SEOUL, South Korea — While visiting South Korea over the weekend, President Donald Trump tried to strike a deal with President Moon Jae-in to get more companies to invest in the United States.
But even as he pushed American interests, a partner of Trump’s namesake company is aggressively expanding plans to build luxury Trump-branded resorts in Indonesia — and the project involves a construction company partly owned by the South Korean government.
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It’s not clear whether Trump brought up the Indonesia projects during his talks with Moon. But the meeting represented the latest example of the blurred lines between Trump’s official diplomatic work and his business interests.
The expansion of the project that now has the South Korean government attached to it seems to run afoul — at least in spirit — of Trump’s pledge that the Trump Organization will not enter into any new foreign deals while in office.
The project in question got more complicated, ethics-wise, when the developer of a Trump luxury resort signed a previously unreported $120 million contract last September with a construction company — partly owned by the South Korean government — to build a six-star hotel, an 18-hole golf course and theme park that has been compared to Disney World. A company statement announcing the contract with Posco said financing would come from KEB Bank and IBK Securities, a state-owned bank of Korea.
The developer, MNC Land, inked an agreement with Posco E&C Indonesia to build what is being billed as “Trump Community” in Lido City, Indonesia. Posco also expects to build a second Trump resort in Bali, Indonesia, a company official said in a previously reported statement.
“In addition to the new town development project in Lido, we expect to receive orders for the Bali Trump Resort Project,” a Posco E&C official said in the statement.
In a little-noticed company update in February, MNC wrote that an “aggressive global expansion” of the Trump international portfolio was underway with “numerous projects in the pipeline.” The document doesn’t provide details of the projects.
Trump’s ongoing business deals have spurred questions about whether his actions as president are based on what’s best for the country or what’s best for his company’s bottom line.
In a break from his predecessors, Trump refused to fully separate from his company despite repeated calls for him to do so. Instead, he put his holdings in a trust — though he can receive money at any time and revoke the trust at any time.
“It is impossible to tell where the Trump Organization ends and the Trump administration begins,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight Committee. “This is why the founders included the emoluments clause in the Constitution expressly forbidding a president from profiting in and from his office.”
The latest agreement with Posco could violate the Constitution — which bars officials from accepting money or gifts from foreign governments, according to lawmakers and ethics experts. Trump already faces several lawsuits, including one filed by Connolly and other Democratic members of Congress, that he is violating the emoluments clause.
“The president and his family are monetizing the presidency in every way they possibly can,” Connolly said. “Conflicts of interest abound, and yet the president refuses to divest.”
The Trump Organization, MNC and Posco did not respond to questions. But officials at the Trump Organization, now run by the president’s adult sons, have previously said their partners — not them — contract with other companies. The Trump Organization often only licenses its name and manages the resort, they say.
Before he was sworn into office, Trump vowed his company would not engage in new foreign deals or new transactions with a foreign country or official. The Trump Organization withdrew from some foreign projects but not others. Company officials consider projects, such as Lido City, as unfinished but not new while ethics experts say they are new because they are signing new contracts.
Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that filed one of the emoluments lawsuits, said Trump over the course of his presidency has “shown no interest in trying to curtail his business interests or in trying to discourage foreign governments and foreign companies from doing business with him.”
“There have now been interests where you have to at least question whether his decision making has been influenced,” Bookbinder said. “I think he’s doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt at this point.”
Trump spent the weekend in South Korea meeting with Moon about a variety of issues, including North Korea’s nuclear threat and a newly implemented trade agreement between the two countries. Before he arrived in South Korea Saturday, Trump spent two days in Japan for a gathering of the world’s 20 largest economies, meeting with world leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.
Both Korea and Saudi Arabia have ties to Posco. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund purchased a 38 percent stake in Posco E&C, a subsidiary of steelmaker Posco. South Korea’s public pension fund owns 10.72 percent of Posco, according to a March auditor’s report.
Several prominent government officials from both countries attended an event in Jakarta in 2017 to celebrate the partnership of MNC’s and Posco’s subsidiaries, according to reports in foreign media. The previously unreported contract was finalized late last year.
Trump has repeatedly minimized potential problems with his business. “It’s not a big deal — you people are making it a big deal, the business,” he told reporters at one of his regular visits to his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago. “When I won, they all knew I had a big business all over the place.”
Several other state-owned companies signed onto the Lido City project before Trump was elected including Korea Land and Housing, China Metallurgical Corporation Group and Chinese Export and Credit Insurance.
When Trump was elected in 2016, construction was just starting. MNC expects to begin selling homes and golf memberships for both Indonesia developments this year.
The Trump International Hotel and Tower Lido project, located in the tropical forests, will include a theme park, hotel, country club and an 18-hole golf course designed by famed South African golfer Ernie Els, according to promotional material.