Trump Tower: Dictators’ Home Away From Home

Are you a dictator looking to kick back and relax between exiles? Trump Tower has you covered.

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

Trump Tower may not be a safe space for the undocumented immigrants President Trump plans to deport. But it’s provided cozy shelter for supporters of some of the world’s nastiest regimes—including one of the most brutal dictators of the last half-century.

And while the mogul-turned-aspiring-holder-of-nuclear-codes has promised to be tough on freedom’s foes, he isn’t above selling them a sturdy roof and warm bed at night.

First off, there’s Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the now-deceased former dictator of Haiti who snagged a condo in New York City’s Trump Tower worth upward of $2.5 million. Duvalier was not a particularly nice person. For instance, he sold dead Haitians’ body parts to finance his fancy lifestyle (seriously!). Human Rights Watch’s dossier on Duvalier is as lengthy as it is gut-churning—incarceration of political foes in the horrific “Triangle of Death” prisons, lots of torture, and, naturally, disappearances and executions of dissenters.

The Haitian people eventually deposed Duvalier, and he moved to France. In the meantime, he accrued a variety of valuable assets, including—The Sunday Times of London reported in 1992—a $2 million yacht, at least $1.4 million in London and New York City bank accounts, and, of course, the neat little Trump Tower condo. The New York Times reported in 1989 that the Stroock & Stroock & Lavan law firm—hired by the Haitian government to search out assets Duvalier had stolen from the Caribbean island-nation—only found out Duvalier owned Apartment 54-K because the dictator hadn’t paid his phone bill. The Haitian government put a lien on the property after he fled.

The Sunday Times noted that Duvalier had trouble finding shelter (which happens when you sell people’s body parts), and that the president of Gabon explained his country would not accommodate the ex-dictator because it was “not a rubbish bin.” Duvalier ended up settling in France, where he managed to live a luxurious lifestyle despite the ocean separating him from his Trump Tower digs.

Then there’s the case of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator whom the United States would use military force against in 2011 because of the bloody Libyan civil war. In 2009, while Gaddafi was in New York City for a UN meeting, he sought to set up the large Bedouin-style tent he customarily took with him when traveling. After failing to receive permission to set up the tent in Central Park, he arranged to rent an estate owned by Trump.

The tent, which an ABC News helicopter filmed from the air, came “replete with rugs and patterned wall hangings,” and was set up on the Trump Organization’s 113-acre Seven Springs estate.

The tent was put up and taken down twice on said estate following legal threats from the town of Bedford, N.Y. Town attorney Joel Sachs threatened Trump with criminal prosecution if he and his organization didn’t dismantle the tent, according to the AP. Eventually it was dismantled. Gaddafi never personally came to Bedford.

At the time, the Trump Organization said it was unaware that Gaddafi had been the one behind the rental. But that didn’t stop Trump from bragging, years later, that he “screwed” the Libyan dictator.

“I rented him a piece of land,” Trump told Fox News. “He paid me more for one night than the land was worth for two years, and then I didn’t let him use the land.”

A representative for Brown Lloyd James, an international public relations firm that reportedly received more than $1.2 million from the Libyan government to help with “logistical support” for the UN visit in 2009, declined to comment when reached by phone by The Daily Beast.

This is all in addition to the love that Donald Trump has long showed dictators. He “loves the Saudis,” promised a “great relationship” with Putin, and supported Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea.

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But it’s not just dictators themselves. Trump Tower apartments have also housed people who conspire with despots who don’t give a hoot about human rights.

Individuals like Reza Zarrab, an Iranian businessman who allegedly helped Iranians dodge Western sanctions—and who had office space in Trump Towers in Istanbul.

Zarrab was at the center of a complex scheme that helped the Islamic Republic get around Western sanctions that locked the country out of global financial markets. As the Jerusalem Post detailed in July, Zarrab helped the Turkish government use gold to buy oil and natural gas from Iran—an old-school way to handle financial transactions that the sanctions necessitated. The paper reported that Turkey sold Iran $20 billion worth of gold from 2012 to 2013, in exchange for fuel—violating international sanctions and providing much-need funds to a regime infamous for its nuclear ambitions and abysmal human-rights record.

Zarrab was ringleader of these complex, sanctions-evading deals, according to a police report that Reuters obtained.

On August 11, 2015, Donald Trump told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he would have “doubled the sanctions” on Iran to get a better deal in the nuclear negotiations. That’s a little funny, given that one of his eponymous buildings provided very classy office space for a creative businessman who gamed said sanctions.

The connection may cause trouble for Trump, who as president would be forced to deal with Republicans eager to impose new sanctions on Iran.

“The next few years are going to be about sanctioning Iranian bad actors into the ground for their terrorism and human-rights atrocities. It’s already starting. Being a candidate who actually worked with a sanctions buster is going to be super awkward,” said Omri Ceren, managing director of press and strategy at The Israel Project. “Trump will to have an answer for this or it could become shorthand for a willingness to enrich America’s enemies at the expense of American interests.”

There may be an explanation for all this. Remember, Trump expressed befuddlement about major foreign policy players in the CNN Republican presidential debate.

So maybe—just maybe!—he looked at the lease agreements and instead of recognizing some of the most notorious dictators who ever lived, he just saw, like he said on CNN, “name after name, Arab name-Arab name.”