Inside the mysterious lot of land Donald Trump owns in Florida’s swamplands

The quarter-acre parcel brings in no income, has no natural resources and has environmental restrictions. So why does the president still maintain it?

The land is valued at only $4,280, according to the county roll.
The land is valued at only $4,280, according to the county roll. Photograph: Richard Luscombe for the Guardian

Amid the gilded tower blocks, luxury hotels and high-end golf clubs of Donald Trump’s vast global property portfolio is a much smaller holding that looks more than a little out of place.

It’s a quarter-acre lot of overgrown woodland in one of Florida’s poorest counties that the US president has owned and paid property taxes on since 2005 – having bought it for $1 from a woman who owned a photographic studio specialising in adult lingerie shoots.

The plot brings in no income, has no roads, pavement or immediate prospect for development, and provides an environment that is friendly only to the swarms of mosquitoes that thrive in the humidity of the scorching Florida summer.

Sebring, Florida
Photograph: Mapbox

Trump’s interest in such a tiny and inaccessible plot of land in Sebring, 120 miles from the garish surroundings of his coastal Mar-a-Lago palace in Palm Beach, is a mystery to those familiar with the area.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Raymond MacIntyre, property appraiser for Highlands County, a region of central Florida popular with retirees and prime growing territory for the orange groves of the state’s struggling citrus industry.

“Like so many of these plots of land in our county, you need a Jeep, a helicopter or a parachute just to get to it. But the property tax bill gets sent to Trump Tower in New York every year, and every year the taxes get paid.”

Trump’s small parcel of land, for which records show he paid $69.87 in taxes in 2016, is one of hundreds of similarly sized and individually owned lots in an area west of Sebring’s Lake Jackson known as Orange Blossom Estates.

In the late 1960s, a company called Land Services Sebring acquired large tracts of county land and sold subdivisions with the intention of developing them into homesteads. Florida’s era of land speculation was at its peak, McIntyre says, and developers were clamouring for a piece of the action.

There are no natural resources such as gas or oil anywhere close, the county’s zoning department says.
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The circumstances of Trump’s acquisition of the quarter-acre parcel are equally as bewildering as his reasons for maintaining it for more than a decade. Photograph: Richard Luscombe for the Guardian

The company, however, became mired in a number of lawsuits and eventually folded, leaving landowners with effectively worthless lots. Some were privately developed but many more, including the majority of those in the neighborhood where the Trump lot is located, remain untouched. County records list thousands of single undeveloped plots that have been vacant for decades.

“For many of these land owners, they’ll pay more in property taxes in 15 years than the land is actually worth,” McIntyre says.

All of which makes Trump’s interest in the land, valued at only $4,280 according to the county roll, all the more curious. There are no natural resources such as gas or oil anywhere close, the county’s zoning department says. There is a nearby golf course, but it is municipally owned and not available for development. Furthermore, there are environmental restrictions on the land, which features a protected, endemic Florida grass called cut-throat, which would place further obstacles in the way of any new development.

“It’s beautiful, peaceful and quiet around here just the way it is,” said Clovena Minkah, Trump’s “next-door neighbour” who has lived there for 20 years and whose house occupies the only developed lot in the immediate vicinity.

“The deer sometimes come and sit in the yard and it only gets noisy when the kids come through on their ATVs [all-terrain vehicles] at night. And the track to my house floods every time it rains. I’ve been trying to get the county to fix that for years.”

Donald Trump’s tax bill for the vacant land.
Donald Trump’s tax bill for the vacant land. Photograph: handout

The circumstances of Trump’s acquisition of the land, meanwhile, are equally as bewildering as his reasons for maintaining it for more than a decade. It was effectively gifted to him for $1 in July 2005 by a woman named Nazeema Carrico, who was listed in Palm Beach County records as the owner of a photographic studio specialising in adult lingerie shoots.

Carrico owned the land for only a few weeks, having bought it in June 2005 for $3,300 from a man in Ohio, who died earlier this year.

