On Thanksgiving Day, a Philippine developer named Jose E.B. Antonio hosted a company anniversary bash at one of Manila’s poshest hotels. He had much to be thankful for.
In October, he had quietly been named a special envoy to the United States by the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte. Antonio was nearly finished building a $150 million tower in Manila’s financial district — a 57-story symbol of affluence and capitalism, which bluntly promotes itself with the slogan “Live Above the Rest.” And now his partner on the project, Donald Trump, had just been elected president of the United States.
After the election, Antonio flew to New York for a private meeting at Trump Tower with the president-elect’s children, who have been involved in the Manila project from the beginning, as have Antonio’s children. The Trumps and Antonios have other ventures in the works, including Trump-branded resorts in the Philippines, Antonio’s son Robbie Antonio said.
“We will continue to give you products that you can enjoy and be proud of,” the elder Antonio, one of the richest men in the Philippines, told the 500 friends, employees and customers gathered for his star-studded celebration in Manila.
Antonio’s combination of jobs — he is a business partner with Trump, while also representing the Philippines in its relationship with the United States and the president-elect — is hardly inconsequential, given some of the weighty issues on the diplomatic table.
Among them, Duterte has urged “a separation” from the United States and has called for U.S. troops to exit the country in two years. His anti-drug crusade has resulted in the summary killings of thousands of suspected criminals without trial, prompting criticism from the Obama administration.
Situations like these are leading some former government officials from both parties to ask whether U.S. reaction to events around the world could potentially be shaded, if only slightly, by the Trump family’s financial ties with foreign players. They worry, too, that in some countries those connections could compromise U.S. efforts to criticize the corrupt intermingling of state power with vast business enterprises controlled by the political elite.
“It is uncharted territory, really in the history of the republic, as we have never had a president with such an empire both in the United States and overseas,” said Michael J. Green, who served on the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration and before that at the Defense Department.
Businesses in 20 countries
The globe is dotted with such potential conflicts. Trump’s companies have business operations in at least 20 countries, with a particular focus on the developing world, including outposts in nations like India, Indonesia and Uruguay, according to a New York Times analysis of his presidential campaign financial disclosures. What’s more, the true extent of Trump’s global financial entanglements is unclear, since he has refused to release his tax returns and has not made public a list of his lenders.
In an interview with The Times on Tuesday, Trump boasted again about the global reach of his business — and his family’s ability to keep it running after he takes office.
“I’ve built a very great company and it’s a big company and it’s all over the world,” Trump said, adding later: “I don’t care about my company. It doesn’t matter. My kids run it.”
In a written statement, his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, said Trump and his family were committed to addressing any issues related to his financial holdings.
“Vetting of various structures and immediate transfer of the business remains a top priority for both President-elect Trump, his adult children and his executives,” she said.
Review finds complications
But a review by The Times of these business dealings identified the kinds of complications that could create a running source of controversy for Trump, as well as tensions between his priorities as president and the needs and objectives of his companies.
In Brazil, for example, the beachfront Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro — one of Trump’s many branding deals, in which he does not have an equity stake — is part of a broad investigation by a federal prosecutor who is examining whether illicit commissions and bribes resulted in apparent favoritism by two pension funds that invested in the project.
Several of Trump’s real estate ventures in India — where he has more projects underway than in any location outside North America — are being built through companies with family ties to India’s most important political party. This makes it more likely that Indian government officials will do special favors benefiting Trump’s projects, including pressuring state-owned banks to extend favorable loans.
In Ireland and Scotland, executives from Trump’s golf courses have been waging two separate battles with local officials. The most recent centers on the Trump Organization’s plans to build a flood-prevention sea wall at the course on the Irish coast. Some environmentalists say the wall could destroy an endangered snail’s habitat — a dispute that will soon involve the president of the United States.
Turkey changed its tune
And in Turkey, officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a religiously conservative Muslim, demanded that Trump’s name be removed from Trump Towers in Istanbul after he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
More recently, after Trump came to the defense of Erdogan — suggesting that he had the right to crack down harshly on dissidents after a failed coup — the calls for action against Trump Towers have stopped, fueling worries that Trump’s policies toward Turkey might be shaped by his commercial interests.
