In previous posts, I have explored Trump’s associations with organized crime (here and here), and I have tried to puncture what I call The Trump Myth, the belief that Trump is some kind of great, self-made businessman (here and here). Now, I will move into an area that could be considered a synthesis of Trump’s criminal associations and his business corruption/ineptitude: his relationship with Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank may be one of the most corrupt banking enterprises in the world, and the bank has had deep ties with Russian organized crime. Let’s look at DB’s background, and then try to figure out the often labyrinthine ties the bank has to the Trump Organization.
A. Deutsche Bank Has a History of Corruption
DB was founded in 1870, and quickly became a major player in the newly unified (1871) German state. It has often been involved in dark business. From Corporate Research Project:
After [World War II], Allied authorities determined that Deutsche Bank had not only actively supported the Nazi regime but had also maintained close ties to officials such as SS chief Heinrich Himmler and had been involved in appropriating assets of financial institutions in countries overrun by the Nazis. The occupying forces divided the bank first into ten and then three regional institutions, one each for the north, central, and southern regions of West Germany. In 1957, however, the operations were reunited and allowed to function under the Deutsche Bank name once again…
Deutsche Bank’s Nazi ties became an issue again in 1986, when it purchased the Flick industrial empire around the same time that a Flick subsidiary paid about $2 million to belatedly fulfill a pledge it had made in the 1960s to compensate about 1,300 Jews who had been used as slave laborers in its gunpowder factories during World War II. In 1995 unearthed documents from East Germany provided new documentation of the ways in which Deutsche Bank helped the Nazis expropriate Jewish businesses. The bank later expressed regret when a historian’s report indicated that it had engaged in gold transactions with the Nazi regime.
Just reading through CRP’s summary of the various crimes and malfeasances of this organization is appalling. Deutsche Bank’s officials have historically been willing to bend the rules, operate in gray areas, and even outright violate the law if it meant profit for them. And their associations with Russia deserve close inspection. There is a phenomenon known as mirror trades. Not illegal in themselves, they involve helping a company sell its stock to an offshore entity that the company controls. It’s a way of converting one currency to another. It can also be used as a tool for hiding money that comes from criminal sources. From The New Yorker, 2016:
...repeated mirror trades suggest a sustained plot to shift and hide money of possibly dubious origin. Deutsche Bank’s actions are now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the New York State Department of Financial Services, and financial regulators in the U.K. and in Germany. In an internal report, Deutsche Bank has admitted that, until April, 2015, when three members of its Russian equities desk were suspended for their role in the mirror trades, about ten billion dollars [my emphasis] was spirited out of Russia through the scheme. The lingering question is whose money was moved, and why.
And from a New Yorker follow up from 23 September of this year:
Deutsche Bank’s reputation was abject even before the mirror-trades scandal broke. Between 2008 and 2016, it paid around nine billion dollars in fines and settlements for a wide range of wrongdoing that included conspiring to rig the price of gold and silver, breaking sanctions in Iran, defrauding mortgage companies, and manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate, or libor. Recently, the bank was fined a hundred and fifty million dollars by the New York Department of Financial Services for “significant compliance failures” in its relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. The FinCEN files cover around two trillion dollars’ worth of suspicious transactions reported at major banks between 1999 and 2017. Of that two trillion, more than half—around $1.3 trillion—passed through Deutsche Bank. [my emphasis again]
Staggering corruption. David Enrich, who authored the book Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction (which I have not yet read) said the following in an interview with NPR in February:
The money laundering business was very lucrative for Deutsche Bank and it did it really all over the world. The biggest places it was doing it were with Russian customers. And Deutsche Bank has a long, proud history of being one of the few Western banks [that has], more or less without interruption, been operating in Russia for a very long time. And Russia in the early 2000s was a place where there were a lot of people getting very rich very quickly, often through suspicious means. It became very important for them to have a way to get their money out of Russia and converted from rubles into euros or dollars or pounds. ... Many Western banks were very wary of doing business with these Russians because there were a lot of suspicions. And, in fact, it was true that a lot of this money came through corruption or kleptocracy, things like that. Deutsche Bank was very happy to fill that void. It arranged for a number of workarounds for Russians where they could either move their money to a country like Latvia, for example, and then have it wired into the U.S.