Since her divorce in 2015, Carrico, 41, now goes by the name of Nazeema Moonab and lives in a $550,000 mansion in Covington, Georgia. Records show that members of her family continue to own hundreds of small, undeveloped plots of land in Highlands County, but Carrico surrendered her own joint ownership in about 50 more to her former husband as part of a divorce settlement.

Carrico did not return messages from the Guardian seeking comment and removed her Facebook and Instagram profiles the same day the requests were made. A cousin of Carrico’s in Tamarac, South Florida, denied knowing anything about her, and two other close relatives reached by telephone elsewhere in the state hung up on the calls.

“I wouldn’t have anything to say to him anyway,” said Salmeron, who lives in South Florida and admits she has never visited the plot of land she owns.

“I bought it as a land investment, not for development, but it never worked out. I’m surprised that Trump would also be an owner.”

The Trump Organization, which manages Trump’s portfolio of real estate holdings, did not respond to requests for comment.

Malcolm Turnbull be warned: The Young are Coming.

Young people in Hemlington holding Vote Labour signs ahead of 2017 UK election
‘The UK election result should serve as a warning to Australian governments. Many young people feel let down by current government policies.’ Photograph: Nigel Roddis/EPA

The UK election shows that young people can once again be a force in politics. After years of being dismissed as apathetic and disengaged (and treated accordingly), young voters turned out in big numbers. Their very strong split towards Labour played a pivotal role in the surprisingly poor showing of Theresa May’s Conservative government.

Post-poll surveys suggest young people voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. According to the YouGov poll, more than 60% of under-30s voted Labour compared to 20% for the Conservatives. This polarity was reversed at the other end of the age spectrum: almost 70% of people aged over 70 voted Conservative.

Voting patterns in 2017 UK election vary starkly with age. Percentage vote for the major parties by age
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Photograph: Grattan Institute

Of course the young have always leant to the left, but the gap has increased starkly over time. Young UK voters have moved strongly towards Labour since the 2010 election, and those over 65 increasingly favour the Conservatives.

The partisan age gap has become a chasm. Percentage point deviation in voters relative to UK average, by age.
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Photograph: Grattan Institute

Young people compounded their impact in the 2017 election by showing up to vote. Before the election, pollsters reported that around 74% of 18-34 year olds were very certain they would vote. This compares to 43% in the 2015 election. And they now seem to have a taste for it: after the election 85% of 18-34 years olds indicated they would vote if another general election were called.

This “youthquake” contributed a large (and unexpected) swing to Labour. Corbyn did best in the seats with the highest percentage of 18-24 year old voters.

What has got young Brits so engaged?

On many economic indicators, UK millennials are faring poorly.

Incomes for young people have been hit particularly hard by a decade of stagnant wages growth. People born in the 1980s now have lower incomes than people born 15 years before them at the same age.

And young people are entering the workforce with bigger university debts. After increases in university fee caps in 2012, average debts for graduates doubled to more than £40,000. Further changes to the loan scheme announced in the 2015 budget will add to the repayment burden.

House prices have risen faster than incomes, contributing to a fall in home ownership among young people. Ownership rates for 16-24 years olds have fallen from 54% to 34% in the two decades to 2016.

And young people will inherit sizable government debts and a pension and social care system many regard as unstainable given the ageing population.

Australia’s young are also falling behind

These issues would seem eerily familiar to Australian politicians.

Grattan Institute’s 2014 report The Wealth of Generations documented a range of economic pressures on young Australians. Over the past decade, older households captured most of the growth in Australia’s wealth. Households aged between 65 to 74 are on average $400,000 richer than households of the same age 10 years ago. In contrast, the wealth of households under 35 has barely increased over that period.

Young households are not accumulating more wealth. Mean wealth by age of head of household.
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Photograph: Grattan Institute

The boom in house prices has made the problem worse. Older households have made big capital gains. With low and falling rates of home ownership, younger households have shared less of this windfall. The housing affordability package in the 2017 federal budget shied away from polices that would make a real difference.

In contrast to their British counterparts, young Australians have increased their incomes over the past decade, but there are emerging risks with stagnating wages and cuts to penalty rates.

