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tv   Richard Engel on Assignment  MSNBC  November 23, 2017 2:00pm-3:00pm PST

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i think we've said enough how dangerous that could be. rachel will be back here monday night and next friday an exclusive investigation into the president's international businesses. you're not going to want to miss it. for now, good night from seoul. we've never before had an american president take office with so many -- um -- live business interests. not to mention business interests he didn't extract himself from before taking the oath of office. president trump kept his business interests for the most part. he did past ds day-to-day real street his sons and daughter and son-in-law joined the administration with high-level positions creating an historically unprecedented situation in which we really don't know if the president of the united states and his family are using his position to enrich themselves. that kind of concern is one of the main reasons presidential candidates release they're tax
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returns. it's also a main reason why people want to see this president's tax returns in particular, because people want to know about his foreign sources of income. how much money he's receiving from foreign sources? can any of that money be traced back to foreign governments? illegal under the constitution. that brings us to tonight -- tonight i'm excited to say we have the perfect person to take us on an unprecedented journey, inside president trump's web of foreign financial ties. nbc's chief foreign correspondent my freiend richar engel takes us to panama tonight, the first trump branded hotel to go up overseas. you will want to see this. here now is "on assignment" with richard engel. >> reporter: rising high among the panama city skyline this 70 story building curved lit up like a christmas tree is unmistakable. this is the trump ocean club. and we've spent months going
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over mountains of paperwork and talking to lawyers and investigators and businessmen, trying to figure out who exactly was involved? the investors, brokers, and importantly, who bought the apartments and hotel rooms. what we found out is that this building attracted enormous amounts of dirty money from all over the world. in republican from russia, because of the name on that building. that name is trump. ♪ >> reporter: good evening. eer on assignment in panama city tonight. this is a know forrous money laundering center and also where the first tower to be built outside the united states and carry the name "trump" on it was built. our investigation as you'll see shows that criminals from all over the world used this building as laundromat for their money, but the trump organization doesn't actually
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own the building. it made a licensing deal way local developer so the president basically just gets paid for the use of his name sd. does that mean he can't be held responsible for any criminal activity that happened here? the trump organization says it does mean just that. but anti-corruption experts disagree. it's a question of good business practice, they say. and because we have a president who owns a global business, business practices matter. here's our exclusive investigation in conjunction with our friends at reuters into that building. [ speaking in foreign language ] hello. i'm ivanka trump. welcome. >> reporter: it was the first trump branded tower to go up overseas and the first trump project ivanka led from inception. >> visit our lobby concierge, beautiful pool deck. >> state of the art -- >> exclusive beach club. >> no request is too large or
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too small. >> reporter: now that sense of ownership is gone. the trump organization which no longer runs the building says it had no hand in vetting the people who financed, sold or bought it. now that president trump is in the white house. >> uh-huh. >> reporter: do you think the trump organization and the trump family are trying to distance themselves from you? >> i wouldn't say that they're trying, because i don't think that i can harm them. >> reporter: it took months to track alexander ventura down and persuade limb to shim to sit wi interview. he asked we disguise his appearance, he's on the run in panama wanted for fraud saying he sold hundreds of united nations in the trump club to hide their identities. >> banks weren't asking questions where the money was coming from? >> no. never. >> reporter: sounds like nobody was asking questions. not you, not the trump organization, not the banks, not the developers?
