The Dubai project and the Vancouver, B.C., project are among the dozen international business deals from Donald Trump’s former life that are moving forward since he became president.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The well-heeled guests strolled up red carpeted steps and through lines of smiling women to reach the newest outpost in President Donald Trump’s international business empire.
At the Saturday night opening of the clubhouse of the Trump International Golf Club, Dubai, guests munched on mini chicken burgers and sipped fizzy lemonade while Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s adult sons, lauded the ruler of Dubai and their business partner, Hussain Sajwani.
Sajwani, a billionaire businessman who, like Trump, built his wealth through real estate, told the crowd that working with the Trumps “was and continues to be a pleasure.”
President Donald Trump planned to interview at least four potential candidates Sunday for the job of national-security adviser, a position unexpectedly open after retired Gen. Michael Flynn was fired last week. Scheduled to discuss the job at the president’s Palm Beach, Florida, estate, are his acting adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster; and the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen.
The Associated Press
On the other side of the world, in Vancouver, B.C., preparations continued for another ribbon-cutting, on Feb. 28, at a new Trump hotel and condo project there, funded by Malaysian tycoon Tiah Thee Kian and his son, Tiah Joo Kim.
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The two projects, the first to open since Trump became president, are among the dozen international business deals from his former life moving forward — from India to Indonesia, Uruguay to the Dominican Republic. None of them are “new deals,” as defined by the family, as they were well underway before the election.
Sajwani and Tiah share traits common among Trump’s partners around the world, including in Indonesia and the Philippines. They are brash, wealthy developers whose families have personal ties to Trump or to his children.
But the projects in which the two men are involved highlight the complications created when the U.S. president also owns a global real-estate company.
Condominium units in the Vancouver building, the Trump International Hotel & Tower, have been purchased by affluent buyers, including a family that runs a Hong Kong machinery company majority-owned by a Chinese state-owned enterprise, according to real-estate and corporate records. The Trump Organization is managing only the hotel, in exchange for a fee.
Sajwani has contracted extensively with the U.S. military and spoken of entering the U.S. real-estate market, moves that could be easier with a friend in the White House.
Eric Trump, who with his older brother helps run the Trump Organization now that their father is president, said before the Dubai event that the company was not the owner of either development, but only collected a small share of the revenues, and that it did not control who bought the units in Vancouver or the membership list at the golf course in Dubai.
Addressing the guests Saturday, Eric Trump praised his family’s partnership with Sajwani.
“It is not every day that you have a partner that is also a great friend,” he said. “Hussain, thank you so much for your love, your friendship.”
Donald Trump Jr. praised Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, saying it was his vision for the country that allowed such projects to succeed. “It’s a great example of what can be built here and what will continue to be built in the years to come,” he said.
But actions by Donald Trump, now that he is in the White House, have repercussions for his projects. Some in the Emirates worry about Trump’s stance toward Muslims. And Vancouver’s mayor called in December 2015 for the Trump name to be removed from the property there, given Trump’s statements about instituting a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
“Donald Trump’s hateful positions and commentary remind us all of much darker times in our world’s past — and it is incumbent upon all of us to forcefully challenge hatred in all of the ways that it confronts us,” Mayor Gregor Robertson wrote in a letter to the developer, citing thousands who had signed a petition to have Trump’s name removed.
Golf in the desert
A few years ago, Trump visited what would become his first project to open since becoming president and his first in the Arab world.
The Trump International Golf Club Dubai was to form the centerpiece of a luxurious collection of upscale homes, and Trump wanted to check the details.
“We walked through the golf course and he said: ‘You see that tree; move it 10 feet there. That tree is too small; make it bigger,’” recalled Niall McLoughlin, a senior vice president at Damac Properties, which owns the project. “His attention to detail is tremendous.”
The Trump Organization had been brought in to operate the golf course by Damac, whose chairman, Sajwani, had known Trump for years.
Like Trump, Sajwani rose to billionaire status largely through flashy real-estate projects. The son of a shopkeeper, he graduated from the University of Washington, and then returned to the United Arab Emirates to found a catering company that provided meals to businesses.
He soon found a bigger client: the U.S. government.
During the first Persian Gulf War, in 1991, his company provided meals to U.S. troops, and it has held similar contracts elsewhere in the Persian Gulf and in Somalia and Bosnia since then.
His wealth really took off when he focused on real estate in the early 2000s, as an economic boom in Dubai created a growing class of professionals looking for fancy homes. Last year, Forbes called him “The Donald of Dubai,” putting his net worth at $3.2 billion.
Questions swirled about the commitment of Sajwani, a Muslim in a predominantly Muslim country, to the Trump brand in 2015, after Trump said that if elected, he would impose a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
A few days later, billboards near the course in Dubai showing Trump swinging a golf club and his daughter Ivanka holding a handbag were temporarily taken down, as was Trump’s name, spelled out in gold letters on a wall near the entrance.
McLoughlin, of Damac, said in November that the changes had been routine and unrelated to Trump’s statements.
“It was a purely unfortunate coincidence,” he said. “We are an apolitical organization.”
There was no overt mention of Trump at the clubhouse opening Saturday, but his name was omnipresent, on flags flying around the golf course and on hats, shirts, visors and balls for sale in the pro shop.
A Vancouver tower
Later this month, Trump’s sons are scheduled to preside over another grand opening, this time of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, which was developed by the Holborn Group, run by Tiah Joo Kim, 37.
Tiah formed the partnership with the Trump family and spearheaded the development of the residence and hotel, his first major project, by first making a pitch to Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka. Their father eventually signed off on the deal.
Tiah’s father, Tiah Thee Kian, made his fortune in the Malaysian stock market in the 1980s. But in the late 1990s, he was accused of violating securities law and eventually paid a fine of about $900,000. At the time, he was said to be a supporter of Anwar Ibrahim, then deputy prime minister, who had challenged the leadership of Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister. Anwar was later imprisoned on sodomy charges, a case widely seen as politically motivated.
In a country that runs on political patronage, the elder Tiah’s political alliance with Anwar may have contributed to his legal setbacks. Political analysts and insiders say he has not been involved in politics since that time and has kept a low profile.
The company’s most profitable venture is the Trump development in Vancouver, the younger Tiah said, adding that he assiduously avoided any political entanglements. When he reached an agreement with Trump in 2012, he never foresaw Trump’s political career.
Trump’s election victory has brought a great deal of attention, good and bad, to the hotel, the younger Tiah said. There have been anti-Trump protests, but also plenty of free publicity.
Tiah said he tried to steer a middle course and encourage tolerance. “The American people have chosen,” he said, “so let’s respect their decision and give him a chance.”