Deutsche Bank has also facilitated investments in property in the U.S. made by East European oligarchs/criminals. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists highlighted the story of Ukrainian mobster Ihor Kolomoisky:
An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shows that Deutsche Bank, the troubled global lender, played a pivotal role, transferring more than $750 million to Kolomoisky’s business interests in the United States.
Criminals and others seeking to hide illicit money in the U.S. often plow it into glittering high-rises in New York, or use it to buy billionaire playthings, like yachts and expensive jewelry. Kolomoisky, who played a peripheral role in the Donald Trump impeachment drama, had a different prize in mind: real estate in the American heartland.
Over a decade, he and his associates secretly amassed a real estate empire, buying at least 22 properties, including a skyscraper in Cleveland with vaulted ceilings that featured one of the largest bank lobbies in the world, a shuttered Motorola facility rising from the farm fields of northern Illinois and the former headquarters of Mary Kay Cosmetics in Dallas.
In his wake, Kolomoisky and his associates left a trail of empty, boarded-up buildings, unpaid property taxes, dangerous factory conditions, unemployed workers, and at least four steel mills that filed for bankruptcy, ICIJ found.
B. Deutsche Bank’s Relationship With Trump
So what is the relationship between our so-called “president” and this cesspool of corruption and criminality? This is a good overview to start with:
Now take a look at this, from The Guardian, 17 April 2019:
Deutsche is also under scrutiny in Washington over its financial dealings with Donald Trump. On 15 April, Democrats from the House intelligence and financial services committees issued a subpoena, demanding the bank provide documents about its lending to the president.
Over two decades, Trump borrowed more than $2bn from Deutsche. In 2008, he defaulted on a $45m loan repayment and sued the bank. Its private wealth division in New York subsequently loaned Trump a further $300m – a move that bemused insiders and which has yet to be fully explained.
Trump, of course, lied about his financial circumstances in order to get DB to loan him money. From The Daily Beast, March 2019:
[Trump] reportedly claimed he was worth around $3 billion when the bank found he was actually worth about $788 million in 2005. In 2010, a Deutsche Bank team also reportedly concluded he was likely inflating some of his real estate assets by up to 70 percent. Despite the alleged lying found in both instances, the bank approved his requested loans. Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts also reportedly defaulted on “hundreds of millions of dollars” worth of bonds that the bank sold in 2003, and Trump claimed he couldn’t pay back a loan in 2008 because of the financial crisis, which he likened to an actual natural disaster.
And the invaluable Sarah Kendzior has followed this story for years. Her summary of the situation can be found by reading this thread from Twitter:
If you don’t feel like scrolling through all of it, here are Ms. Kendzior’s points:
* DB is the only bank that would lend to Trump following his bankruptcies in the early 1990s
* DB was a primary bank of Kushner, who was suspected of money-laundering and using the bank to facilitate election interference with Russian operatives
* DB has long been a central node of money-laundering for the Russian mafia
* DB was a primary lender to child rapist and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, working with him after his 2008 conviction up until 2019
* DB was where Justin Kennedy, son of SCOTUS' Anthony Kennedy, worked for 12 years. Kennedy was tasked with handling Trump and Kushner's finances. When Kennedy abruptly resigned in 2018, he was replaced by Kavanaugh, who had his own mysterious debt issues
* In 2019 DB was revealed to be implicated in a 20 billion money-laundering scheme, following decades of prior schemes
* DB uses surveillance and threats to intimidate those who investigate it. This is a mafia bank.
Of course, everyone’s favorite boy criminal, Jared Kushner, is in this up to his neck. From The New York Times, 2 August:
In June 2013, the banker, Rosemary Vrablic, and two of her Deutsche Bank colleagues purchased a Park Avenue apartment for about $1.5 million from a company called Bergel 715 Associates, according to New York property records.
