Exclusive: New York prosecutors expanded criminal inquiry of company last year and examined acceptance of $8m with suspected Russian ties
Hugo Lowell in New York
@hugolowellWed 15 Mar 2023 06.00 GMT
Federal prosecutors in New York involved in the criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s social media company last year started examining whether it violated money laundering statutes in connection with the acceptance of $8m with suspected Russian ties, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The company – Trump Media, which owns Trump’s Truth Social platform – initially came under criminal investigation over its preparations for a potential merger with a blank check company called Digital World (DWAC) that was also the subject of an earlier investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Towards the end of last year, federal prosecutors started examining two loans totaling $8m wired to Trump Media, through the Caribbean, from two obscure entities that both appear to be controlled in part by the relation of an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the sources said.
The expanded nature of the criminal investigation, which has not been previously reported, threatens to delay the completion of the merger between Trump Media and DWAC, which would provide the company and Truth Social with up to $1.3bn in capital, in addition to a stock market listing.
Even if Trump Media and its officers face no criminal exposure for the transactions, the optics of borrowing money from potentially unsavory sources through opaque conduits could cloud Trump’s image as he seeks to recapture the White House in 2024.
The extent of the exposure for Trump Media and its officers for money laundering remains unclear. The statutes broadly require prosecutors to show that defendants knew the money was the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity and the transaction was designed to conceal its source.
But money laundering prosecutions are typically based on circumstantial evidence and can be based on materials that show that the money in question was unlikely to have legitimate origins, legal experts said.
The first $2m payment to Trump Media came in December 2021 when the company was on the brink of collapse after the planned merger with DWAC – that would have unlocked millions for the company – was delayed when the SEC opened an inquiry into whether the arrangement broke regulatory rules.
Trump Media needed a bridge loan to keep the company afloat. But it struggled to get financing until DWAC’s chief executive Patrick Orlando sourced a $2m loan wired from Paxum Bank registered in Dominica, according to the wire transfer receipt reviewed by the Guardian.
The wire transfer identified Paxum Bank as the beneficial owner, although the promissory note identified an entity called ES Family Trust as the lender. Two months later, an unexpected second $6m payment arrived in Trump Media’s account from ES Family Trust, the transfer receipt showed.
In both instances, Orlando declined to provide details about the true identity of the lenders or the origin of the money to Trump Media executives, Trump Media’s since-ousted co-founder turned whistleblower Will Wilkerson recounted in an interview.
Though the two payments to Trump Media ostensibly came from two separate entities – first Paxum Bank and second ES Family Trust – the trustee of ES Family Trust, a person called Angel Pacheco, appears to have simultaneously been a director of Paxum Bank.
The Russian connection, as being examined by prosecutors in the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York, centers on a part-owner of Paxum Bank – an individual named Anton Postolnikov, who appears to be a relation of Putin ally Aleksandr Smirnov.
Smirnov, who heads the Russia-controlled maritime company Rosmorport, worked in the Central Office of the Russian government until 2017. Before that, Smirnov was the first deputy minister of justice of Russia until 2014, and for most of Putin’s first two terms as president, Smirnov served in the executive office of the president.
A spokesman for the justice department, the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York and outside counsel for Trump Media declined to comment about the investigation. Rosmorport and Paxum Bank did not respond to requests for comment.
Concern inside Trump Media
The obscure origins of the $8m loans caused alarm at Trump Media and, in the spring of 2022, Trump Media’s then chief financial officer Phillip Juhan weighed returning the money, according to Wilkerson.
But the money was never returned, Wilkerson said, in part because losing $8m out of the roughly $12m cash that Trump Media had in its accounts at that time would have placed significant stress on its financial situation.
Prosecutors appear to have also taken a special interest in the payments because the off-shore Paxum Bank has a history of providing banking services for the pornography and sex worker industries, which makes it higher risk of engaging in money laundering and other illicit financing.
There appears to have been some awareness at Trump Media that the first $2m was to come through because Trump’s eldest son Don Jr, who joined the board with Trump ally Kash Patel and former Republican turned Trump Media chief executive Devin Nunes, had confirmed to the company’s lawyers to proceed with the transaction.
“Just want to keep you in the loop – no guaranty that these will get signed and funded, but we remain hopeful,” John Haley, outside counsel for Trump Media said in a 24 December 2021 email seen by the Guardian, to which Don Jr replied: “Thanks john much appreciated. d.”
Since Orlando, who arranged the $8m financing, is an SEC-licensed broker-dealer, he would be subject to SEC rules governing anti-money laundering and “Know Your Customer” requirements that mandate due diligence of investors to combat the proliferation of illicit money.
As a private company arranging private loans, the obligations for Trump Media to vet the financing under the SEC rules are less clear. But the securities regulations are separate to the US criminal money laundering statutes, which apply universally.
A spokesman for Don Jr declined to comment. Orlando, Nunes, Patel and Juhan did not respond to requests for comment.
Federal prosecutors’ interest in the two payments appears to have started when Wilkerson, through his attorneys Patrick Mincey, Stephen Bell and Phil Brewster, alerted the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York to the payments on 23 October 2022.
Trump was the chairman of Trump Media at the time, though it was unclear whether he was aware of the opaque nature of the two loans. Trump typically did not seem to be particularly interested in managing the day-to-day running of Trump Media, Wilkerson said.
But Trump was interested in the deal, Wilkerson said, because he got to own 90% of the shares without putting any money into the company. According to one source familiar with the matter, however, Trump invested some money into DWAC, which could allow him to cash out twice in the event the merger was consummated.
