’s name. Atul and Sagar Chordia are under investigation after a civic activist, Ravindra Barhate, alleged that the land where the complex sits, in Pune, was acquired with fabricated documents.
Authorities are investigating whether the developers built the complex “without adhering to all the required formalities” and without the “required permissions,” according to Mukund Mahajan, a police inspector in Pune. Calls to the Chordias’ office were not returned. The third Indian visitor to meet with Trump, Kalpesh Mehta, told the Indian Express newspaper this month that the development value of Trump’s projects in India is $1.5 billion, making the country one of the organization’s largest markets.
A spokesman for the Trump Organization said that “no meeting of any sort took place” and that the parties “greeted one another when passing and briefly exchanged quick hellos and congratulations.”
Trump swept into India in 2014 on his private jet with a phalanx of security and his son, Donald Jr., in tow, causing a stir in both Mumbai and Pune. He was feted at events with politicians and stars from the Bollywood film industry, saying at one point, “I have tremendous confidence in India.”
Trump was there to promote the Trump Tower Mumbai, the 75-story building currently under construction by the Mumbai-based Lodha Group, with luxury apartments starting at $1 million and penthouses at $3 million.
The company was founded by Mangal Prabhat Lodha, a state legislator from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, who leveraged his political connections into millions over the past 30 years — a “meteoric rise,” as one analyst put it, that confounded many. Lodha currently ranks No. 56 on the Forbes list of India’s richest, with an estimated net worth of $1.55 billion.
Lodha, 60, a teetotaling vegetarian of the Jain faith, has two sons who run the company now, prompting comparisons to the Trump scions Donald Jr. and Eric. “Is this India’s Donald Trump — minus the flash?” the Indian Express wondered in 2014.
“He must be elated. You have a partnership with the president of the United States? That’s a huge thing,” said Praveen Chakravarty, a political economist with the IDFC Institute in Mumbai.
Buyers into the Trump Tower project have been promised such amenities as a 24-hour gym and spa and access to a private jet, according to promotional materials.
But wealthy residents enticed into buying at another one of Lodha’s recently built properties — the Bellissimo, which was not Trump-branded — thought they were getting similar amenities but wound up clashing with the developer over luxuries that failed to arrive, according to former residents.
A tennis court was too small to be useful, the pool brown with construction dust, and the guaranteed “breathtaking views” of the Arabian Sea disappeared after another high-rise went up next door. The hot-water heaters routinely burst, causing floods. An elevator on the 48th floor opened to a brick wall.
“There were many owners for whom the multimillion-dollar flats didn’t live up to their billing,” said Anil Kakani, 46, a tech investor who used to live in the building . A spokesman for the Lodha Group said it was investigating the complaints.
Experts say that the Trump name is likely to remain marketable for the Trump family in India and that this could result in millions in future licensing fees. Indeed, a spokesman for the Lodha Group said that “enthusiasm and trust of the Trump brand” was well reflected in the fact that the luxury apartments in its project in Mumbai were selling at 30 percent above the value of comparable residences nearby.
The fractious presidential campaign had caused residents in the United States to demand that Trump lettering be removed from the front of their buildings is not likely to have the same impact here, experts say.
“The Trump name is already associated with high-end, luxury buildings. Now it will be even more so,” said Anshuman Magazine, the South Asia chairman of the property consulting firm CBRE.
Prithviraj Chavan, a former chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, said that he met with Trump’s son Donald Jr. about five years ago and that the family was chiefly focused on licensing agreements.
“Very soon it was clear to me that Trump Junior wasn’t really interested in investing in India, or putting in hard cash. He was only giving his brand name,” Chavan said.