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nobody. >> nobody. >> reporte >> nobody checked anybody out. people were buying, spending millions -- >> 5, 10, 20 units at a time. the money would go to ventura. >> reporter: if you want to know about the flow of dirty money through panama, monty freezener is the man to ask. in 1992, he was convicted in federal court of 20 counts of money laundering and fraud. he still knows all the players and all the plays. >> do you think it's possible trump didn't know the kind of people buying in his building? >> he didn't know. >> reporter: how could he not have known? >> because you don't walk up to somebody, hey, are you russian mafia? >> reporter: is it fair to say trump didn't ask because he didn't want to know. >> would you want to know? >> reporter: i would want to know who's buying a building with my name on it. >> because it's you. most, no. they don't care. >> reporter: a team from global witness, an anti-corruption watchdog often critic al of businesses and their connections to government officials spent
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months investigating trump branded properties around the world and especially the one in panama. patrick ally is the group's co-founder. >> a money laundering hot spot. any responsible businessman should want to know who their clients are and where the money's coming from. if that responsible businessman is now the president of the united states, this is a matter of public interest. >> reporter: the idea for the trump ocean club was born long before the businessman became president. it was in the 2000s, on his hit tv show "the apprentice" ceo trump made all the decisions. >> you're fired -- >> fired -- >> fired. >> you're all fired. >> reporter: but his children were joining the family business and ivanka trump suggested they take the trump brand global. panama seemed like a good place to start. >> well, my interest in panama began when we had the miss universe pageant in panama which i own. it was one of the most successful contests we've ever had. so i was in panama, there for
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quite a bit of time with the miss universe and fell in love with the place. >> reporter: but the panama he was falling in love with was not the panama where more than one-third of the population lived in poverty. it was the glamorous waterfront where brand new luxury towers be being snapped up by the international hot money crowd. >> plane loads of people were coming, because they would advertise in miami, toronto. russia. and pre-selling on buildings. the more they built, the more they sold. but nobody ever occupied the apartments. >> reporter: empty buildings? >> empty buildings. >> reporter: the buildings freezener said, were a great place to bury dirty money. he says the buildings were almost literally made of drug money. >> cocaine concrete? >> reporter: what is that? >> the money that came from cocaine. a lot of it was drug money.
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>> reporter: take the cocaine and turn it into a building? >> yeah. >> reporter: how do you know. >> i saw it happening. >> reporter: this booming market the trump organization was entering plans seen in this marketing el strags, tallest in latin america at the time with a mix of hotel rooms and high-end condos all on a plot of land owned by a small time local businessman, roger kafif, the buildings main builder. ivanka met the team. >> my company would be selling the united nations art according to ventura, ivanka was planning to pre-sell units around $120,000 each. ventura said he could tell them for a lot more. >> reporter: what did she say? >> happy with that, but can you sell it at that price? i said, yes. the agreement, i had a week to sell 100 units. >> reporter: how did you them them in a week? >> easy to stell in fact with
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his name. >> reporter: the name of the most famous man in real estate also the building salesman in chief. >> one of the great things about panama, not only the beautiful building but incredible views. >> the name trump was magic. and he came down. donald trump came down. he has a great presence. he's a fabulous marketing person. >> reporter: but according to ventura, it was ivanka trump who handled all the details. >> what kinds of things did ivanka do? >> meeting with the architects, deciding the -- the finishings of the project. and the prices. when is going to be released. when it not going to be released it. everything they did with the project, because according to the contract, trump organization has to approve everything, because his name on the project anyway. >> reporter: sounds like the trump organization, specifically ivanka, was deeply involved? >> yes. she was the person responsibility for the project. >> reporter: ventura, had a
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small real estate agency, now selling the trump brand. he had made the big leagues. >> he became overnight a mover of money. >> reporter: who was it that ventura and the firm homes were targeting? >> russians. russians that had dirty money. >> reporter: specifically? >> specifically. and then the russian mafia came in. a guy called alexander sasha ocho. >> reporter: what was he doing in panama? >> came down made a proposal to ventura and made him an offer he couldn't refuse. >> reporter: he became a partner in ventura's marketing firm but we can't verify his connection to the russian mafia because although the allegation has been repeated in several court cases, he seems to fend off the charges every time. another partner, stanislav bought several units in the building and since accused of running a prostitution ring in canada but the case was dropped
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when both key witnesses disappeared. the firms representative in kiev later found by a ukrainian court guilty of people smuggling. one of the customers who bought units in the building was an ex-convict who served time in israel for kidnapping and those are just the ones we managed to identify. claiming he didn't know it at the time, ventura admits he was selling places in the building to russian customers. >> i can some customers with questionable background. >> reporter: what does that mean? >> i mean you know, i fund out later. not in the beginning from like belongs to mafia. russian mafia, things like that. but, anyway, i was not getting paid in cash. >> reporter: that is not the story we heard from freezener. >> they used half a dozen lawyers, would come pick up $1 million in a satchel. >> reporter: happening at the trump ocean club? >> yeah. >> reporter: so ventura was