And young Australians are contributing more to the costs of their university education while governments allocate a bigger proportion of tax revenues to older people. Rising government debt will also drag on the prosperity of the next generation.

Governments are increasingly transferring resources to older households. Average net benefits per household (government payments, less tax).
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Photograph: Grattan Institute

Is Australia facing a youthquake?

There are some signs young people in Australia are becoming more politically engaged. Around 70% of 18 years olds voted in the 2016 election, up from 50% in 2013. And the number of 18-24 year olds not enrolled fell from 400,000 to 250,000 over the same period. Participation rates among the young, however, are still well below the national average of 95%.

The youth vote in Australia is skewed, but not nearly as far as the split at the 2017 UK election. According to our analysis of the Australian Election Study, Australian voters under the age of 34 are seven percentage points less likely to vote for the Coalition and seven percentage points more likely to vote for the Greens than the national average.

The youth vote for the Coalition and the Labor party was pretty similar in 2013, but about 8% of the youth vote shifted from minor parties to the Greens. These are House of Representatives results – the Senate vote was similar.

The UK election result should serve as a warning to Australian governments. Many young people feel let down by current government policies. Politicians will dismiss these concerns at their peril. Pushed too far, young people can become a political force to be reckoned with.

John Daley is CEO and Danielle Wood is Australian Perspectives Fellow at the Grattan Institute.

Australia on watch-list as China billions pour into property

Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving in Waiting for Godot. Sydney Theatre Company

As billions in black money from China continues to flood into property markets, the global Financial Action Task Force has put Australia on a watch-list for failing to comply with money laundering and terrorism financing reforms. Canberra has been dragging the chain for nine years while the powerful lawyers, accountants and real estate lobby groups keep successive governments mired in a consultation process.

The Samuel Beckett classic, Waiting for Godot, features a couple of weary old guys Vladimir and Estragon waiting for another guy called Godot to arrive. Godot never arrives. The play finishes as the two protagonists contemplate hanging themselves.

As we contacted the Department of Justice again last week we were struck by the parallels with the always-impending though never-arriving Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing legislation (AML-CTF).

These are laws which were to have been introduced nine years ago but instead have been bogged down in a marathon of “reviews”, “stakeholder engagement”, “industry consultation”, “papers”, “studies” and “submissions”

Banks, bullion dealers and casinos were captured by the first tranche of the legislation way back in 2006 but as any self-respecting money-launder knows, if you are keen to launder some money, or perhaps finance a spot of terror, you can still do it through lawyers, accountants or real estate agents. These sectors are yet to be captured by the Godotesque second tranche of the legislation.

Besides tightening the screws on launderers and financiers of terrorism, the importance of these laws are that they could take steam out of the property market and address, albeit only in part, the crisis in affordability for first home buyers.

When asked last week how the process was coming along, since the laws were supposed to have been enacted in 2008, the response from the office of the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, was:

“A cost/benefit analysis of extending AML/CTF regulation to certain non-financial business (lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, real estate agents, trust and company service providers and high-value dealers) is well progressed and will be completed by July this year.

“The outcome of the cost-benefit analysis will inform the Government’s decision on the regulation of tranche two entities under the AML/CTF Act.”

In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir has to keep shuffling off to urinate when he starts laughing at his own jokes. This play however only runs for two acts. If Vladimir were a player in Australia’s money-laundering tragicomedy – assuming a constant rate of two urinations per hour – he would have urinated at least 153,792 times by now.

It would not only be Vladimir, and money laundering authority AUSTRAC, holding on either. When asked how Australia’s compliance with international standards was coming along, the communications officer for the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Alexandra Wijmenga-Daniel, told michaelwest.com.au:

“Following its mutual evaluation, Australia was placed on enhanced follow-up and is reporting back to the FATF on an annual basis concerning the progress it has made to address the deficiencies identified in its mutual evaluation report.”

In the classroom of international compliance, this is the equivalent of nose-in-the-corner-at-the-back-of-the-classroom status. “Enhanced follow-up” and “deficiencies”.

The reason the process has meandered on for so long is clearly because the stakeholders involved: the accountants, lawyers and real estate lobbies, don’t want it to happen.