Trump has acknowledged a conflict of interest in Turkey. “I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul,” he said during a radio interview last year with Stephen K. Bannon, the Breitbart News executive who has since been designated his chief White House strategist. “It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one. Not the usual one. It’s two.”
Raising eyebrows in Congress
These tangled ties already have some members of Congress — including at least one Republican representative — calling on Trump to provide more information on his international operations, or perhaps for a congressional inquiry into them.
“You rightly criticized Hillary for Clinton Foundation,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said in a Twitter message Monday. “If you have contracts w/foreign govts, it’s certainly a big deal, too. #DrainTheSwamp”
David J. Kramer, who served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor during the Bush administration, said Trump’s financial entanglements could undermine decades of efforts by Democratic and Republican presidents to promote government transparency — and to use the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to stop contractors from paying bribes to secure government work abroad.
“This will make it a little harder to be able to go out and proselytize around these things,” Kramer said.
'Ingratiate themselves with Trump'
Even if Trump and his family seek no special advantages from foreign governments, officials overseas may feel compelled to help the Trump family by, say, accelerating building permits or pushing more business to one of the new president’s hotels or golf courses, according to several former State Department officials.
“The working assumption on behalf of all these foreign government officials will be that there is an advantage to doing business with the Trump organization,” said Michael H. Fuchs, who was until recently deputy assistant secretary at the bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs. “They will think it will ingratiate themselves with the Trump administration. And this will significantly complicate United States foreign policy and our relationships around the world.”
Fear and terrorism
At the same time, Fuchs said, U.S. diplomats in countries where Trump’s companies operate, fearful of a rebuke from Washington, may be reluctant to take steps that could frustrate business partners or political allies.
Another question is, who will be responsible for security at the Trump Towers around the world, especially in the Middle East, which terrorism experts say may now become more appealing targets as symbols of U.S. capitalism built in the name of the president?
Ivanka meets world leaders
What is clear is that there has been very little division, in the weeks since the election, between Trump’s business interests and his transition effort, with the president-elect or his family greeting real estate partners from India and the Philippines in his office and Trump raising concerns about his golf course in Scotland with a prominent British politician.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is in charge of planning and development of the Trump Organization’s global network of hotels, has joined in conversations with at least three world leaders — of Turkey, Argentina and Japan — having access that could help her expand the brand worldwide.
The emoluments clause
Trump, in the interview with The Times on Tuesday, acknowledged that his move to the Oval Office could help enrich his family. He cited his new hotel a few blocks from the White House, which the Trump Organization has urged diplomats to consider patronizing when in town to meet the president or his team.
Federal law does not prevent Trump from taking actions that could benefit him and his family financially; the president is exempt from most conflict-of-interest laws. But the Constitution, through what is called the emoluments clause, appears to prohibit him from taking payments or gifts from a foreign government entity, a standard that some legal experts say he may violate by renting space in Trump Tower in New York to the Bank of China or if he hosts foreign diplomats in one of his hotels.
“I mean it could be that occupancy at that hotel will be because, psychologically, occupancy at that hotel will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before, OK? The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before. I can’t help that, but I don’t care,” Trump said, adding, “The only thing that matters to me is running our country.”
'See what he does as president'
Robert D. Blackwill, a former National Security Council member who also served as ambassador to India during the Bush administration, said Trump still had a chance to demonstrate that he could manage these challenges once he was sworn in.
“Let’s listen and not prejudge,” said Blackwill, a Republican who was so critical of Trump that he endorsed Hillary Clinton. “I want to see what he does as president.”
Brazil: Nation Under Pressure and Ventures Under Scrutiny
Donald Trump Jr., the president-elect’s oldest son, gushed with triumphalism when he announced a deal in 2014 to attach the family name to the Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro, a lavish 171-room beachfront project featuring cavernous suites with private plunge pools and a 4,000-square-foot nightclub.
“This is an exciting time to develop our first project in South America and the perfect location to do so,” the younger Trump (his brother Eric is also involved in the family business) said at the time.
But just two years later, the venture is embroiled in a criminal investigation in Brazil, pointing to unfulfilled promises that are casting a pall over both the Trump business empire and the president-elect in their dealings in Latin America’s largest country.
