The New York Times bombshell report on President Donald Trump’s tax returns, which appeared to show that Trump has taken on approximately $420 million in personal debt and paid only $750 federal income tax annually in recent years, has also sparked a great deal of debate as to whether the president may have violated any tax laws. While most experts agree that the reporting shows a great deal of suspicious activity, it appears more detailed financial data is required before drawing any reliable conclusions about the president’s extremely complex financial status. But drawing from the pieces of the puzzle currently available, one financial journalist analyzed the new information on one of Trump’s Scotland properties and said things don’t add up.
Adam Davidson, a co-founder of National Public Radio’s (NPR) Planet Money who has covered business and economics for the Times Magazine and New Yorker, looked into one of the president’s most prized assets on Wednesday: the Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland. Davidson essentially described the property as a black hole that simply disappears money.
Davidson began a lengthy thread by pointing out that Trump appears to consistently conduct himself in ways that make no apparent business sense, seemingly pointing to someone else being behind the cash Trump used to purchase the property.
“We see the same process year after year. He lends himself millions, the asset value is increased by that same number of millions. This happens in many years when he does no work on the property–no investment, no building,” Davidson wrote, noting that odd behavior continued even through the 2008 financial crash.
According to Davidson, Trump’s financial documents show “major outflows of cash for operations and capital” during years where the Trump Organization did not reinvest funds back into the resorts.
“The overall picture is crystal clear: Every year, Trump lends millions to himself, spends all that money on something, and claims the asset is worth all the money he spent,” he wrote. “He cannot have spent all that money on the properties. We have the planning docs. We know how much he spent–it’s far less than what he claims. The money truly disappears. It goes from one pocket to another pocket and then the pocket is opened to reveal nothing is there.”
This type of accounting gymnastics is “the opposite” of what Trump would be doing if his goal was simply to engage in tax avoidance or fraud because it’s money that cannot be written off on his taxes, per Davidson, who postulated that the likelier conclusion is that it’s “not all his money.”
“I have shown these docs to many accountants, lawyers, prosecutors, FBI agent, etc. Nobody has come up with a plausible legitimate reason for these accounting shenanigans. And all agree it’s a bit ornate and not quite right for simple tax avoidance,” Davidson wrote, adding that the “most likely explanation is, of course, money laundering.”
What is the significance and possible implications of Trump running one of the world’s most prestigious golf resorts like it’s a “money disappearing business”?
“If this is a money disappearing business and it is not only tax fraud, then he is making money disappear for somebody else and charging some sort of fee,” Davidson concluded. “Which might explain why a money-losing golf course pays huge fees to its owner.”
[image via Ian MacNicol/Getty Images]
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