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marketing the trump ocean club as part of a real estate portfolio where corrupt people could park their money? >> you got it. >> reporter: and they did. >> yeah. but they didn't just park the money. the money was turned over consistently. >> reporter: how does a luxury tower become a money laundromat? the buyer uses dirty money to buy unit 1605 in the unbuilt to you perp sometimes just two weeks later unit 1605 gets resold. the money coming out of the building is now clean. the proceeds of a legitimate real estate deal. the only way to trace its dirty origins would be to go back to the beginning, and identify the original buyer. and that should be relatively easy. but not in panama. our investigation led us here to panama's public registry. after going through a lot of paperwork a pattern started to emerge. tushs out many of the condo units aren't owned by individuals but panamanian
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corporations, often with generic names like ocean trump 1605 investment corporation. so why would someone use a corporation to buy a condo? often to hide the identity of the real buyer. >> one of the things we, with these shell companies is, you can simply transfer the company, the buyer's share, to anybody you want. >> reporter: you set up a shell company. nobody knows who's the actual owner, and then you buy the unit. get a piece of paper saying you own the unit. >> you're the owner. >> reporter: and do what you want with that? >> you're holding money. holding $1 million. not even a check. in a bear's share. you can transfer it to anybody. >> reporter: fold if and put it in your pocket? >> correct. >> reporter: you were coming in with hundreds of buy jers did the trump organization want to know who these buyers were? where the money was coming from? >> no. not that i'm aware of. you know? no. not at all. >> reporter: did they ever ask you?
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>> no. >> reporter: were these buyers planning on living in these units, in these apartments? >> most of them, no. >> reporter: that never raised alarm bells with you? somebody buying 15 units, doesn't want to live in the place, from -- from russia? >> no. because that was normal. they had laundry money, that's their problem. >> reporter: and it wasn't just russians. one of the most famous money launderers in the world, davide guzman bought units in the building too. we met a former panamanian prosecutor who worked on the guzman case. [ speaking in foreign language ] >> translator: the guzman investigation was a vast case and as part of it we had information that alexandr ventura was the partner. >> reporter: we heard the same thing from freezener. >> guzman and ventura. >> reporter: was their relationship between both -- >> business partners. they became, after a couple years business partners. >> reporter: how did they work together? how did that collaboration work?
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>> david would bring the money in and the money would get distributed. >> reporter: what about guzman? >> ventura, they basically slept in the same bed. >> reporter: guzman is in u.s. custody convicted of laundering millions of dollars for mexican drug dealers. >> reporter: were you -- guzman's man -- >> no, no. i had 45 days with him and we never talked about anything illegal. you know? >> reporter: but he did admit he and guzman did some business together. >> reporter: so you moved some of guzman's money into the trump ocean club? >> yes, i did. yes. >> reporter: how many units? >> well, not many. i think -- maybe maximum ten units. >> reporter: did you investigate ventura and -- >> translator: yes. alexandr ventura was in the investigation for fraud >> reporter: did you find out? >> translator: at the time i was working four, five fraud case he was involved in. >> reporter: fraud, because ventura seems to have gotten too greedy. after a while, collecting a 3%
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commission wasn't enough. he started selling units on paper, in several buildings to more than one buyer at a time. eventually his peer mid-scheme collapsed. he was arrested and charged with fraud. somehow he managed to get bail and escape the country. in a statement to nbc news, a spokesman wrote that the trump organization was not the owner, developer or seller of the trump ocean club panama project, and that the trump organization was not responsible for the financing of the project and had no involvement in the sale of units or the retention of any real estate brokers. the spokesman said the trump organization had no relationship with ventura or knowledge of the allegations against him. we also asked ivanka trump for comment, but her team referred us back to this statement. >> i believe this is the picture of you with president trump? >> yes, that's correct. that's mar-a-lago, yes. >> reporter: meeting with him, stop, pose for the photograph.
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>> yes. >> reporter: ventura didn't mind showing us old pictures as long as we didn't show what he looked like now. >> reporter: and you're interaction with him is -- good job? keep up the good work? keep selling? >> keep selling. that's it. >> reporter: how many units did you personally sell? >> i believe between 350 to 400 units from the project. >> reporter: worth how much? >> over, a little bit over $100 million. >> reporter: over $100 million? >> yes. >> when the trump organization goes into a licensing deal, sells its name and brand, on one side the trump organization is deeply involved. the family involved. so they can be very hands-on. very, very interested when they want to be. when it comes to problems, like there might be dodgy money involved, dodgy clients, they don't want to know. that's the developer's responsibility. not our responsibility. >> look, you spent your life around criminals, or investigating criminals? >> i was a criminal.