Anselmo Henrique Cordeiro Lopes, a crusading federal prosecutor in the capital, Brasília, opened an investigation in the weeks before the U.S. election into $40 million in investments made by two relatively small Brazilian pension funds in the Trump Hotel Rio.
The Trump hotel inquiry is looking at why the funds — Serpro, which invests on behalf of retirees of a state-controlled information technology firm, and Igeprev, which manages the pensions of public employees of the sparsely populated Tocantins state — put so much of their capital into the venture, which is owned by Trump’s Brazilian partner, LSH Barra.
In 2014, the hotel might have seemed like a good deal. Brazil was about to host the World Cup soccer tournament that year, while Rio was preparing to be the venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics. At the same time, Rio, the nerve center of Brazil’s energy industry, had been bolstered by large offshore oil discoveries.
But Brazil’s economy began to weaken in 2014, undermined by falling commodities prices, colossal graft scandals and political instability that culminated in the ouster this year of President Dilma Rousseff, who was replaced by her vice president, Michel Temer. The result: Brazil is still grappling with its most severe economic crisis in decades.
The hotel officially opened for the Olympics, but months later remains unfinished. The top floors of the property, whose design evokes a futuristic pyramid, are closed. Parts of the hotel still resemble a construction site, including the second floor, where pleasure-seekers were supposed to mingle in a nightclub overlooking the Atlantic.
The examination of the project by Lopes, the federal prosecutor, has found a series of “highly suspicious” potential irregularities warranting a criminal investigation, according to court documents. “It is necessary to verify if the favoritism shown by the pension funds to LSH and the Trump Organization was due to the payment of illicit commissions and bribes,” Lopes said in documents filed in October.
In his filings, Lopes said the size of the hotel investments relative to the overall holdings of the small pension funds reflected a highly unusual level of risk, especially for an unfinished venture that failed to capitalize fully on the demand for accommodations during the Olympics.
Going further, Lopes positioned the inquiry within a broader investigation of public pension funds, pillars of the Brazilian economy that often work in tandem with large state-controlled banks and energy companies.
Lunch in Florida leads to deal
Trump first took interest in a Rio hotel venture in 2012, when Ivanka Trump was having lunch in Florida with Paulo Figueiredo Filho, a businessman who is a grandson of João Figueiredo, the last autocrat of Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship, which ended in 1985. The younger Figueiredo spearheaded the hotel venture until recently.
In a statement, Trump’s Brazilian partner, LSH, said it was innocent of any wrongdoing in connection with the investments by the pension funds, and was cooperating with the criminal inquiry.
Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s general counsel, said in a statement Friday that the investigation was not targeting Trump or his company — given that it does not own the hotel — and “has no knowledge whatsoever regarding any governmental inquiry.”
An awkward 'nightmare'
The investigation of the Trump projects is unfolding at an awkward time for the Brazilian authorities. Foreign Minister José Serra, Brazil’s top diplomat, publicly declared in July that a Trump presidency would be a “nightmare.” Although Temer has formally congratulated Trump on his victory in a letter, he is still among world leaders who have not yet spoken by telephone with the president-elect.
Even if Brazil’s executive branch actively tries to seek warmer relations with Trump, officials will face obstacles if they try to quell the investigation. Brazil differs from some other countries in Latin America where presidents can easily exert pressure on prosecutors and judges, with the judiciary steadily growing more independent.
“Brazilian diplomats could try to avoid the problem of referring to the investigation when dealing with the Trump administration, but that’s about all they can do,” said Maurício Santoro, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “This is something that could hang over relations between the two countries for years.”
India: Potential Pitfalls in Dual Roles
On the other side of the world, Donald Trump Jr. had other projects he was pushing.
In 2012, he flew into Mumbai for a brief meeting with the state’s chief minister at that time, hoping to salvage a residential tower representing the Trump Organization’s first planned project there. He was hoping the chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, would intervene on his behalf to get the permission needed.
The participants recall the meeting differently: Trump’s partner, Harresh Mehta of Rohan Lifescapes, said development regulations had changed, leaving the project in limbo, and they hoped Chavan could formalize a policy so the project could continue. Chavan said that in a 30-minute meeting, Trump and his partner were “requesting a concession that could not be given.”
Deal or no deal
By the end of the meeting, it was fairly clear that the younger Trump’s presence had not worked any magic. The project was shelved soon after.