And now government is in a bind. If it stems the flow of Chinese capital it might prick the property bubble.

Chinese money is not alone in driving up prices but it is a factor. On Credit Suisse numbers, some $50 billion of Chinese capital has flooded the Australian property markets, mostly in Melbourne and Sydney, over the past eight years.

How much is black money? We don’t know but the Chinese are only permitted to take $US50,000 out of the country, so the rest, probably the majority of money landing here, is black money.

Introducing the second tranche of the AML-CTF legislation is no silver bullet which will suddenly make houses affordable for first home buyers. Though, along with reform to negative gearing on established homes, it would certainly help.

It is also important because the more the property bubble inflates, the more damaging will be the economic aftermath.

Meanwhile, other measures to address the first-home-buyer crisis, such as stamp duty relief (and a stamp duty surcharge for foreign buyers) are a step in the right direction though tinkering around the edges and arguably incentivising young buyers to hop into an overheated market.

In NSW, the measures run so close to the price threshold that they constitute an incentive to leave the city and go elsewhere to buy a house. The stamp duty measures are far better than cash hand-outs though, which only serve to drive up prices and put cash into the arms of agents and property developers.

Apprehensive of political reprisal, the money laundering agency AUSTRAC has been reliably mute on the failure of governments to comply with international standards. And even though the latest timeframe for action is the completion of a cost-benefit analysis by next month, the commitment to do anything about it remains up in the air, as usual. We remain waiting.

As the second and final act of Waiting for Godot closes, Vladimir and Estragon talk about hanging themselves. But when they conduct a strategic analysis of the strength of Estragon’s belt, which they intend to use as a noose, it breaks and Estragon’s trousers fall down.

STATEMENT BY FATF

Following its mutual evaluation, Australia was placed on enhanced follow-up and is reporting back to the FATF on an annual basis concerning the progress it has made to address the deficiencies identified in its mutual evaluation report. Follow-up reports are not published unless the country has made sufficient progress to justify a re-rating of its compliance with FATF Standards.

 The FATF expects countries to have satisfactorily addressed most, if not all, of their technical compliance deficiencies by the end of the 3rd year after their mutual evaluation report has been adopted. Australia would be expected to have reached this stage by June 2018.

 In addition to the follow up reports each country is subject to, that consider changes to laws and regulations (technical compliance), five years after the mutual evaluation report, all countries are assessed against the actions they have taken to improve the effectiveness of their measures to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.  This 5-year follow up assessment looks specifically at actions taken by a country to address the high-risk areas and priority actions identified in the mutual evaluation report. 

For more information, see the Procedures for the FATF Fourth Round of AML/CFT Mutual Evaluations : www.fatf-gafi.org/publications/mutualevaluations/documents/4th-round-procedures.html

GRANTS AVAILABLE TO CELEBRATE NSW GRANDPARENTS DAY

The Member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, today encouraged local organisations to celebrate the valuable contribution grandparents and older people make in the Coffs Harbour electorate by applying for funding available under the NSW Government’s Grandparents Day event grants program.

This program will enable community organisations, small businesses and local councils to host events that celebrate grandparents and older people for NSW Grandparents Day on Sunday 29 October 2017.

“Grandparents play a significant role in the home and the community, and this extra funding is the NSW Government’s way of thanking them for their hard work,” Mr Fraser said.

“This is the perfect time to show our recognition and support for grandparents and older people in the Coffs Harbour electorate for the amazing role they play in our lives.

“I urge everyone to connect across generations and celebrate grandparents and older people by organising an event in the community.”

Minister for Ageing, Tanya Davies said funding for local events on Grandparents Day will be doubled to $200,000 this year as part of the NSW Government’s continued commitment to seniors across the state.

“I encourage organisations planning NSW Grandparents Day events to focus on activities that help older people, regardless of their age or ability, stay connected and contribute to their communities.”

For the first time, there are three funding categories available this year through the grants program, offering:

  • Tier 1 Grants of up to $1,000 for small scale local events or activities targeted at community organisations and schools.
  • Tier 2 Grants from $1,001 to $5,000 for local community events.
  • Tier 3 Grants from $5,001 to 10,000 for large scale community events targeted at local councils in partnership with organisations and groups.

