Wednesday 18 September 2019

Trump firm's plan to gift Putin a $50m penthouse

G20 summit: Argentina’s first lady Juliana Awada welcomes U.S. first lady Melania Trump as she arrives for a visit at the Villa Ocampo museum during the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires. Photo: Reuters
G20 summit: Argentina’s first lady Juliana Awada welcomes U.S. first lady Melania Trump as she arrives for a visit at the Villa Ocampo museum during the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires. Photo: Reuters

Rob Crilly

US President Donald Trump's company discussed a plan to give a $50m (€44m) penthouse in its new luxury Moscow development to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to several sources quoted by BuzzFeed News.

Two law enforcement officials told the website that the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, discussed the idea with Mr Putin's press secretary.

Details emerged on the day that Cohen confessed that he lied about a Moscow real- estate deal being pursued during the campaign.

Mr Trump said repeatedly during his White House run that he had no business dealings with Russia, but Cohen's plea deal reveals the Trump Tower Moscow project was being pursued up until June 2016.

The allegations will intensify questions about Mr Trump's financial ties to a hostile power that tried to influence the outcome of the election, just as Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is reaching a critical time in his Russia investigation.

BuzzFeed News says it was not clear whether Mr Trump knew of the plan to give an apartment to Mr Putin and that the Trump Organisation declined to comment.

However, Felix Sater, Mr Cohen's business associate, told the site that the plan was seen as a way of enticing other wealthy individuals to buy property in the development.

"In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin," Mr Sater told BuzzFeed News.

"My idea was to give a $50m penthouse to Putin and charge $250m more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin."

Mr Sater added that he came up with the idea.

Building a tower in Russia was a long-standing ambition of the Trump Organisation and Mr Sater said he saw a chance to revive the idea when Mr Trump declared his candidacy in 2015.

"Let's make this happen and build a Trump Moscow," reads a letter of intent he sent to Mr Trump on October 25. "And possibly fix relations between the countries by showing everyone that commerce & business are much better and more practical than politics."

Meanwhile, Mr Trump's decision to cancel talks with Mr Putin at the G20 summit was regrettable, the Kremlin has said. Mr Trump abruptly cancelled the meeting after Russia detained Ukrainian sailors in a row over rights of passage through the Kerch Strait in Crimea.

Yesterday, ahead of world leaders meeting in Buenos Aires, Ukraine banned all Russian men between 16 and 60 years old from entering the country as tensions continued to rise in the region.

Ukraine's decision to limit entry for Russian men comes after Kiev imposed martial law in border regions this week over the seizure of ships.

"As of today, entry is restricted for foreigners - in the first instance for male citizens of the Russian Federation age 16 to 60," the head of the border service Petro Tsyhykal said at a meeting with President Petro Poroshenko that was broadcast live.

Mr Poroshenko said travel for Russian men will be limited, except in "humanitarian cases".

Ukraine imposed martial law for 30 days in 10 regions that border Russia, the Black Sea and the Azov Sea on Wednesday.

The move came after Mr Poroshenko warned of a build-up of Russian forces near Ukraine's borders, escalating the most dangerous crisis in years between the ex-Soviet neighbours. Russia has held 24 Ukrainian sailors since it seized the ships. Mr Trump scrapped a planned meeting at the G20 summit with Mr Putin over Moscow's detention of the sailors.

Yesterday Ukraine's state security service said it raided the residence of a senior Russian-backed Orthodox priest, who heads one of the country's holiest sites, citing a clause in the criminal code relating to whipping up religious hatred.

Ukraine and Russia are at odds over Kiev's bid to set up an independent national Orthodox church and break centuries-old ties between the Ukrainian and Russian clergy.

Ukrainian leaders accuse the Moscow-backed church, widely known as the Moscow Patriarchate, of promoting the Kremlin's interests and spreading propaganda as relations between the countries plummet. The raid is even more sensitive since the cleric in question, Metropolitan Pavel, heads the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, one of Ukraine's most famous monasteries and a tourist site where mummified monks rest in labyrinthine underground caves. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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