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>> reporter: being a criminal. >> yeah. >> reporter: what do you think about the kind of business trump was lending his name to? >> i'm not trying to protect him, but he is not the one that's doing all of this. he simply has a name. a corporation. that's what it is. >> reporter: do you think people should be judged by the company they keep and the businesses they run? erch >> definitely. 100%. if i was somebody like trump i'd do a background check and want to know who they buy their underwear from. so there isn't any connection to any form of crime. >> reporter: as a former money launderer, the trump ocean club. how would you trait? in its quality? >> for money laundering? >> oh -- i'd say aaa. >> reporter: there is no suggestion that the president or his family were directly involved in any of the illegal activity it that went on here. as we said, they were just licensing out the trump brand. and initially managing the building. it's just that this building was
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magnet for dirty money and we found no sign to flaect brand, which is perhaps now our nation's most prominent brand from being tarnished by association. the building was opened in 2011. [ applause ] and onstage were three men. our future president, the developer, and panama's president, who was then a close friend. >> thank you very much for being here today. and you're my friend. >> reporter: martinelli is now awaiting extradition decision in a jail cell in a federal detention center in miami. we'll tell you that whole story next. more people shop online for the holidays than ever before. (clapping) and the united states postal service delivers more of those purchases to homes than anyone else in the country. ( ♪ ) because we know, even the smallest things
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are sometimes the biggest.
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welcome back to panama. since completed in 2011, that building, the trump ocean club we told you about has seen hard times. the develop company went bankrupt and seems most everybody who invested in the building lost money. except, of course, for the trump organization. it was forced out of the building's management's but still runs the hotel side of the business. and even we found when we stayed there recently, the building seems almost empty, the trump organization continues to collect a licensing fee, just for the use of the name. financial filings suggests that by 2010, those fees added up to more than $70 million. ricardo martinelli, former president of panama, he didn't do as well. the man who helped the trump ocean club get off the ground is now in a federal detention center in miami feeling a lot less presidential than he did when he helped inaugurate the building.
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[ applause ] >> reporter: a billionaire with sharp elbows and political ambitions. ricardo martinelli a perfect match for donald trump. >> i want to just thank you very much for being here today, and you're my friend. [ applause ] great honor. >> reporter: and martinelli was first to realize his political ambition -- >> two -- one -- >> -- by the time the trump ocean club opened in 2011. he was president of panama. his very presence sent a message. this was a well-connected project. >> martinelli liked to mention every time that he has a very good business relation with trump. >> reporter: law professor miguel antonio is an opposition member and outspoken critic of martinelli saying the trump building could not have opened its doors without the blessing of the president. >> did martinelli help get this building off the ground? >> sure. because panama, you can do this kind of thing without the
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president advice or the president's agreement. [ cheers and applause ] >> reporter: ricardo martinelli, whom a u.s. diplomat described in a leaked cable having a limited attention span and making strong impulsive decisions had much in common with the future president of the united states. like trump, martinelli also built himself a lucrative real estate empire. owned panama's largest chain of supermarkets, but money wasn't enough. martinelli wanted power, too, why he decided to run for president. and this man is head of the panamanian branch of transparency international. finding many similarities with candidate trump. >> lack of experience in government management, campaigning on the ticket of the outsider. >> reporter: in 2009, martinelli ran a colorful campaign. [ applause ] his antics earned him the
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nickname, loco "the crazy one." a name he embraced. >> created a slogan during the campaign. "we the crazy people are the majority." >> reporter: and they were. martinelli won by a landslide on the promise of a better future for panama. for a while it seemed he'd kept his word. the economy boomed, unemployment dropped, martinelli oversaw expansion of the panama canal and opened a sub swaye systway soon allegations of corruption started to surface. >> martinelli was bhmore than a president. an absolute monarch. >> former mayor of panama city and leader of the opposition accusing martinelli of running the country like his own business. >> he ruled not only the executive branch, he had his hands in the legislative branch. he had his hands in the
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judiciary. he broke the law. he broke the constitution, violated every possible rule. and got away with it, for a time. >> he really was a person looking out for his own interests and not the interests of the country, and during his time, what happened in the country was without precedence. it was the largest scale robbery of our treasury. >> reporter: not long after his term ended, martinelli quietly boarded a private jet and disappeared. days later, panama's supreme court charged him with embezzlement and illegal wiretapping. >> reporter: what did martinelli do to you? >> violated and tapped conversations i had with my wife. my kids. and my entire staff. my professional staff. also with my campaign manager. and all of my campaign team. >> reporter: martinelli ended up living in the lap of luxury in miami. but eventually, the law caught up with him and he's now sitting in a federal dissension center
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awaiting a decision on his fate. panama is demanding his extradition and he's appealing to the courts, but ultimately the decision will be made by the state department raising the question of whether there could be interference from the white house. >> if you would have asked me in january before mr. trump took the oath of office, i would have said, no. but with everything that we've learned since january to now of how there are very blurred lines regarding the business interests of the trump organization, and the business of government, my answer would be, i don't know. >> i would be outraged if mr. trump intervenes and overrules the lawyers and the legal department at state to help his friend mr. martinelli stay in the u.s. and avoid justice.