Applications for the NSW Grandparents Day event grants program are now open.

For more information on how to apply visit  www.grandparentsday.nsw.gov.au

‘NSW BOATING APPLICATIONS OPEN

The Member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, today announced applications are now open for round 2 of the NSW Boating Program which is set to commit $17 million to improve boating facilities across NSW.

“We’re thrilled to put out a call for applications for the next round of the $70 million NSW Boating Now program, a NSW Government initiative to deliver accessible, modern and safe boating infrastructure where it’s needed most,” Mr Fraser said.

“This adds to the $37.5 million which was allocated in 2015 to 192 round one priority projects which are currently being delivered and are already making a massive improvement to boating facilities in regional communities.

“These projects were identified during consultation with the people who use these waterways the most to ensure that every project delivered through the program helps provide a great boating experience in NSW.”

Councils, community groups and the boating industry are invited to submit applications for funding, which will be allocated according to the 11 Regional Boating Plans developed in consultation with Councils, stakeholders and waterways users.

“This is about giving keen boaters everywhere what they need – better quality facilities and continual improvements in safety and accessibility,” Mr Fraser said.

“Under round 2, consideration will be given to priority projects that were identified during consultation on the Regional Boating Plans and any new projects identified by Councils or other delivery partners.”

To find out more about the second round of NSW Boating Now head to www.rms.nsw.gov.au/boatingnow

Melting and cracking – is Antarctica falling apart?

Melting and cracking

Although fracturing and surface melting on the Larsen C ice shelf might sound like indicators of climate change, these processes are natural

 
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Aerial footage of the split in the Larsen C ice shelf taken at the start of the year.

Antarctica boasts a great many superlatives: it is the driest continent, the coldest, the remotest, the windiest and the highest on average. Right now, during midwinter, it is also the darkest. As a rift on the continent’s Larsen C ice shelf lengthens and gets closer to the ice front, we are anticipating the detachment of a large tabular iceberg within the next few weeks.

This comes after observations of a waterfall on another ice shelf last summer, reports of extensive surface melting on several ice shelves and, in a report last week, indications of a widespread surface-melting event, which included rainfall as far as 82° south, during the 2015-16 El Niño. Are glaciologists shocked by any of this? Is Antarctica going to melt away? Is Larsen C about to collapse?

The answer to these questions is no. Glaciologists are not alarmed about most of these processes; they are examples of Antarctica simply doing what we know Antarctica has done for thousands of years. But because there is a potential link between the ice sheet and climate change, glaciologists are suddenly faced with a situation where the spotlight is on our science on a seemingly daily basis, and every time a crack grows, or a meltstream forms, it becomes news. The situation is a conundrum: we want people to be aware of Antarctica and concerned about what might happen there in the near future as climate changes. But hyping research results to sound like climate change, when they are just improved understanding of natural behaviour, is misleading.

To understand all of this, we need to think about how Antarctica works. The ice sheet stores 90% of Earth’s freshwater, which would translate to about 60m of sea-level rise around the globe if it all melted. If Larsen C were to disappear, its tributaries could contribute about 1cm to the global sea level.

The ice gets there through snowfall, just like the ski slopes at Chamonix, but, in Antarctica, with annual average temperatures ranging from -5C to -60C, most of the snow that falls over winter remains at the end of each summer. Over millions of years, snowfall has been added, buried and compacted by new snowfall, and an ice sheet has grown.

Diagram showing an Antarctic ice shelf
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Diagram showing an Antarctic ice shelf Illustration: Jennifer Matthews

Once the ice is thick enough, it flows downhill towards the ocean, where it lifts off the ground and floats, forming an ice shelf. In contact with the ocean below and the atmosphere above, this is where the “rubber hits the road”: to maintain its size, the ice sheet must shed the extra ice it gains through snowfall, which it does through two processes that both occur at the ice shelves – calving of icebergs at the front, and melting underneath. Ice shelves also hold back the flow of the grounded ice; if shedding from ice shelves exceeds the gains from snowfall, they will shrink, and then glaciers feeding them will feel less resistance to flow and speed up, and sea level will rise.

