Indian-American journalist calls Trump’s India business partnerships questionable

Anjali Kamat, a Peabody-winning and Emmy-nominated journalist, left.

When Donald Trump Jr. visited India last month to sell Trump-branded apartments in projects on behalf of the Trump Organization, he created excitement among buyers. But, in fact, Trump’s business partnerships in India are creating “conflicts of interest” in the White house, according to an Indian-American journalist. Anjali Kamat, a Peabody-winning and Emmy-nominated journalist, has said many of the deals raise questions about whose money is in Trump’s real estate development projects in India – and why. She poses those questions in a March 21 cover story in the New Republic, “Political Corruption and the Art of the Deal.”

Before the president’s son made his India visit in February, there were advertisements in English-language newspapers in New Delhi announcing that anyone making a deposit on an apartment in the newest Trump Tower India project outside New Delhi, one would get to have dinner with Trump Jr. when he arrived in New Delhi.

“We don't know who's actually putting down this deposit, who actually has enough money to – you know, $40,000 might be a lot of money in India, but it's also not that much money if you want to buy access to the son of the U.S. president, and that is a major conflict of interest,” Kamat, a native of Chennai, told National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” in an interview with host Terry Gross. The radio interview took place following publication of the cover story.

Kamat did not respond to an interview request from India Abroad by press time.

In the New Republic story, Kamat traces some of Trump’s India partners, who have “history of facing lawsuits, police inquiries and government investigations containing evidence of potential bribery, fraud, intimidation, illegal land acquisition and tax evasion.” She combed through available financial documents relating to the deals and spoke to many people during her one-year investigation.

While noting that the Trump Organization has not made its licensing details public and the developers did not give the names to her either, she said going by Trump’s ethics filings when the ran for office, the projects in India have given him as much as an estimated $11 million between 2014 and 2017 and that has been coming in from his different licensing partners in India. Kamat told “Fresh Air” that the Trump Organization could be getting paid at various stages and will be getting paid at various stages over the next four or five years because these are all projects, except for one as all but one of them are still under construction. “So, they could be getting payouts over the next four or five years,” she said.

In the cover story, Kamat notes that on the day Trump was sworn in as president, he had at least 50 licensing and management deals scattered across the United States and around the world, according to The Washington Post. She said the Trump Organization uses this model in India, too, which allows it to claim that it has no ownership stake in the towers under construction there that will bear the president’s name.

Elaborating on the issue of alleged conflict of interest, Kamat said the Trump Organization's deals in India are all brand licensing deals and they say they are not actually building anything themselves but selling their name to Indian developers to put on their building.

“One of the things I found through this research is that members of the Trump Organization and the Trump family and Don Jr. in particular are very involved in these deals even though these are just licensing deals. But what they need in order to conclude these licensing deals is to find local partners and they hire a fixer or a middleman in India to help them do that,” Kamat said in the “Fresh Air” podcast.

“That person, according to a draft agreement I found, is entitled to about 12 percent of the licensing fees that the Trump Organization gets. They have a financial incentive to conclude a deal with different partners.

“But if they're also the individuals who are involved in doing the anti-corruption due diligence on the partners, that is where the conflict of interest comes in,” she said.

She said she spent a year trying to comb through financial documents, but there just isn’t enough information to find out how the money is going, where it's being routed through.

“This is a broader question about foreign investment into India and the flow of funds and how the financial structure is set up that a lot of financial experts who are studying India, who are studying money flowing in and out of India, have questions about. Where is the money flow? Why is it so difficult to track this?”

Kamat is the Belle Zeller Visiting Professor of Public Policy at Brooklyn College, in New York, a reporter for the Investigative Fund and is writing a book on labor migrants in the Middle East for Verso Books. As a journalist for more than a decade, she has reported on wars and uprisings in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, American foreign policy and domestic repression, criminal justice and inequality in the United States, and labor and migration in the global economy.

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