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>> reporter: whether or not the president would still call martinel afriend is now anyone's guess. and that's not the point, really. what this situation shows is how sticky the whole issue of conflicts of interest, real or perceived, can be. so how do we frame what we've uncovered here? do we see it through the lens of corporate responsibility and ethical standards? or -- are there also legal issues to consider? we'll be talking next to a former prosecutor about that. us. it's what this country is made of. but right now, our bond is fraying. how do we get back to "us"? the y fills the gaps. and bridges our divides. donate to your local y today. because where there's a y, there's an us.
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welcome back to panama city. we've told you all about our investigation into the building behind me and how we found that it drew in dirty money from all over the world. keep in mind even though it's called the trump ocean club, this building doesn't actually belong to our president. he's just licensing his name for a profit. the question is -- does that mean that he and his company should not be held responsible for what happens in the building?
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to help us answer that question, we turned to arlo devlin brown who's prosecuted his share of money laupderring cases. mr. brown, thank you for joining us. >> thanks for having me. >> first off, should we be concerned about this? >> well, any u.s. real estate company that makes a decision to do business in a high-risk jurisdiction will money laundering occurs needs to be careful. needs to take a number of precautions. >> does it seem to you those precautions were taken or do we not know at this stage? >> i don't know based on your reporting but i can tell you what the real risks are in a situation like that. basically, the u.s. company needs to be careful both in terms of going into the deal and on the way out. going into the deal you need to worry a little bit about whether money is going to grease the skids for any foreign politicians which is a violation of u.s. law and then, of course,
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when it's time to sell the condos, you do have to be cautious about whether the people buying those condos are criminals looking to wash their money. >> so here's the issue. the statement we received from the trump organization made a clear line saying that it wasn't directly involved in sales. so, therefore, doesn't really take responsibility for who was buying, who was selling, but does the fact that the trump organization was getting a piece, getting a percentage of the units that were sold, does that make a difference? >> well, the fact it was licensing its name really doesn't make a difference at all in terms of how u.s. money laundering law operates. the only issue, really, that's -- >> i'm talking about getting a piece of the units sold? every unit sold, the trump organization got a -- got a check for it? >> well, that may or may not matter. the critical question is, did the trump organization or any similar organization know that the money coming in was
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criminal -- from criminal activity or did it turn a blind eye to it? >> you've prosecuted cases like this. what would it look like, if talking about company that was operating here in panama, but wasn't directly controlling the buying and selling, but it turns out, and our investigation has shown, that the people buying and selling were dubious. does that parent company, the company lending its name, bear any responsibility? >> yes. it's all going to turn on, not the technical niceties, not the formalities of, were you licensing, were you not? it's going to turn on nitty-gritty facts in the end of, what did the u.s. company know about its panamanian partner and its conduct and what didn't it know? and that's a very fact-intensive thing that is very interesting here. >> it's about intent. really. if they knew what was going and and didn't do anything, it's a problem. didn't know, they can claim they didn't know.