Mr. Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, disclosed in an annual personal financial report late Friday that he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, had received $1 million to $5 million last year from Bergel 715. A person familiar with Mr. Kushner’s finances, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said he held an ownership stake in the entity at the time of the transaction with Ms. Vrablic.
When Ms. Vrablic and her colleagues bought the apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner were her clients at Deutsche Bank. They had received roughly $190 million in loans from the bank and would seek hundreds of millions of dollars more.
Trump’s dealings with DB have caused turmoil within the bank. Again from David Enrich:
Inside the bank, compliance officers had been looking at some of the transactions that were going in and out of Donald Trump's bank accounts, and Jared Kushner's bank accounts, too. Kushner was also a big client of Deutsche Bank. And what they were seeing was that money, in some cases, was flowing to international sources, in some cases wealthy Russians — that raised a lot of concerns from a money-laundering perspective. So compliance officers within the bank essentially blew the whistle and said: These transactions are troubling. We need to report them as suspicious to the federal government. And these concerns were kind of elevated up the flagpole within Deutsche Bank, and managers and executives at a higher-level ultimately decided that, no, these concerns did not need to be escalated to the government or even reported to the government. But within the bank, there was a big concern that something weird was going on in the Trump bank accounts.
Our own jamess has asked the right questions about this:
If all this Russia-Deutsche-Trump “underwriting” was above-board — WHY in the world is Donald Trump (and AG Barr) fighting like hell, to block those records from ever seeing the light of day?
Why indeed. Of course, DB, Trump, and Barr are taking no chances. Deutsche has sent an old friend of our criminal Attorney General to
cover things up smooth things out. From Bloomberg, 8 September:
Deutsche Bank AG, whose global operation is under the microscope of U.S. lawmakers and criminal investigators, has enlisted an old friend of U.S. Attorney General William Barr to help the bank navigate the political waters in Washington.
The decision came from Frankfurt, where the bank’s supervisory board led by chairman Paul Achleitner has retained Robert Kimmitt, according to people familiar with the matter. Kimmitt, 72, is a lawyer and former U.S. ambassador to Germany whose friendship with Barr dates to the 1980s.
...some senior executives in Germany hope that Kimmitt’s longstanding relationship with Barr could help clear up a log-jam of Justice Department investigations, according to people familiar with the matter. Bank leaders are aware that if Trump is not re-elected in November, any settlement with a future Justice Department is likely to be tougher than what might be available this year, they said. Politically appointed prosecutors may also have incentive to wrap up the cases before they’re replaced, the people said.
And then there are a couple of noteworthy suicides. There was William S. Broeksmit in 2014:
Deutsche Bank’s loans to Donald Trump were underwritten by Russian state-owned VTB Bank, according to the whistleblower whose collection of thousands of bank documents and internal communications have captured the recent attention of federal investigators.
Val Broeksmit acquired the emails and files of his late father, Deutsche Bank executive William S. Broeksmit, after Broeksmit tragically took his own life in 2014.
Val informed the FBI in late 2019 about his knowledge of VTB’s underwriting of Trump’s loans, information he attributed to a network of sources connected to the bank he cultivated over the past five-plus years.
And there was Thomas Bowers in November 2019:
Thomas Bowers, identified as a former Deutsche Bank executive who signed off on controversial loans to President Donald Trump, died last week after apparently taking his own life at 55.
According to Forensic News‘ Scott Stedman, “One source who has direct knowledge of the FBI’s investigation into Deutsche Bank said that federal investigators have asked about Bowers and documents he might have. Another source who has knowledge of Deutsche Bank’s internal structure said that Bowers would have been the gatekeeper for financial documents for the bank’s wealthiest customers.”
There can be no doubt that Deutsche Bank is, in many ways, an elaborate criminal enterprise (although there are apparently employees of the bank not involved in such business). And the key question is this:
Did Russia underwrite Deutsche Bank’s loans to Trump?
There are intriguing hints that they did. Definite, incontrovertible proof that they did is not yet ours. But it is clear to me, and to many others, that Deutsche Bank and Donald Trump was a match made in hell.