President Trump and his allies have attempted to label Democratic candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. soft on China, in part by pointing out his son’s business relationships there.
Senate Republicans tabled a report alleging, among other things, that Mr. Biden’s son Hunter had “opened a bank account” with a Chinese businessman. This is part of his numerous connections with “foreigners and foreign governments around the world”.
But Mr. Trump’s own business history is full of overseas financial deals, and some have involved the Chinese state. He spent a decade unsuccessfully pursuing projects in China, running an office there during his first term as president, and partnering with a large government-controlled corporation.
And it turns out that China is one of only three foreign nations – the others are the UK and Ireland – that Mr Trump has a bank account in, according to an analysis of the president’s tax filings received from the New York Times. The overseas accounts do not appear in Mr. Trump’s public financial information, where he has to list personal assets as they are kept under company names. The identity of the financial institutions is not clear.
The Chinese account is controlled by Trump International Hotels Management LLC. According to tax reports, taxes of US $ 188,561 were paid in China while licensing agreements were in place from 2013 to 2015.
The tax records do not contain any information about how much money may have flowed into the overseas accounts, although the Internal Revenue Service requires applicants to report the portion of their income from other countries. The UK and Irish accounts are held by companies who operate Mr. Trump’s golf courses in Scotland and Ireland and who regularly report millions in revenue from these countries. Trump International Hotels Management only reported a few thousand dollars from China.
In response to questions from The Times, Alan Garten, an attorney for the Trump Organization, replied that the company had “opened an account with a Chinese bank with offices in the US to pay local taxes” related to its efforts to do business there. He said the company opened the account after opening an office in China “to explore the potential for hotel offerings in Asia.”
“There was never any business, transaction or other business activity, and the office has been inactive since 2015,” said Garten. “Although the bank account remains open, it has never been used for any other purpose.”
Mr. Garten would not identify the bank in China with which the account is held. Until last year, China’s largest state-controlled bank rented three floors in Trump Tower, a lucrative lease that raises allegations of a conflict of interest for the president.
China continues to be an issue in the 2020 presidential campaign, from the president’s trade war to its barbs over the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. His campaign has sought to portray Mr. Biden as a “puppet” of China who, as Vice President, misinterprets the dangers of his growing power. Mr Trump has also tried to tare his opponent with exaggerated or unfounded claims about Hunter Biden’s business relationships there while his father was in office.
“He’s like a vacuum cleaner – he follows his dad collecting,” Mr. Trump said recently, referring to Mr. Biden’s son. “What a shame. It’s a criminal family.”
In a misleading claim reinforced by surrogates like his son Donald Trump Jr. and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president said the younger Mr Biden “left” China with $ 1.5 billion after beating Accompanied his father on an official trip in 2013, numerous news articles and fact-checking websites have stated that the large number was in fact a fundraising target set by an investment firm that Hunter Biden had a 10 percent stake in after his father left received. The company received funding from a large state-controlled bank, but it’s not clear if the fundraising goal was ever met, and there’s no evidence that Hunter Biden received a large personal payout.
As for the former vice president, his public financial statements, along with his voluntarily published income tax returns, do not reveal any personal income or business relationships in China. However, there is ample evidence of Mr. Trump’s efforts to join the myriad American companies that have long done business there – and the tax records for him and his companies obtained from The Times provide new details about them.
As in Russia, where he unsuccessfully explored hotel and tower projects in Moscow, Mr. Trump spent a long time looking for a license agreement in China. His efforts go back at least to 2006 when he filed trademark applications in Hong Kong and the mainland. Many Chinese government approvals came after he became president. (The President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, also received Chinese trademark approvals for her personal business after joining White House staff.)
In 2008, Mr. Trump was pursuing an office tower project in Guangzhou that never got off the ground. However, his efforts accelerated with the opening of an office in Shanghai in 2012. Tax records show that one of Trump’s China affiliates, THC China Development LLC, claimed deductions of $ 84,000 for travel, legal and office expenses this year.
After effectively planting his flag there, Mr Trump found a partner in the State Grid Corporation, one of the largest government-controlled corporations in the country. Agence France-Presse reported in 2016 that the partnership would include licensing and managing a development in Beijing. Mr Trump reportedly pursued the deal for months after his first presidential campaign but was abandoned after State Grid was embroiled in a corruption investigation by Chinese authorities.
It is difficult to determine exactly from tax records how much money Mr Trump spent doing business in China. The records show that he invested at least $ 192,000 in five small businesses created specifically for projects there over the years. These companies have claimed business expenses of at least $ 97,400 since 2010, including some minor payments for taxes and accounting fees as recently as 2018.
But Trump’s plans in China were largely driven by another company, Trump International Hotels Management – the one with a Chinese bank account.
The company has a direct interest in THC China Development, but is also involved in the management of other Trump-branded properties around the world, and it is impossible to tell from its tax records how much of its financial activity is related to China. Typically, annual income and deductible expenses are reported to be a few million dollars.
In 2017, the company saw an unusually large increase in revenue – around $ 17.5 million, more than the last five years combined. It was accompanied by a withdrawal of $ 15.1 million by Mr. Trump from the company’s capital account.
In the President’s public financial statements for that year, he reported the high revenue, describing it only as “management fees and other contract payments.” A major event for the company, known to have occurred in 2017, was the takeover of its management contract for the SoHo hotel in New York, which Bloomberg claims cost around $ 6 million.
Mr. Garten did not want to comment on the specific amount Bloomberg cited, but said the contract buyout was a “significant part” of the company’s revenue and that the remaining money was not related to China.
Outside of China, Mr. Trump has had more success attracting wealthy Chinese buyers to his properties in other countries. Its hotels and towers in Las Vegas and Vancouver, British Columbia – locations known for attracting Chinese real estate investors – have attracted numerous Chinese buyers and in at least one case have caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
During the 2016 campaign, a Shell company controlled by a Chinese couple from Vancouver bought 11 units for $ 3.1 million in the Las Vegas Tower, which Mr. Trump and casino magnate Phil Ruffin owns. The owner of a Las Vegas-based financial services company told The Times that he was later visited by two FBI agents who inquired about the company behind the purchases. He said he used his office address in constitutional documents without his knowledge. It is not known what became of the investigation.
Mr Garten said the Trump organization “has never been contacted by the FBI and has no knowledge of any investigation.”
In Vancouver, numerous Chinese buyers of units at Mr. Trump’s Hotel and Tower helped raise the royalties on this project to $ 5.8 million in 2016, the year it was completed. The project was built by a Canada-based company controlled by the family of Malaysia’s richest man, Tony Tiah Thee Kian, who operate hotels in China and elsewhere. CNN reported in 2018 that the Vancouver operation was the subject of a counterintelligence review related to Ivanka Trump’s need for a security clearance.
And not long after the 2016 election victory, Mr. Trump reported he had sold a penthouse in one of his Manhattan buildings for $ 15.8 million to a Sino-American businesswoman named Xiao Yan Chen, who had bought the unit previously used by Ivanka Trump and her husband was busy. Jared Kushner in an off-market transaction. Ms. Chen runs an international consulting firm and is reported to have high-level ties with governments and political elites in China.
Mr. Trump’s tax records show that he reported a capital gain of at least $ 5.6 million on the penthouse sale in 2017, his first year as president.
Jo Becker contributed to the reporting.