“He thought the name was so big, we would bend backwards to satisfy him, but that was not the case,” Chavan said.
Kalpesh Mehta, managing partner of Tribeca Developers of Mumbai, the Trump Organization’s development partner in India, confirmed that Donald Trump Jr. had met with the chief minister, but disputed the claim by Chavan that he had sought a special favor.
“The notion that a request was made by Donald Jr. to waive any regulations is absolutely false,” Mehta said in the statement, which was issued Friday. “The Trump Organization does not get involved in the regulatory aspects and/or interacting with government officials related to its projects in India.”
This example, analysts here say, points to a potentially serious ethical hazard for a U.S. president who is also a real estate mogul in India, with five projects underway. Trump was operating much like other developers in India, who cozy up to politicians — officially or unofficially — to push projects through the bureaucracy.
Often, they must obtain as many as 60 permissions and building permits from government officials, including bureaucrats “whose main goal in life is to attract rent,” said Saurabh Mukherjea, chief executive of institutional equities at Ambit Capital, a leading investment bank in India.
One of Trump’s projects, Trump Towers Pune, is under investigation by local authorities after another builder alleged that one of its permits was fraudulent. Panchshil Realty has disputed that accusation, saying the permit in question was not required for the construction. The very nature of the country’s real estate business, however, underscores larger concerns about potential damage to U.S. efforts to discourage corruption in business abroad.
In India, real estate is the main vehicle politicians and businessmen have used to invest so-called black money, on which taxes have not been paid. In cities, where land is scarce and extraordinarily valuable, special favors from top political leaders can lead to windfall profits, and negotiations between developers and officials are informal affairs.
It is so routine for developers to pay bribes at every step of the approval process that many bureaucrats have informal rate sheets showing exactly how much must be paid to each official.
Politicians not only pressure the bureaucracy to approve their pet projects, sometimes even when they are against local regulations, they also squeeze government banks to give out favorable loans.
Top officials might “think in some way the U.S. president will help them,” and “can put in a friendly word with the banks” to extend loans for around 8 percent interest, rather than the characteristic 15 percent, said Vikas S. Kasliwal, chief executive officer and vice chairman of Shree Ram Urban Infrastructure.
“If the son goes himself, if the son is willing to go and meet the prime minister of India, or the urban development minister, that is a very big thing,” he said. “They will think the president is meeting them.”
Tangled web of partnerships
Another pitfall is that Donald Trump’s partners in major projects are, in some cases, politicians themselves.
Most major Indian developers have some sort of alignment, direct or indirect, with regional political leaders, who can assist in acquiring the necessary permits.
Trump’s first projects in India, which are expected to increase in number over the next year, follow this pattern:
His partner for Trump Towers Pune is Panchshil Realty, owned by a family that has a close and long-standing family relationship with one of the state’s most powerful politicians, Sharad Pawar, head of the small but influential Nationalist Congress Party. (Trump was photographed — in an image distributed on Twitter but since taken down — with executives from Panchshil Realty on Nov. 15.) Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, a member of Parliament, holds a 2 percent share in Panchshil’s parent company, she said in an interview.
Trump’s partner in the Trump Tower Mumbai is the Lodha Group, founded by Mangal Prabhat Lodha, vice president of the Bharatiya Janata Party — the governing party in Parliament — in Maharashtra state. The Lodha Group has already negotiated with the U.S. government; it announced a landmark purchase of a property, known as the Washington House, on tony Altamount Road, from the U.S. government for 3.75 billion rupees, almost $70 million.
His partner in an office complex in Gurgaon, near New Delhi, is IREO, whose managing director, Lalit Goyal, is the brother-in-law of a Bharatiya Janata member of Parliament, Sudhanshu Mittal. In an interview, Mittal has denied having any connection with the real estate company
'The globalization of lobbying'
Suraj Hegde, secretary of the All India Congress Committee, a national body of Indian National Congress party members, said he was troubled by the dual roles Trump and his family would play in Indian affairs — particularly given real estate’s important role in India’s fast-growing economy, and the clout the United States has on the world stage.
“Basically, this is the globalization of lobbying across countries, which then tries to establish monopoly over real estate,” Hegde said. He added that he was calling for an independent parliamentary investigation of such maneuvers, including Trump’s real estate ventures in India.
