Trump Jr treated as honoured guest in India but trip criticised in the US

Mr Donald Trump Jr speaks during a promotional event for the Trump Towers complex in the Indian city of Pune on Feb 21, 2018.
Mr Donald Trump Jr speaks during a promotional event for the Trump Towers complex in the Indian city of Pune on Feb 21, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - It's a world of difference for Mr Donald Trump Jr who is now visiting India.

He has found himself being honoured as a special guest here but the visit is mired in controversy back home.

The eldest son of US President Donald Trump is in India to promote luxury projects, including one that offers a private jet facility for residents, in Gurugram, Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata. All the projects, which are being built by Indian developers, bear the Trump name from licensing agreements.

Mr Trump Jr launched Trump Tower, which has 137 apartments, in the eastern city of Kolkata on Wednesday and followed this up the next day with a ribbon cutting ceremony for the 400-apartment Trump Tower in Mumbai. Prices for the apartments range from 90 million rupees ($1.84m) to 120 million rupees (S$2.45m).

The project in Mumbai is being built by the Lodha Group while three Indian developers, including Tribeca, are involved in the Kolkata one.

The visit by the 40-year-old American businessman kicked off with full page advertisements in top Indian newspapers on Monday (Feb 19) offering the chance to win "a conversation and dinner" with him on Friday (Feb 24). The offer was open to prospective buyers who first had to put down a booking fee of US$38,000 (S$50,235) for Trump Towers in Gurugram where apartments start at Rs 50 million ($1.02m).

This was followed by an interview published in The Times of India on Thursday in which Mr Trump Jr denounced US media as "a disaster" amid questions in leading American publications on whether access to the First Family was being auctioned with a dinner.

In another interview with CNBC- TV18 - a CNBC affiliate - he dismissed charges of "profiteering from the presidency" as nonsense, saying the Trump business was getting hurt as no new projects were being signed.

"It's sort of a shame. Because we put on all these impositions on ourselves and essentially got no credit for actually doing that ... for doing the right thing," he said in the interview.

Mr Trump Jr is the Executive Vice President of Development & Acquisitions at The Trump Organisation, and along with his brother, Eric, is in charge of it. His father gave up all roles in the business after he became US President but the family has continued to face criticism that it is benefiting from his presidency.

The Trump project in India saw US$15 million in sales after buyers were offered dinner with Mr Trump Jr, blared a headline in the Washington Post.

Not to be outdone, a New York Times headline asked: "As Donald Trump Jr drums up business in India, some ask what's being sold?"

Still the Trump name remains popular in India.

Mr Trump Jr has been feted by business leaders, real estate developers and media magnates.

"Frank, fun and an astute deal maker like his dad. A true chip of the old block! 'Tower'ing personality. Let's see whether he comes up Trumps in India," tweeted RPG Group chairman Harsh Goenka.

On Tuesday, he was hosted to lunch by opposition Congress politician Milind Deora in Delhi.

Many analysts here believe the younger Trump's visit is good for India.

Mr Robinder Sachdev, co founder USINPAC, an Indian American lobby group, said: "Apart from any ethical issues, any high level visit between the two countries is good. This visit is good for India and its good for India and the US in terms of trade and economic relations."

Former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said: "Any access to the White House whether directly or through anybody high up, even more so members of the family, is always an asset."

Mr Trump Jr was scheduled to speak at the same business summit as Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday (Friday).

But a planned speech at the Global Business Summit was changed to a fireside chat without a specific topic.

The president's son was originally slated to speak on "Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The new era of cooperation", and this led to criticism that a foreign policy speech during a business visit was unethical.