President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee has faced unprecedented scrutiny, with subpoenas from federal authorities in New York and lower level authorities in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey — and The Guardian has now revealed part of the reason why. At least three foreigners or foreign-tied individuals made substantial contributions to the committee through shell companies, and just in the publication’s preliminary analysis of the situation, one of the donors appears to be legally barred from donating to American political causes because they’re not an American citizen or even a U.S. resident.
That donor is the Indian real estate developer Cyrus Vandrevala, who is based in London. Like the Trumps in America, Vandrevala is well-connected in Indian real estate — his father-in-law is “one of the wealthiest figures in Indian real estate” and serves as president of a high-profile lobbying group domestically representing the Indian real estate industry, according to The Guardian.
The Trumps have business there themselves, with a full four Indian developments in place. Donald Trump Jr. went to India last year for a business conference in which questions swirled about what role his connection to the presidency would have on the family business. He insisted that he was “not representing anyone,” although he did apparently cede to pressure stemming from his original plan to deliver a foreign policy speech while in the country as if he’s in a position to speak authoritatively about the United States’ global approach. That address was altered to an open-ended question-and-answer session with a journalist.
The deeply questionable mingling of business and foreign affairs continues, though. Vandrevala made his $25,000 donation to the Trump inaugural committee via a shell company whose listed address puts it in Pennsylvania. The money paid for two VIP tickets to festivities surrounding the inauguration, where the Vandrevalas had a reported “private breakfast” with Trump.
Similar situations unfolded in the cases of Taiwanese-American businessman David Sean — otherwise known as Pong Hsiang — and Israeli businessman Elon Lebouvich. Sean is a U.S. citizen based in southern California, and shortly before Christmas 2016, a shell company he registered in Georgia donated $25,000 to the Trump inaugural committee. Meanwhile, Lebouvich’s “New York State Property Management Corporation” donated another $25,000 three days before Trump’s actual inauguration.
Lebouvich confirmed that his money went towards a pair of tickets, and claimed to have maintained legal residency in the United States for about five years, making him possibly legally allowed to have contributed although his foreign ties remain. The Guardian cites a case in which he served as a representative for a “family of wealthy Moroccan investors” in legal turmoil in the United States.
Meanwhile, Sean’s Georgia shell company might definitively be funded by Chinese investors, making the money that went to Trump’s inaugural committee illegal no matter where he himself lives. His wife told The Guardian as much in late January of this year — but he later “denied his wife had said this.”
The donations would emerge alongside $50,000 that political consultant Sam Patten has already confessed to illegally funneling to the Trump inauguration from a Ukrainian businessman.
Possible illegal foreign donations seem to be most directly under the investigative purview of the federal prosecutors in New York, whose probe ensures the president will not be escaping legal scrutiny any time soon.
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