“Establishing monopoly at the cost of small players by business connections to Mr. Trump is very worrisome,” he said. “This is not at all healthy for a democracy.”
Turkey: Mixing Business, Politics and Islam
Trump’s business interests in Turkey are emblematic of two weighty contradictions for a businessman turned politician.
As a candidate, Trump railed against moving U.S. jobs overseas and promised to do something about it. As a businessman, he invested in a partnership with a furniture company in Turkey, making luxury furniture in the firm’s factory in western Anatolia and selling it in the United States and worldwide — a partnership that apparently remains active.
Trump the candidate inveighed against Muslims and threatened at least a temporary ban on their entering the United States. Trump the businessman has in recent years had some of his biggest expansions overseas, including in Muslim countries like Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and even Azerbaijan.
The Trump contradiction
One of the most visible Muslim-world symbols of that contradiction is in the bustling commercial district of Sisli, on the European side of Istanbul, where a pair of cantilevered modernist towers, nearly 40 stories high, bear Trump’s name.
Turkey’s leader, Erdogan, visited Trump Towers Istanbul — one holds luxury apartments and one office space, with a shopping mall connecting the two — after their completion in 2012, with Trump and Ivanka Trump appearing as part of the celebration the next day.
“We look forward to this being the first of many world-class developments undertaken together in Istanbul and throughout Turkey,” Trump said in a statement issued during the visit.
Separating from the brand
Beyond real estate, there is the Trump Organization’s 2013 partnership with Dorya International, a luxury furniture maker with a factory in Manisa province, near the city of Izmir, to build pieces sold under the Trump Home Collection.
But the presidential campaign demonstrated how the goals of his business and politics ventures can come into direct conflict, particularly once Trump in December proposed barring Muslims from entering the United States, implying that all Muslims might pose a terrorist threat.
“We regret and condemn Trump’s discriminatory remarks,” Bulent Kural, the manager of the Trump Towers Mall, wrote in an email to a reporter at the time, as he announced that the mall was considering removing Trump’s name. “Such statements bear no value and are products of a mind that does not understand Islam, a peace religion, at all. Our reaction has been directly expressed to the Trump family. We are reviewing the legal dimension of our relation with the Trump brand.”
Erdogan weighed in on the issue, too, saying, “The ones who put that brand on their building should immediately remove it.”
Back in good graces?
Trump’s next move helped re-establish his standing. After a failed coup in Turkey in July, he defended Erdogan’s crackdown on dissidents, saying in an interview with The Times that the United States has to “fix our own mess” before trying to alter the behavior of other nations.
“I don’t think we have a right to lecture,” Trump said in the interview. “Look at what is happening in our country,” he added, referring to violence in the United States. “How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?”
In between his two remarks — one infuriating the president of Turkey, the other comforting him — the calls for the renaming of the Trump Towers Mall ended. But much more is at stake in relations between the United States and Turkey than a shopping mall and two skyscrapers.
'A close friend'
Turkey is a key player in U.S. efforts to combat the Islamic State in the Middle East, and sits next door to Syria as the United States has armed rebel groups in an attempt to remove Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, from power.
The recent postelection telephone call between Trump and Erdogan suggests that business and political roles will continue to be mixed.
According to a Turkish journalist, Amberin Zaman, writing in the independent online news outlet Diken, Trump told the Turkish leader that he and his daughter — who participated in the call — admired both Erdogan and Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, Trump’s business associate in the towers, whom he called “a close friend.”
Zaman, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said no government officials had disputed her account of the conversation. “I’m of the opinion they were quite happy for this to be published,” she said. A spokeswoman for Trump declined to comment about the call.
'It makes me wonder'
Jennifer Harris, who served on the staff of the National Intelligence Council and on the State Department’s policy planning staff, said the twin hats that Trump and his family would be wearing in Turkey would almost certainly complicate the jobs of U.S. diplomats there.
“It makes me wonder if the Trump administration will use the power of the state to help political or business allies and hurt political adversaries and business rivals,” she said.
The Philippines: What Stance Toward Duterte?
Duterte’s anti-drug campaign has led to the summary deaths of thousands of suspected criminals at the hands of police and vigilantes since he took office June 30. The killing has been condemned by human rights activists — and the Obama administration.
