Thursday, September 29, 2016

How Donald Trump Violated the U.S. Embargo Against Cuba

Donald Trump likes to talk about "crooked Hillary," but given the Trump University scam, Trump's use of his foundation as a personal piggy bank, and Trump's six bankruptcies and screwing over of contractors, Trump is the one who looks crooked.  Now, on top of all of this, Newsweek is reporting that Trump violated the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.  Admittedly, the dollar amounts are not huger - at least for someone like Trump.  But what I find so disturbing is Trump's attitude.  Like his Christofascist supporters, Trump obviously thinks that he is above the laws that apply to the rest of America.  Here are excerpts from the Newsweek piece:
A company controlled by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, secretly conducted business in Communist Cuba during Fidel Castro’s presidency despite strict American trade bans that made such undertakings illegal, according to interviews with former Trump executives, internal company records and court filings.

Documents show that the Trump company spent a minimum of $68,000 for its 1998 foray into Cuba at a time when the corporate expenditure of even a penny in the Caribbean country was prohibited without U.S. government approval. But the company did not spend the money directly. Instead, with Trump’s knowledge, executives funneled the cash for the Cuba trip through an American consulting firm called Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp. Once the business consultants traveled to the island and incurred the expenses for the venture, Seven Arrows instructed senior officers with Trump’s company—then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts—how to make it appear legal by linking it after the fact to a charitable effort.
The payment by Trump Hotels came just before the New York business mogul launched his first bid for the White House, seeking the nomination of the Reform Party. On his first day of the campaign, he traveled to Miami, where he spoke to a group of Cuban-Americans, a critical voting bloc in the swing state. Trump vowed to maintain the embargo and never spend his or his companies’ money in Cuba until Fidel Castro was removed from power.

He did not disclose that, seven months earlier, Trump Hotels already had reimbursed its consultants for the money they spent on their secret business trip to Havana.
 Without obtaining a license from the federal Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) before the consultants went to Cuba, the undertaking by Trump Hotels would have been in violation of federal law, trade experts say.

Officials with the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization did not respond to emails seeking comment on the Cuba trip, further documentation about the endeavor or an interview with Trump. Richard Fields, who was then the principal in charge of Seven Arrows, did not return calls seeking comment.

In that statement, Conway has acknowledged that Trump broke the law. Paying the money for the business trip and meetings in Cuba – regardless of whether it resulted in an additional investment or casino deal – would directly violate the law. 
[O]ne OFAC official, who agreed to discuss approval procedures if granted anonymity, says the probability that the office would grant a license for work on behalf of an American casino is “essentially zero.”

The goal of the Cuba trip, the former Trump executive says, was to give Trump’s company a foothold should Washington loosen or lift the trade restrictions. While in Cuba, the Trump representatives met with government officials, bankers and other business leaders to explore possible opportunities for the casino company. The former executive says Trump had participated in discussions about the Cuba trip and knew it had taken place. 
The fact that Seven Arrows spent the money and then received reimbursement from Trump Hotels does not mitigate any potential corporate liability for violating the Cuban embargo. . . . If OFAC discovered this and found there was evidence of willful misconduct, they could have made a referral to the Department of Justice.” 
Like the Communist regime, the company was struggling, having piled up losses for years. In 1998 alone, Trump Hotels lost $39.7 million, according to the company’s financial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Its stock price had collapsed, falling almost 80 percent from a high that year of $12 a share to a low of just $2.75.

Though it has long been illegal for corporations to spend money in Cuba without proper authorization, there is no chance that Trump, the company or any of its executives will be prosecuted for wrongdoing. The statute of limitations ran out long ago, and legal analysts say OFAC’s enforcement division is understaffed, so the chances for an investigation were slim even at the time.

And perhaps that was the calculation behind the company’s decision to flout the law: the low risk of getting caught versus the high reward of lining up Cuban allies if the U.S. loosened or dropped the embargo. The only catch: What would happen if Trump’s Cuban-American supporters ever found out?

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