WASHINGTON – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump explored doing business in Cuba in 1998 using a consulting firm to illegally sidestep the embargo prohibiting investments in the communist island, Newsweek magazine reported Thursday.
According to the article, which is the magazine’s cover story for its current edition, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts spent more than $68,000 to explore business opportunities with the Fidel Castro regime using a consulting firm and hiding the move by claiming – after the fact – that it had a humanitarian justification.
At that time, all U.S. investment and expenditures on the island without the express approval of the U.S. government were illegal unless they were linked to charitable causes.
The article is based on internal and court documents, as well as statements of former executives of the now-defunct company the New York magnate controlled.
According to the investigation, Trump used the Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp. consulting firm to undertake the moves in Cuba and later hid the real aim of that exploratory mission by claiming it had a charitable rationale.
A few months later, in 1999, Trump – who at that time was taking his first steps in politics – gave a speech to the Cuban-American community in Miami in which he criticized Castro and said that he would not invest or spend a single dollar in Cuba without a regime change there.
The mogul attended that meeting with the Cuban-American Foundation while vying for the presidential nomination of the Reform Party and promised that he would not lift the embargo or promote investments on the island unless Castro left power.
Sources with the Treasury Department told Newsweek that, despite the fact that they cannot definitively prove that Trump’s company failed to receive authorization to invest or spend money in Cuba, the chances of a U.S. casino getting government authorization to spend money on the island were “essentially zero.”
The Trump Hotels exploratory mission came at a time of increasing pressure to relax economic sanctions on the island, something that finally happened under the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, who normalized diplomatic relations and eased sanctions on Cuba.
According to former executives at Trump’s company, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Newsweek, several European firms wanted to explore doing business in Cuba with Trump Hotels.
After the agreement with the consulting firm, representatives of Seven Arrows met with Cuban officials, bankers and businessmen to explore business possibilities and accelerate what seemed at the time to be the start of a diplomatic opening between Havana and Washington.
The fact that Trump Hotels reimbursed the expenses incurred by Seven Arrows after the trip was illegal at the time and could have triggered a thorough investigation by the Justice Department.
The internal documents consulted by Newsweek show that, after the trip, Trump Hotels executives considered hiding the consulting expense behind a charitable cover and came up with the idea of doing so via the Caritas Cuba organization.