Vladimir Putin

Penthouse for Putin: Trump firm wanted to give Russian leader US$50 million flat, broker says

  • Russian ex-adviser to president’s property company claims he also tried to give one of the proposed Moscow flats to Madonna
  • At the same time, former lawyer Michael Cohen admits he lied about the Russian real estate deal ending before Trump’s presidential run
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2018, 10:32pm

US President Donald Trump’s company considered offering Russian President Vladimir Putin a US$50 million penthouse in a planned skyscraper in Moscow to make the building more desirable to rich buyers, according to the Russian-born property developer who was broker on the project.

Felix Sater, a felon, ex-government informant and former Trump business associate, said on Thursday he came up with the idea as a way to reap extra profit from Trump Tower Moscow, which he said would have brought in as much as US$500 million if it had been built. Trump’s lawyer at the time Michael Cohen approved of the idea, Sater said, adding that it came to him while “spitballing” marketing schemes.

It wasn’t clear how seriously the idea was pursued or whether Trump knew about it.

Trump has issued repeated denials. “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” he wrote on Twitter in January 2017, shortly before he was inaugurated.

The Moscow tower deal was scrapped in 2016, though the reasons are still unclear. The disclosure about the penthouse proposal was first reported by Buzzfeed News, which claimed the idea was pitched during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I proposed giving Putin a US$50 million penthouse because all of the oligarchs would kill to live in the building, and we could raise prices by an extra US$250 million,” said Sater, was an adviser to Trump’s company during the Moscow negotiations and worked with Trump developing a building in Manhattan.

Trump’s business dealings in Moscow took centre stage earlier on Thursday when Cohen pleaded guilty to lying about the Trump Tower Moscow project in an August 2017 statement to Congress. Cohen admitted he lied when he said negotiations for the skyscraper ended when they continued until after Trump got the Republican nomination.

“I knew at the time in that I asserted that all efforts had ceased in January 2016, when in fact they continued until June 2016,” Cohen said on Thursday.

Cohen said he was trying to minimise links between Trump and the Moscow project and to give the impression the deal had fallen apart before the first primary, “in the hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations” and acknowledged working with “Individual 2” – Sater, according to a person familiar with the matter – in trying to win Russian approval for the project, according to court papers.

Cohen has agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. As part of his plea deal, he admitted he talked to Trump about the Moscow deal more times than he had previously stated and also briefed Trump family members.

Trump continued bashing the Mueller probe on Thursday, writing on Twitter: “When will this illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt, one that has shattered so many innocent lives, ever end-or will it just go on forever?”

Trump lambasted Cohen following the plea deal. “This is a weak person and not a very smart person,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House on his way to the Group of 20 summit in Argentina. Cohen is trying to reduce his prison sentence “by making up a story”, the president continued.

Sater said giving big-name celebrities free units in new buildings is “a standard marketing trick in real estate.” He said he tried a similar marketing trick in the mid-2000s, while working on a residential project in Montenegro, when Madonna was to perform at a concert.

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He said he tried to give Madonna a free unit, thinking that if potential buyers heard Madonna may live there “everyone would want to live there”. It did not work, but he said he got a lot of publicity out of it.

In Moscow, “I decided to go after the biggest celebrity in Russia,” Sater said.