In August, Elizabeth Trudeau, a State Department spokeswoman, said the United States was “very deeply concerned” about reports of “extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities of individuals who are suspected to have been in drug activity in the Philippines.” She added, “We have also made our concerns known.”
The question now, former State Department officials say, is just what kind of a stand the Trump administration will take as Trump and his family balance their personal and financial ties with foreign policy demands.
Antonio first met Trump casually in the 1990s and has been his business partner in the Philippines for five years. Duterte named him special envoy to the United States as the Philippines angrily pushed back at President Barack Obama for criticizing his deadly campaign. At the time of the appointment, Clinton was leading in the polls in the U.S. presidential election.
Duterte has made clear that he does not appreciate U.S. meddling in his country’s domestic affairs.
“I am a president of a sovereign state, and we have long ceased to be a colony,” Duterte told reporters in early September, before a scheduled meeting in Laos with Obama that never took place. “I do not have any master except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody.”
A business trip, not a diplomatic one
Duterte hand-picked Antonio as his intermediary with the United States, said his press secretary, Ernesto Abella, because of his business success, his previous experience as a special envoy to China and the Philippine president’s “deep intuition about people.” The appointment will be advantageous for the Philippines, Abella added, because Trump knows Antonio.
Even before Trump has been sworn in, Antonio flew to New York and visited Trump Tower, where he met with Trump’s children, who are executives at the Trump Organization — which oversees the president-elect’s real estate ventures. This was a business trip, not a diplomatic one, said Robbie Antonio, Antonio’s son and the managing director of the family business.
Luxury in store
The two families are considering new ventures as they finish work on the Trump Tower in Makati City, a financial center within metropolitan Manila that is one of the country’s wealthiest enclaves and home to many of the nation’s elite.
The $150 million tower — one of the tallest in the Philippines — is on the gritty side of Makati about two blocks from Manila’s most notorious red-light district, where it is common to see prostitutes soliciting business and people sleeping on sidewalks. Completion, originally scheduled for this year, is now expected in 2017. About 240 of the 260 units have been sold, said Kristina Garcia, the director for investor relations.
“We are bringing Trump to the Philippines because we believe that Trump exemplifies the best quality of real estate anywhere in the world,” Antonio said in a 2011 video promoting the project — in which Antonio is identified as “ambassador” and Trump also appears. “It also exemplifies luxury and it exemplifies exclusivity.”
'For the good of the country'
In the interview at the celebration in Manila on Thursday evening, Robbie Antonio said he had little doubt of his father’s priorities: He will put the Philippines’ interests above those of his company. “It is for the good of the country now,” he said.
But Fuchs, who helped oversee U.S. relations with the Philippines as the deputy assistant secretary of state until early this year, said he was deeply troubled by Trump’s overlapping priorities, particularly given the long list of globally significant issues in play with the Philippines. These include planned joint military exercises in the South China Sea, the fight against militant Islamic groups based in the country’s southern islands and the human rights abuses taking place.
“What we already have is a blurring of the lines between official and business activities,” Fuchs said. “The biggest gray area may not be a President Trump himself advocating for favors for the Trump Organization. It’s the diplomats and career officers who will feel the need to perhaps not do things that will harm the Trump Organization’s interests. It is seriously disturbing.”
Ireland and Scotland: Big Concerns Over a Tiny Snail
The vertigo angustior snail is only 2 millimeters long. But it punches above its weight.
The endangered little snail has helped stall Trump’s plans to build a sea wall to protect the coastline along his Trump International Golf Links course on the west coast of Ireland, in County Clare.
Environmentalists, as well as surfers, list a host of concerns about the proposed wall, particularly its potential impact on sand dunes. Along with the snails, a patch of the dunes near the course is protected by European Union rules. But Trump’s organization has said the golf resort development might be dead in the water without the sea wall, and many locals welcome the business and the jobs it brings.
The battle is likely to be decided next year in front of a national planning board, in the weeks or months after Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20, several people said.
Team Trump faces public hearing
The planning board was overhauled in the 1980s to insulate it from political meddling, and it now has the confidence of environmentalists. But there is little precedent for the Trump situation, which could involve a public hearing.
