Analysis: Trump, Russia and Deutsche Bank?Links that raise many, many questions

New DelhiWritten By: Jeff HalperinUpdated: Feb 02, 2017, 06:06 AM IST
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Trump was funded by Deutsche Bank for years. On December 23, the bank had a threatened fine reduced by about $7 billion, and yesterday the bank was fined nearly $630 million for its role in laundering and moving $10 billion outside of Russia. Photograph:(Getty)

For a man who brags about his wealth Donald Trump has gone to great lengths to keep his financial status an absolute secret. Every presidential candidate for the last 40 years has published their tax returns. Trump has refused, over and over, and he and his team have repeatedly lied about the reason for doing so (his son Erik said, essentially, releasing his tax returns was inadvisable because it would subject them to public scrutiny).

Donald Trump asked a foreign government to hack into an American politicians private emails on live TV before millions of people during the presidential debate, but publish one page of his tax return he threatens to sue. When nearly forced to prove his wealth, Trump has repeatedly declined.

While Trump did publish a financial disclosure form, required by law, he made an immense lie: The document reveals that companies he owns are $300 million in debt, but actually a New York Times investigation determined that in reality this figure is more than twice as large, at $650 million. He is beholden to a wide range of financial backers, including ones he has criticised publicly. 

Who funds Donald Trump, and what does this mean?

A brief look at his Deutsche Bank history

To understand Trump, follow the money. This is inherently difficult, because Trump goes to enormous lengths to keep his money secret despite projecting the image of a self-made billionaire enriched by savvy deal-making. Really, his father was a New York real estate tycoon, handy when starting out, and for more than a decade Donald received money for putting his name on stuff other people produce.

But what we do know about his finance tells us important something, and puts into sharp relief the importance of what we do not know.

American banks stopped lending money to Donald Trump in the late 1980s and early '90s, around the time he declared $900 million in losses as Trump casino-related businesses kept going bankrupt. American banks considered him a major liability.

On December 23, a few weeks before Trump was to enter the White House, Deutsche Bank settled, managing to cut the threatened $14 billion penalty roughly in half to $7.2 billion. Just yesterday, Deutsche Bank was fined another $690 million for its role in a “mirror trade" scam that laundered $10 billion, illegally moving the money outside of Russia.

He was funded by Russian oligarchs, billionaires nearly overnight after seising for their own private wealth the state assets of the newly-collapsed former Soviet Union. The German Deutsche Bank also stepped in.

Last March, The Wall Street Journal reported that, just since 1998, Deutsche Bank has “led or participated in loans of at least $2.5 billion to companies affiliated with Trump,” not including one billion in loan commitments to Trump-related businesses.

Trump got into a large fight with Deutsche Bank when the US housing bubble burst in 2009. Trump tried to avoid paying back a $334 million loan, saying the subprime mortgage crash constituted a “force majeure”, an unforeseeable catastrophe, like an act of god. He even attacked the bank, saying their lending practices played a role in the collapse--he sued them for $3 billion in damages. The bank sued him back, saying he issued a personal guarantee that he'd pay $40 million in case his company couldn't pay them back. They were forced to negotiate. They settled, but the bank was soured on Donald Trump. "He was a persona non grata after that," said a banker who worked on the deal, the Wall Street Journal reports.

This matters, because right now Donald Trump still owes the private arm of Deutsche Bank roughly $300 million. And Deutsche Bank has had major problems lately.

From a November 9 Wall Street Journal post: "Right now Deutsche Bank is facing a host of tricky issues in the US, including the threatened $14 billion penalty over mortgage-bond investigations that would seriously damage the bank's capital base. There is also a probe related to equity trades for wealthy clients in Russia, a country Mr Trump appears friendly towards. The bank [Deutsche Bank] declined to comment."

On December 23, a few weeks before Trump entered the White House, Deutsche Bank settled, managing to cut the threatened $14 billion penalty roughly in half to $7.2 billion.

Just yesterday, Deutsche Bank was fined another $690 million for its role in a “mirror trade" scam that laundered $10 billion, illegally moving this money outside of Russia.

Early, still releveant cause for fear

Regarding the settlement, perhaps the outgoing Obama administration wanted to get what they could while they could, fearing that a Trump administration would be more amenable to forgive Deutsche Bank, for something else in return.

Given that we know Trump was funded for years by Putin-approved oligarchs, that his bank of choice is also connected in a major way to Russian money laundering stands out. 

It's speculation, but the lack of concrete facts here is Trump's fault:  The onus is on him to clear this up, which he could overnight. But given both his scandalous refusal to publish finance records his predecessors considered par for the course, and his absolute refusal to divest from his private business empire while serving in public office, nobody should expect sudden transparency.

The former CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson, just confirmed as US Secretary of State, worried observers because he opposed sanctions against Russia after Russia annexed Crimea, sanctions that were stopping his company from making at least one billion dollars

Experts believed Trump remaining in charge of a vast international business empire put him in gross violation of the "emoluments clause" in the US constitution the very second he took office, and Russia's actions since have only validated fears.

Recent reasons to worry: Trump and Igor Sechin CEO of Rosneft, Russia's state oil company

The notorious unverified dossier (adjudged serious enough that US intelligence briefed both then-President Obama and Trump on it) alleging Russia had recorded enough material on Trump to "compromise", or blackmail, him also contained perhaps an even more important allegation: Igor Sechin, CEO of Rosneft, Russia's state oil company, offered Trump-ally Carter Page a 19 per cent stake in the $130-billion company in exchange for lifting US sanctions against Russia.

Page was an early Trump adviser, who "took a leave of absence" after his trip to Russia came to light. The Trump campaign denied it ever worked with him, Business Insider reports.

Regarding Russian sanctions, Trump said: If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody's doing some really great things?"

Just last week, in "one of its largest privatisations since the 1990s", Russia sold a 19.5 per cent stake in Rosneft, and because of the highly opaque structure of the deal nobody knows who bought it. Some commentators have noticed that the 19.5 per cent sale looks like the 19 per cent alluded to in the unverified dossier, plus a brokerage fee. 

A few days ago, the Kremlin escalated its attack on Ukraine with apparent confidence that the US president would not object. 


When Trump-appointed regulators deal with Deutsche Bank, will they advance the interests of the United States or the Trump Organization? Ditto for Trump and Russia. 


Donald Trump campaigned on being an indepedently wealthy candidate unbeholden to interests. But he is keeping very large and important secrets. Just as he once was considered by Deutsche Bank, if he were to disclose what is really going on, many current supporters would likely change their mind and also consider Trump a "persona non grata".