Turkey among 6 countries that spent money at Trump hotel to gain political influence: report


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A business organization close to the Turkish government as well as some state agencies held events at a hotel in Washington, D.C., owned by former US President Donald Trump to woo him at a time when the US was investigating sanctions violations by the state-run Halkbank, according to a congressional committee report released on Monday.
The American Turkish Council, a business association dedicated to enhancing the promotion of US-Turkish commercial, defense, technology and cultural relations, helped sponsor two conferences held at the Trump hotel in 2017 and 2019, at around the same time President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pushed Trump and his aides to shut down an investigation into Halkbank.
Halkbank, one of Turkey’s biggest banks, has been under investigation by US prosecutors since 2018, when it was accused of using its currency businesses and front companies to transfer $20 billion in oil revenue to Iran — which was restricted by Washington’s sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Federal investigators in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) brought charges against Halkbank in 2019.
Two men with close ties to Erdoğan’s inner circle — Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab and Halkbank’s former deputy chief executive, Mehmet Hakan Atilla — were charged with conspiring to violate US sanctions against Iran and other offenses.
In addition to those from Turkey, government officials from China, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates spent more than $750,000 at the Washington hotel while trying to influence his administration in 2017 and 2018.
The details of the spending by the officials from the six countries was outlined in a report by the House Oversight Committee, which obtained documents from Mazars USA, Trump’s former accounting firm, according to reports from the AFP and The New York Times.
The records released by the House investigators showed a total of $65,139 in charges by the American Turkish Council. The Embassy of Turkey Delegation and Embassy of Turkey also had billing records at the hotel, but no details on the amounts paid.
Former US National Security Adviser John Bolton had previously claimed in a book that Trump agreed to intervene in the investigation at Erdoğan’s request.
The Raw Story news website also reported in September, citing a citing a newly released book authored by then-US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman, that former US Attorney General Bill Barr and former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker pressured Berman to halt the federal investigation into Halkbank, apparently on the orders of Trump.
Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York who chairs the committee, said the documents reveal that during the time the officials stayed at the Trump-owned hotel, “they were seeking to influence American foreign policy.”
The documents, Maloney added, “sharply call into question the extent to which President Trump was guided by his personal financial interest while in office rather than the best interests of the American people.”
In a statement to The New York Times, Trump’s son Eric Trump said profit earned on the hotel stays was returned to the federal government through an annual payment to the Treasury Department.
“As a company, we went to tremendous lengths to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Eric Trump said. “Not due to any legal requirement, but because of the respect we have towards the office of the presidency.”
The Trump Organization sold the Trump International Hotel in Washington to an investor group in May 2022 for a reported $375 million.
In January of last year, the US Supreme Court shut down lawsuits claiming that Trump violated constitutional bars against a president accepting income from foreign sources, saying the cases were moot since Trump had left the White House.
These cases stemmed from the so-called emoluments clause of the US Constitution, which prohibits public officials from receiving gifts, payments or titles from foreign states without permission from Congress.
Trump entrusted the management of his real estate empire to his sons after taking office in 2017, although he held onto his shares in the Trump Organization, which brought in $435 million in revenue in 2018.
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