“They can be long, they can be lively, and a lot of things could be aired,” said Sean O’Leary, the executive director of the Irish Planning Institute, which represents the majority of the country’s professional planners.
He noted that the national planning board had considered a development proposed by a politician before, but that was a holiday home that the Irish president wanted to build.
“The scale is slightly different,” he said.
Local officials have said the Trump Organization needs to resubmit its application by the end of the year. In a statement, the Trump Organization said it was “considering all potential coastal protection options at present” and would be in contact with the local authority before Christmas. The snail, the statement said, “is thriving on the site.”
“Its only material threat is that presented by coastal erosion,” it added.
'He certainly hates wind farms'
Certainly, Trump’s golf courses in Scotland and Ireland have remained at the fore in the president-elect’s mind, even in recent days. Shortly after his election, he urged a group of Brexit campaigners led by Nigel Farage, head of the U.K. Independence Party, to fight against wind farms in Britain. Wind farms have been a favorite target of Trump’s in both Britain and Ireland, where he has railed against proposed installations as a potential blight on the views from his resorts.
After a spokeswoman for Trump initially denied that the matter had been raised with Farage’s group, Trump conceded during his interview with The Times this past week that “I might have brought it up.”
Tony Lowes, an activist who runs a group called Friends of the Irish Environment, said Trump had once called him because Lowes’ group also happened to oppose a proposed wind farm near Trump’s Irish course on environmental grounds.
“He certainly hates wind farms, that’s for sure,” Lowes said about the call.
His group decided against working with Trump, and is now a leading opponent of his planned sea wall.
“The dune system will not be able to develop naturally,” Lowes said. “It will be starved of the sand it needs to develop and evolve and it will die.” He added, “The whole system there is alive and mobile and moving, and the wall is intended to stop that.”
Trump’s representatives have advanced a number of rationales for the sea wall, with the most straightforward being that they simply want to buffer the land from an continuing erosion problem. The proposal has previously attracted attention because an environmental-impact statement submitted by Trump’s team highlighted the risks of climate change and its influence on “coastal erosion rates.” That was a noteworthy claim, since Trump has called global warming a hoax perpetrated “by and for the Chinese.”
A tale of two sides
The Irish government has zealously courted Trump. When he visited the course in 2014, he was greeted on the airport tarmac in Shannon with a red carpet, a harpist, a violinist and a singer whose voice cut through the runway clamor.
Malachy Clerkin of The Irish Times called it “a preposterous welcome” and “the worst kind of forelock-tugging.”
Many locals, however, support Trump’s development. Hugh McNally, the owner of Morrissey’s Bar in Doonbeg Village, about 2 miles from the course, said the issue had been “sensationalized by the media” because of the Trump connection.
“I’ll give you an example,” he said. Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company, announced last year that it would close a plant in nearby Clarecastle, causing the loss of more than 200 jobs. “If someone told them you’d save those jobs by building any wall, everyone would do it,” he said. “The only reason people are objecting here is because of Trump.”
The World: A Transition and a Business Plan
Trump’s family appears to have been preparing for the transition to the Oval Office and ways to capitalize on it both in the United States and around the globe.
In April, even before Trump had secured the Republican nomination, his business moved to trademark the name American Idea for use in branding hotels, spas and concierge services, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It was one of more than two dozen trademark applications Trump and members of his family filed in the United States and around the world while he was running for president.
The applications offer a glimpse of where the Trumps may intend to focus their business endeavors. Last month, representatives of the Trump Organization in Indonesia, where Trump has been pursuing two hotel deals, filed trademark registrations for use of the Trump name in connection with hotel management. Similar filings have been made in Mexico, Canada and the European Union.
25 trademarks for Ivanka
Ivanka Trump has filed at least 25 trademark registrations for her brand of clothing, cosmetics and jewelry in the United States, Canada, the European Union and Mexico since the beginning of the year, mostly recently in October. Trump’s wife, Melania, filed a U.S. trademark application for a line of jewelry in August.
As he prepares for the presidency, Trump has made at least one concession so far, he said in the interview with The Times.
“In theory, I can be president of the United States and run my business 100 percent, sign checks on my business,” Trump said, before later adding, “but I am phasing that out now, and handing that to Eric Trump and Don Trump and Ivanka Trump for the most part, and some of my executives, so that’s happening right now.”