First We Take Miami: why Russian businessmen and criminals move into Trump’s towers


Trump's towers

Trump Towers in Sunny Isles Beach are a magnet for Russian organized-crime bosses, fraudsters and insurance scammers. A close inspection of the luxury property deals in Miami involving developers linked with Donald Trump reveals three key trends.

Firstly, a significant volume of deals goes through a select number of estate agents who left Russia or have Soviet roots. There are dozens of Russian-language estate agents and law firms in Miami, a city of no more than 400,000 people. Russian buyers recommend ‘reliable’ Russian-language estate agents to their acquaintances, which explains the concentration of rich Russians in the same buildings. Indeed, seven percent of Sunny Isles Beach residents’ primary language is Russia.

Secondly, luxury property is an extremely profitable investment option. Over 2015, the average price of property in Miami rose by 6.8 percent, and, despite the falling demand in 2016, luxury property has excellent growth potential.

Thirdly, at least 13 people owning apartments in Trump Tower have been directly or indirectly involved in criminal activities and corruption, appear on wanted lists or are linked to money laundering. Our investigations identified high-profile criminals owning property in Trump Towers, such as Anatoly Golubchik and Vadim Trincher of the Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization busted by the FBI in 2013 for operating an illegal gambling ring and for money laundering. Trincher’s 6 million dollar apartment in Trump Tower, New York City is located right below Trump’s own, and was used as the headquarters for the illegal enterprise’s operations. The man the FBI considers head of the criminal group, Alimzhan “Taiwanchik” Tokhtakhunov, appeared at the Trump-organized Miss Universe competition as a VIP guest seven months after having been accused of attempting to bribe a jury at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The notorious gangster from Rostov-on-Don, Vladimir Popovyan, bought an apartment in Trump Tower II for over one million dollars from a company registered in the name of his probable daughter. The company was registered by Mikhail Keyfits, a lawyer with a Russian background whose long list of clients include Felix Sater, son of a New York-based Russian mobster, who has served jail sentences for various crimes, including conspiring with the Italian mafia to launder money and commit securities fraud in 1998. In the early 2000s, a development company part owned by Sater did business with Trump, agreeing to construct building bearing Trump’s name across America and the former Soviet Union. Keyfits also aided Maksim Temnikov in setting up a company through which he jointly bought property with Felix Sater on the exclusive Fisher Island. Temnikov is currently wanted in Russia in connection with large-scale fraud.

It is not only gangsters that are attracted to Miami, but also politicians and businessmen. Alexey Goykhman, Nizhny Novgorod City Duma Deputy, is just one of the politicians who can call these criminals his neighbours, owning a 1.51 million dollar flat in Miami. Others include Evgeny Bachurin, former head of Rosaviatsiya, with property in Trump Tower II; Igor Romashov, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Transoil, with property in Trump Tower; and Igor Anisimov, former vice-president and general director of Novolipetsk Steel, who owns Miami property amounting to almost 7.5 million dollars in value, including in Trump Tower II, and currently faces criminal charges in Russia.

Trump’s properties attract people involved in corruption and financial crime not just from the former Soviet Union, but from around the world, for example Rafael Olvera Amezcua, accused of large-scale fraud in Mexico, and Roberto Rincon, the Venezuelan businessman found guilty of rigging contracts, tax evasion and bribery. The common theme here is the need to launder the proceeds of crime.

While we found no evidence to suggest Trump has broken the law, luxury property serves as one of the main conduits for money laundering, and weak regulations make America an attractive market for this. Although those involved in property transactions are legally obliged to check the origin of their clients’ funds, in practice it is hard to prove that agents are facilitating money laundering schemes, there are no formal methodological requirements for checks, and ultimately the interests of the agents lie in making the sale. Checks are easily sidestepped using shell companies in offshore jurisdictions or even in other American states. We discovered that more than 60 percent of owners of luxury property in Trump’s three Miami towers are companies that do not disclose their beneficiaries.
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