Sales of Trump properties suggestive of money laundering: Researcher

The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower Panama is seen in Panama City, Panama. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Testimony to the US Congress by the head of a political research firm indicates that the Trump Organisation's sales of properties to Russian nationals may have involved money laundering, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said on Thursday (Jan 18).

The panel released the transcript of a Nov 14 closed-door interview with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, whose firm hired a former British spy to research then presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign ties to Russians and produced a dossier.

"Those transcripts reveal serious allegations that the Trump Organisation may have engaged in money laundering with Russian nationals," Representative Adam Schiff said.

The Trump Organisation dismissed the allegations as unsubstantiated.

Another Democrat on the Republican-controlled committee, Representative Jim Hines, sought to temper Mr Schiff's comment, telling CNN that Mr Simpson "did not provide evidence and I think that's an important point. He made allegations". The House of Representatives panel is conducting one of the three congressional investigations into possible collusion between Mr Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading a separate probe by the US Justice Department. Moscow denies the conclusions of US intelligence agencies that it interfered in the 2016 election to help Mr Trump and Mr Trump denies any collusion.

In his testimony, Mr Simpson said that his firm closely examined sales of condominiums in Trump properties in New York, Miami, Panama City and Toronto.

"There were a lot of real estate deals where you couldn't really tell who was buying the property," Mr Simpson said. "And sometimes properties would be bought and sold, and they would be bought for one price and sold for a loss shortly thereafter, and it really didn't make sense to us."

"We saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering," he continued.

Mr Alan Garten, the Trump Organisation's chief counsel, said that the deals Mr Simpson referenced primarily involve properties to which Mr Trump licensed his name, rather than owning, developing or selling them.

"These accusations are completely reckless and unsubstantiated for a multitude of reasons," Mr Garten said.

"These issues have nothing to do with the scope of the investigation" by the House intelligence committee, Mr Garten said in a phone interview. "But it's not surprising the minority (Democrats) would focus on this given they've found absolutely no evidence of collusion."

Mr Simpson, under questioning by Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, also said that Russia's operation to influence US politics included attempts to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other conservative organisations, such as groups promoting independence for the states of Texas and California.

"They seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA," Mr Simpson said, according to the transcript.

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, Democratic US Senator Dianne Feinstein released Mr Simpson's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she is the ranking Democrat. The panel's Republican chairman Chuck Grassley had not agreed to the release.

Fusion GPS, based in Washington, hired former British spy Christopher Steele to investigate Mr Trump's business dealings with Russia. It first investigated Mr Trump on behalf of the conservative Washington Free Beacon online news site and then for the Democratic National Committee.

Mr Trump has repeatedly criticised the dossier, which was based on Mr Steele's investigation, calling it "bogus" and "discredited and phony". Some Republicans critical of Mr Mueller's investigation have said that Mr Steele's dossier triggered the initial probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

They have raised questions about whether the FBI may have relied on the Steele document to improperly obtain surveillance warrants to spy on Mr Trump's campaign associates.

The testimony by Fusion GPS's Mr Simpson before the Senate Judiciary Committee last August contradicted those claims.

Ever since Ms Feinstein released the testimony on Jan 9, House Intelligence Committee Democrats have been asking that Mr Simpson's testimony to their committee be made public.

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