Trump Files for Trademark In Kazakhstan
After decades of building and developing his own properties, Trump turned to licensing deals and trademarks in the 2000s, collecting a fee from other companies using the Trump name. This has allowed Trump to distance himself from properties or projects that have failed or encountered legal trouble and provided a convenient workaround to help launch projects, especially in Russia and former Soviet states, which bear Trump’s name but otherwise little relation to his general business. For example, in 2007, Trump filed for trademark application in Kazakhstan for, among other things, hotels and real estate; that same year, Trump Vodka was launched at the Moscow Millionaire’s Fair, which Trump attends. In 2008, he announced a deal with the Russian heavyweight champion, Fedor Emelianenko, and the mixed martial arts company Affliction Entertainment, to create a reality TV show in Russia and to host pay-per-view fights in the U.S. (the deal eventually fell apart). Trump continued to pursue trademark deals in Russia; in 2016, the Russian government granted 10-year extensions for six of Trump’s inactive trademarks which were set to expire at the end of 2016, four of which were registered on Election Day.
One notable Trump Organization licensing deal—which has actually dropped the Trump name since the election—is Trump Tower Toronto. Trump first announced his involvement in the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto in 2001, although he initially did not specify his level of involvement in the project, only claiming that he had made a “substantial investment.” The project broke ground in 2007, when it was advertised as a joint venture with Alexander Shnaider, whose father-in-law was known to have “links to powerful political figures in the former Soviet Union.” The project was so financially embattled that, as the Toronto Star described in October 2017, “every investor lost money on Trump Tower Toronto” except Trump himself, which led numerous buyers to sue Trump Toronto Hotel Management, Donald Trump, and the development company (the suit against Trump was ultimately dismissed).
In 2010, facing mounting costs and a dearth of investment, the building’s developer Alexander Shnaider received a sudden windfall when a then-unknown investor purchased an $850-million stake in Shnaider’s steel company Zaporizhstal; Shnaider in turn used the money to complete the tower. In May 2017, The Wall Street Journal revealed the source of those funds: the Russian state-owned development bank Vnesheconombank, or VEB. The Trump Organization has distanced itself from the project, claiming that, despite reports in 2012 that Trump had a minor ownership stake, the company “was not the owner developer or seller” of the property, was not involved in the financing, and “did not hold” equity. Shnaider, meanwhile, has offered conflicting accounts as to how much of the money from VEB ended up in the project: His lawyer at first told The Wall Street Journal that $15 million from the sale went into the property, but Shnaider has since said he is “not able to confirm that any funds went into the Toronto project.”
Throughout the 2000s, Trump also pursued numerous licensing deals in South Florida; many of the resulting units were purchased by buyers with ties to Russia and the Former Soviet Union. Between 2001 and 2008, Trump developed numerous buildings as the result of a licensing agreement with Dezer Development. These developments included the Trump Grande, which comprises a condominium hotel, Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort, Trump Palace, and Trump Royale; Trump International Beach Resort; and Trump Towers I, Trump Towers II, and Trump Towers III. A Reuters report later revealed that numerous units within the Trump-branded developments in Florida had been purchased by individuals with Russian passports or addresses. A separate Florida licensing deal, Trump Hollywood, was foreclosed on in 2010; Reuters also identified units in Trump Hollywood that were purchased by individuals with Russian connections.
Trump Ocean Club Panama, yet another licensing deal, has proven to be even more controversial. A recent Global Witness report found that Trump made millions of dollars from the deal licensing his name to a development in Panama that was used to launder drug money from drug cartels. While Trump may not have deliberately sought to benefit from this criminal activity, Global Witness found that he “seems to have done little to nothing to prevent this;” for example, according to Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, one of the principal brokers responsible for the project, “most of his clients never intended to live in the Trump Ocean Club,” and he told NBC News, “nobody ask me: Who are the customers? Where did the money come from?The report also found that some of the Trump Ocean Club investors were allegedly linked to the Russian Mafia, and suggests that Trump’s “willful blindness” may have landed him in bed with illicit Russian money. (The Trump Organization has released a statement disputing the report and denying any relationship with Ventura Nogueira.)