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>> right. that's -- that's exactly right. arlo devon-brown, former public corruption unit chief, southern district of new york. thank you for joining us. >> thank you. up ahead, we look at the bigger picture of the global trump brand, and ask, is the president's business getting in the way of the business of the presidency? i just got my cashback match,
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astrazeneca may be able to help. welcome back to "on assignment." we're in panama city taking a
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step back from the news and there seems to be always a lot of news these days, to take a closer look at our president's business empire around the world starting with that building behind me. >> reporter: donald trump rose to national prominence as a casino mogul. >> opening day in what donald trump in typical understatement is calling the eighth wonder of the world. the trump taj mahal. >> reporter: then the casino business caught up with him. >> midnight, witching hour for donald trump if he can't make an interest payment of $47 million or work out a deal with creditors. his casino in atlantic city faces bankruptcy. >> reporter: a series of those financial troubles resulted in him filing for corporate bankruptcy six times. so he got out of the casino business. he expanded his business interests overseas. the panama tower is just one of many international business ventures he dabbled in. the trump business empire now
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spans across five continents and nearly two dozen countries including licensing. according to the "washington post," donald trump has licensed his name to at least 50 different licensing or management deals. take, for example, argentina where donald trump licensed his name for a 35-story trump tower. when the president of argentina called president trump to congratulate him on his win, local reports in argentina surfaced that president trump reportedly asked the president to help him get approvals for his project pushed through. throws reports were denied by the argentine president's office. the city also denied the permit. in uruguay, trump has a licensing deal for a residential tower that is currently under construction. earlier this year, eric trump traveled to uruguay to check on the building's progress. his trip cost taxpayers close to $100,000 in hotel bills for the secret service. in canada, in toronto, trump
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struck a deal with a russian-born canadian billion mayor to license his name using a russian state run bank to finance the project. a bank under u.s. sanctions. in the former soviet republic, in as you azerbaijan, built in m of a sale. donald trump's partners in the deal a powerful family with ties to iran's revolutionary guard pap few weeks before taking office, trump canceled the deal, leaving an almost complete never opened hotel. but not before earning nearly $3 million from the project according to his financial disclosure forms. in turkey, trump has licensed his name to trump towers istanbul. his partner comes from a wealthy, well-connected family in turkey, but more recently the turkish president has gone after trump's partner. some experts suggest by going after his partner, the turkish president is exerting political pressure on trump. turkey's leader asked the
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administration to extradite a cleric turkey wants who was living in the united states. and those are just some of the deals. there are many more. most of these business deals are with foreign heavy hitters and with the president refusing to divest ownership of any of his businesses, some experts argue they are potential violations of the emaulments clause of the constitution prohibiting the president from xep p accepting payments or anything of economic value to foreign governments. in fact, we're going to have one of those experts on next. she said something that really struck me, because i've been traveling the world for a listening for quite some time, and lately, i'm hearing what she's hearing. >> what's distressing to me is people laughing at us. they're laughing at us. . and the united states postal service delivers more of those purchases to homes than anyone else in the country. because we know, even the smallest things
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welcome back to panama city. as we told you, we spent a lot of time here in panama investigating the dirty money that poured into the trump oceanfront building oeb everybody there. one. things we kept hearing what do you expect? you do business in panama, corruption is just part of the deal. people don't just say that about panama. they say that about many of the countries where the president's company does business. and often repeated suggestion out there that the trump organization targets countriesly laxed regulations and a culture of corruption.
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that got us wondering is that a fair suggestion? so we decided to look at all of the countries we could find which the trump organization considered as possible locations to expand into and run them against the annual ratings published by transparency international. a well-respected anti-corruption campaign group. the results are pretty telling. take a look at this. out of all the countries where the president has explored or closed deals, more than half are in countries that get a score below 50. that's out of 100. in school we used to call that a fail. take azerbaijan, one of the most corrupt places on earth, transparency international gives it just 30 points. the philippines doesn't do much better coming in at 35. argentina and indonesia, scored just a little better at 36 and 37 respectively and the country we're in -- panama -- gets 38 points. compare that with our own national average. which stands at 74 out of 100.