The Larsen C rift is like a dozen other rifts observed in Antarctica before. What looks like an enormous loss is just ordinary housekeeping for this part of Antarctica. An iceberg, even one as large as Delaware or a quarter of the size of Wales, is small compared to the whole ice sheet, which averages 1.4 miles thick and is larger in area than Australia. Think of it as one grain in a bag of rice. Similarly, waterfalls off the front of the ice shelf are not a catastrophe. Surface melt is common and occurs every summer as temperatures rise above 0C, as reported in papers published in the 1990s.

So, while ice fracturing and surface melting may sound like signs of climate change in action in Antarctica, they are really part of the background against which we must look for real change. Real changes are happening there, and when we report them they need to stand out. Previous collapse events involved large amounts of surface melt that forms ponds on an ice shelf that had already weakened. We have not observed this on Larsen C. We will continue to monitor Antarctica by satellites and from the ground, but we will not cry wolf about an imminent collapse of Larsen C.

  • Helen Amanda Fricker is a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography
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Gulf crisis: Trump escalates row by accusing Qatar of sponsoring terror

Saudi Arabia’s billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has come to Donald Trump’s financial rescue in the past. Photograph: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s decision to back the blockade of Qatar – even as US diplomats have sharply criticised the embargo – follows decades of private business dealings by the US president with the countries leading the charge against the small Gulf nation.

Trump’s financial history with Saudi Arabia, which is leading the blockade, and Saudi ally the United Arab Emirates, includes the purchase of tens of millions of dollars in Trump’s real estate properties by wealthy Saudis over the years. The situation raises questions about whether the president’s personal financial relationships are dictating US policy, rather than his stated claims that he is concerned about Qatar’s alleged link to terror financing.

There is no evidence that Trump has been untruthful about his reasons to support the blockade. But the US State Department and the Pentagon – acutely aware of Qatar’s role hosting thousands of US and US-led coalition forces on a large airbase south-west of Doha – have taken different positions from the White House. A State Department spokeswoman recently said that the Saudi and UAE move against Qatar was “mystifying”.

Saudi Arabia, however, has been an important partner to the president. In 1995, when Trump was struggling to make payments on one of his most important New York properties, the landmark Plaza Hotel, it was Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a Saudi prince, who came to his rescue with an investment, which relegated Trump to a minority shareholder in the property. A few years earlier, in 1991, bin Talal bought a huge yacht, the Trump Princess, from creditors at a time when Trump’s other big venture, the Atlantic City casinos, were under pressure.

It does not mean the two have always had a warm relationship. The Saudi prince fired off an angry tweet in June 2016 after then-candidate Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, describing the president as a “disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America”. When Trump won the presidency bin Talal congratulated him.

“They spend $40m, $50m. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much,” he said.

More recently, the Saudi government invested $20bn in a fund earmarked for US infrastructure, part of a broader policy that has been endorsed by the White House. The fund is being administered by Blackstone, which also has ties to Trump and his family.

A lawsuit brought by two Democratic officials – from the US state of Maryland and the DC – named Saudi Arabia as one of several foreign countries that have made payments to Trump’s businesses in alleged violation of an anti-corruption clause in the US constitution. The lawsuit cites a public relations firm that was hired by Saudi Arabia that has spent $270,000 on rooms and meals at Trump’s DC hotel.

The White House has dismissed the legal suit as a partisan attack.

Dubai has also been an important bright spot for Trump’s business. According to election-related financial disclosures, The Trump Organization, which is run by the president’s son, Donald Jr, has been paid between $2m to $10m for golfing projects in Dubai that bear Trump’s name and are being built by a group called DAMAC Properties, which is owned by a Emirati billionaire named Hussain Sajwani.

According to an account in the New York Times, Sajwani, who attended Trump’s New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago, offered to pay Trump an additional $2bn to develop more properties.

A 16 May post on Sajwani’s Instagram account showed him having a meal with Trump Jr, who Sajwani called his “dear friend and business partner”.