(C)THE GUARDIAN 2023
This is almost funny.. for the 20th time. the so called Dossier was Clinton and Russians, do you remember?
The Steele dossier was not from Clinton. It was from Christopher Steele, a British ex-spy.
Paul Singer’s Washington Free Beacon first hired Fusion GPS in 2015. They told the firm to stop doing research on Trump in May 2016, as Trump was clinching the Republican nomination.
The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee retained Fusion GPS to research any possible connections between Mr. Trump, his businesses, his campaign team and Russia. Fusion GPS hired Mr. Steele, a highly respected Russia expert. They didn’t tell Mr. Steele who they were working for.
The “Steele dossier” documented a broad conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump.
(And, of course, the Steele dossier didn’t trigger the FBI’s investigation; it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources. That whole investigation started when George Papadopoulos, then a Trump foreign policy adviser, got drunk in London in May 2016 and told an Australian diplomat that Moscow had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. After WikiLeaks began publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials two months later, Australian officials passed the information to their US counterparts, thereby starting the FBI investigation.)
The orange baboon should not only be barred from running for president, but should be made to look at the world through bars.
Then you’d love to have the corrupt RE@#$@#$ard in the American WH, wouldn’t you…LMAO
What are you blathering about?
This “Bohuslav” is madder than a shithouse rat! He said today ; “being Ukrainian I support Trump.” Which is like saying “being a Jew I support Hitler” in 1939.
Yeah, either he has huge problems with the English language, or he is indeed nuts.
Bo is not crazy and he/she has fine english. Bo just looks at the facts: Obama & Biden have been a disaster for Ukraine and Trump has not. The future can’t be predicted. It’s still unclear just how Trump plans to “end the war in one day”. The Jew/Hitler analogy is nonsense. By the way, the analogies paralleling Trump to Hitler are offensive to the Jewish community because it minimizes the horror of many millions of Jews, gays, gypsies, and others that died at the hands of the Nazis.
If you support an end to aid to Ukraine, or some type of cut to it, as Trump does, you are an accessory to genocide. If you want to give Ukrainian land to a genocidal psychopath, as Trumpkov does, you are an accessory to genocide.
Any misjudged sympathy that any Ukrainian may have had for Trump would have evaporated the moment he uttered those appalling words of congratulations to the tiny poisoner when he unleashed genocide in February last year; which he then consolidated by bitterly opposing the $42bn aid package to Ukraine. His asshole son then stated that all aid to Ukraine should completely stop. Then the Trump/putler faction commenced their campaign to end all aid. Key players were/are Gaetz, Vance and Taylor-Greene, who all hate Ukraine as much as Trump does.
“Ukrainians for Trump”; if it exists, which I doubt, is no different from a “Jews for Hitler” bloc in 1939. Which did not exist either.
The Trump family is up to its neck in Putinazi corruption. Vanity Fair:
“Most recently, Reuters reported that a group of 63 Russia billionaires have invested nearly $100 million in several Trump properties in Florida. Donald Trump Jr. himself famously said in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Trump is the only US President in history to repeatedly praise a fascist dictator. Here are his actual words from Feb 2022:
“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump said in a radio interview with “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show.” “He used the word ‘independent’ and ‘we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace.’ You gotta say that’s pretty savvy.”
If you support Trump, you are as mad as your friend is.
I would say genocide is murder, therefore accessory to genocide is the same as accessory to murder – a very serious crime. A US politician pandering to a US audience doesn’t constitute a serious crime in a foreign country. Not the least of the reasons is the US Constitutional right to speak any manner of gibberish, which Trump does at every opportinity. Now if Trump were running his mouth in Moscow, I’d say you might have a legit point about being accessory to a crime. When Trump “praised” Putin a year ago he was calling attention to another Biden failure. No matter how much you hate Trump, he’s not responsible for this war. Obama & Biden set the conditions that Putin is exploiting. Obama’s line in the sand that was trampled without consequences; Obama’s inaction in 2014; Biden’s weakness & lack of action leading up to the 2022 invasion. We can agree on one thing. Trump Jr is a colossal a-hole.
> When Trump “praised” Putin a year ago
He was sucking up to his boss.
More anonymous sources again, it must be Trump season, again…zzzzz…
You don’t even believe anything negative about Trump even if it is coming from his own mouth.
Interpretations are left to the interpreters. In this case, an anonymous interpreter. You can believe those anonymous sources if you want and you can believe anything you want to. I prefer to employ critical thinking which is hard for some people. Trump is wrong about Ukraine but those are just words. Understand? Tell me what policies Trump used to hurt Ukraine and I may agree with you.
No, it’s wabbit season.
noooooooo this saint used this 8 million to buy javelins for ukraine with his own money, don’t you guys get it?
such a great man, stormy must be feeling real proud that she got f*cked by him
you don’t see men with this bravery and integrity anymore, hope he will be potus again
It takes bravery and integrity to post comments under arsegiver instead of bert? lol…
Trump is money for the media. CNN ratings dropped through the floor when he left the white house. And one thing you should know about Trump: he definitely believes that all publicity is good; even bad publicity is good publicity. Look how many comments are here under this post. Trump runs his mouth and sometimes crazy things come out but it generates publicity, and sometimes that’s the whole point. P.S. – I think somebody Photoshoped orange on his photo there. Lol.
“I think somebody Photoshoped orange” – That’s questionable. The image is from The Guardian (see link below), which gives photo credit to Dado Ruvić/Reuters.
Maybe Trump was just having a bad makeup day…