This article titled “Trump set to benefit as Qatar buys $6.5m apartment in New York tower” was written by Jon Swaine in New York and Julian Borger in Washington, for theguardian.com on Friday 4th May 2018 12.30 Asia/Kolkata
The government of Qatar bought a $6.5m apartment in one of Donald Trump’s New York towers soon after the dismissal of a lawsuit that tried to stop the president benefiting from such deals.
Qatar’s mission to the United Nations signed a deal for the condominium at Trump World Tower on 17 January, according to city records. The purchase means that the Middle Eastern state now owns four units in the building, for which it paid $16.5m.
On 21 December, a federal judge in New York had thrown out a lawsuit from ethics campaigners alleging that Trump was breaching the emoluments clause of the US constitution by collecting tens of thousands of dollars in charges from Qatar each year for the three apartments it already owned in the building.
Qatar’s new acquisition at Trump World Tower, which is in Manhattan’s Midtown East section, coincided with an intense lobbying campaign in Washington by the Qatari government amid a regional crisis that has pitted the Gulf monarchy against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (Crew), which brought the lawsuit against Trump, said: “This plays to the central concern with the president’s refusal to divest from his holdings – that he would be susceptible to influence from foreign countries invested in his businesses.”
In an unattributed email, Qatar’s mission to the UN said the properties were used to house diplomatic staff close to the UN headquarters. “These apartments, plus the recent unit, were all purchased due to their location, nothing more,” the email said.
The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.
The three-bedroom condominium was sold to Qatar by a pair of sisters who bought it for $5m in 2007. Trump owns the surrounding building, according to his real estate portfolio, and his company is paid monthly charges by residents. An archived listing for Qatar’s newest condominium said the common charges and maintenance fees totalled $3,151 a month.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s embattled legal fixer, owned an apartment in the same building until October last year, when he sold it for $3.3m. Cohen’s wife’s parents own four apartments in the building, according to city filings.
The property bought by Qatar was touted as “truly top of the line”, offering residents spectacular views along with the use of a spa and swimming pool. Crew’s lawsuit said the governments of Afghanistan, India, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were already paying more than $225,000 a month in charges for space in the building.
The Qatari monarchy has been scrambling to regain its footing with the US since Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies imposed an embargo in June last year.
Trump initially threw his backing behind Riyadh, though other senior US officials rushed to express support for Qatar, home to al-Udeid airbase, which houses the US military’s central command and 10,000 American troops.
Throughout the crisis, Qatar has continued to buy US weaponry in large quantities: a $12bn deal for F15 jets was announced last summer. The Qataris also pay for the cost of maintaining al-Udeid, and have promised significant upgrades to the facilities for US troops and their families.
This spring, the emirate has put in further orders worth another half billion dollars for US guidance systems and precision-guided missiles for helicopters, just ahead of a visit to the White House in April by the emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
“They are certainly spending a lot of money trying to influence the shape of the debate in Washington,” said Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia now at the Middle East Institute in Washington
Qatari money was behind the creation of a DC-based new thinktank, the Gulf International Forum in February, and since last June, when the blockade began, the Doha government has spent over $5m on lobbying firms, in an effort to match the Saudis.
“The way they are competing is going to allow a lot of Washington lobbyists to buy vacation homes this year,” Feierstein said.
Trump broke with decades of presidential convention by retaining ownership of his businesses even after entering the White House. His decision created dozens of possible conflicts of interest and was heavily criticised by former ethics officials from past Democratic and Republican administrations.
The president has been accused of violating a section of the US constitution prohibiting people in public office from receiving gifts – or “emoluments” – from “any king, prince or foreign state”. Trump’s attorneys argue that simple payments for services at fair market value are not emoluments.
In his December decision, Judge George Daniels ruled in Manhattan’s federal court that the lawsuit brought by Crew presented a “non-justiciable political question” that was a matter congress rather than the courts. He said the ethics campaigners and their partners on the lawsuit were not entitled to sue. Crew is appealing against the decision.
A separate lawsuit alleging emoluments violations, which focuses on spending by foreign officials at Trump’s hotel in Washington DC, has been brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia.
A judge ruled in March that the case had cleared an initial hurdle and could proceed. The lawsuit incorporates some of the allegations made by Crew, which has joined the legal team behind it.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010