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that's quite a difference. so does the fact that president trump has so many businesses in places with a bad reputation harming our national reputation? are we all now a little bit guilty by association? we all n guilty by association? i spoke to one person who has been thinking about that a lot lately. >> i thought the american system was supposed to be designed differently. i thought we were not supposed to look like the philippines or others. >> she learned about corruption the hard way. she lived in afghanistan for nearly a decade where she exposed dirty officials. a risky thing for american women to be doing. >> he is using his power. she provides testimony to
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congressional hearings and now a court case in which the president himself is a defendant of the will. >> the president of the united states is receiving money, fees, just a flood of items of value from a variety of different foreign governments without ever having consulted congress or congress ever having made a statement as to whether that's legal or not. >> that according to the liberal watch dog group that filed the lawsuit is a violation of the foreign emom umts clause. >> no person holding any office of trust shall without the consent of congress accept whatever from any king, prince or foreign state. she believes it has a modern day application. >> if you choose the shoulder the honor of serving the people of the united states of america as their president, you can't simultaneously be serving
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yourself as a businessman. choose. one or the other. >> why not let congress pursue this? why the lawsuit? >> this is a clear violation of a constitutional provision. congress has shown no interest in defending that constitutional provision if we can't test the constitution in the courts, where can we test it? >> she wrote a brief for the case, identifying specific examples of overseas business interests the president has that may be a violation of the emoluments clause. high on the list, the club in panama. that is not the only problem. >> what does that tell that you this was the first project he chose to do internationally? >> it is of concern to me. because what it suggests is that this was a business operation
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seeking easy money. that often means illegal money. it means dealing with a government that is bent on self enrichment, rather than bent on serving its own people. it is a bad sign. >> before he took office, the president tried, some say unsuccessfully, to draw a line under his past by putting his business empire into a trust held by his sons. his lawyers also dug deep into the statute books and pulled out a get-out clause which exempts a president from prosecution over conflicts of interest. the president he will braced it immediately. >> i have a no conflict interest because i'm president. >> is the president above conflict of interest laws? >> in terms of the integrity of our government, america has been relying on a tissue of norms and
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expectations. it turns out that a determined person will blow through norms and expectations. >> so the current laws were not built for the trump administration. >> the current laws were not built to withstand the trump administration. >> but chase who wrote a book thieves of state about the threat to global security believes as a nation, we are on a slippery slope. >> the united states is showing really concerning signs that i recognize from some of the most systemically corrupt countries in the world. so when the united states starts doing things, it is like a green light. it sets the example for other countries. >> what does that do to america's standing in the world? >> i think it significantly dents american standing. what is distressing to me is people laughing at us.
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similarly, in other countries, where governments really are bent on maximizing private gain, they seem similarities between how they want to run their country and how president trump is running the united states. >> in a district court in new york, the president's lawyers argued for the case to be thrown out. claiming the interpretation of the clause was flawed. the group's chances of winning appear slim to none but he says whatever the outcome, speaking out is what counts here. >> we are americans. should we be responding any less, expecting any less than guatemala mallans are demanding of theirs? we don't get a democracy because god handed it down from the sky. we get a democracy because we demand on it and we defend it and we insist on it. and i'm really struck at how passive, frankly, the american
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people seem to be at the moment. when our very system of government is in danger. >> when you hear sober thoughtful people start talking about our system of government being in danger, it is time to start paying attention. you're watching on assignment in panama city.
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it's been a busy day for us here in panama city. there's been a lot of reaction
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to our story already. ranging from a democratic congressman calling for an urgent investigation into this story by congress, the justice department and robert mueller to on the other hand a viewer who wrote in to tell me, go, trump. my 401(k) is doing great. media is still mad at losing the election. this isn't about politics. this is about what you think of the responsibilities that apply to an american company that comes to a place like this to do business. should it uphold standards that we expect back in the states? or should it play by whatever rules the global market or the local market play by? we already know which side of the argument president trump is on. he told us himself. in 2012, donald trump called in to squawk box cnbc to express a very clear opinion about the law that forbids american companies from bribing foreign officials. >> now, every other country goes into these places and they do what they have to do.
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it is a horrible law and it should be changed. we're like the policemen for the world. it is ridiculous. >> question answered. rachel will be back on monday. and on assignment will be back in the new year. for now, good night from panama city. her husband, a decorated military officer, shot in the dark of night. >> it was an execution. >> was this some sort of hit? >> he was in special forces. there must have been something at work. >> that's what police thought too. until they learned about the secret life of this husband and wife.

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