Earlier in November, US President-elect Donald Trump met three Indian real-estate investors who are constructing a luxury apartment complex in South Mumbai under the Trump brand. The meeting took place at Trump Towers in Manhattan, New York. He took time out from planning his transition to the Oval office to meet with the businessmen. While a spokeswoman for Trump said it was a routine courtesy call and the three flew from India to congratulate Trump on his victory, there were many questions raised on the conflict of interest that may arise because of his global business interests.
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The tweet has since been deleted but questions still remain. The New York Times reported on Saturday how in India, Trump’s business interests raises eyebrows considering many corporate businesses in India are in nexus with politicians. By associating with those corporate businesses, Trump may establish a monopoly which Suraj Hegde, the secretary of the All India Congress Committee, says may be problematic for a democracy.
In 2012, Donald Trump Jr. visited India to meet with then Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithvriaj Chavan to get approval for Trump Organization’s first project in India. Trump Jr. hoped the minister would get him the permission required. Chavan, however, didn’t entertain the proposition and said that Trump and his associates were “requesting a concession that could not be given”. The project was never realised.
NYT notes that many real estate developers bribe officials to get various regulations passed. In fact, a Trump Tower residential building in Pune is under investigation for a permit that may have been obtained by fraud or favour. If Donald Trump associates himself with those developers, there is a possibility top officials may seek favours from the President of the United States.
Conflict of interest is a matter of grave concern for the President-elect has many other holdings in India and at least 19 other countries. The extent of how deep these Trump’s business ties are in these countries remains unknown as he refused to release his tax returns.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is a conservative Muslim, had initially ordered that the name of Trump be removed from Trump Towers in the country because of Trump’s hardline views on Muslims. However, when Trump praised Erdogan after his crackdown against dissidents post the failed military coup, the orders issued to remove his name were put on hold. This fueled fears that Trump’s foreign policy with respect to Turkey may be driven by commercial interests.
Trump had later admitted that he has a major building in Istanbul and “a little” conflict of interest in Turkey. “It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one. Not the usual one. It’s two,” he had boasted.
In Brazil, the Trump’s Rio de Janerio hotel is under federal scrutiny after allegations surfaced that permissions to build the hotel were obtained through back channels and bribing officials.
Ireland and Scotland too have been embroiled in local battles over golf courses under Trump’s name. In a more recent dispute, Trump organisation wanted to build a flood-resistant sea wall on the Irish Coast. The location of this wall threatens the natural habitat of an endangered snail and he might be dragged to court by local environmentalists.
David J. Kramer, former assistant secretary of state for democracy, points out that these commercial interests may undo the years of work Democrats put into government transparency. NYT further analyses that even if Trump doesn’t initiate favours, companies will be compelled to provide his business with all the cushioning they can give as it would mean better relations with the President of United Sate of America.
The presence of Trump Towers around the world also raises the risk of security. The buildings may be under a greater threat especially in Muslim countries.