Trump’s Scotland golf resort proceeds with expansion despite business pledge

President-elects team does not consider multimillion-dollar schemes in conflict with written vow to objective new foreign investments, which critics call ambiguous

The Trump Organization will press ahead with multimillion-dollar plans to expand one of the president-elects golf resorts in Scotland, despite its apparent pledge to halt new investments overseas.

Trump officials said the plans for the Trump International Golf Course Scotland in Aberdeenshire likely to immediately involve extending its boutique hotel and building a second 18 -hole golf course did not conflict with his promise not to pursue new or pending deals outside the US.

Implementing future phasing of existing properties does not constitute a new transaction so we intend to proceed, a Trump Organization spokeswoman told the Guardian.

The expansion schemes could see the resort grow substantially, with a new 450 -room five-star hotel, timeshare complex and private housing estate. This would greatly increase the value to the Trump Organization of an investment onwhich Trump originally boasted he would spend up to 1bn.

Richard Painter, a former White House chief ethics adviser to George W Bush, said this extra investment was a perfect instance of the clear conflicts of interest between Trumps newfound power as president and his familys business interests.

Hes use speech which is ambiguous. It clearly illustrates that around the world, he will just simply expand around the various considers and as they continue to expand, the conflicts of interest expand, Painter said.

Its like[ the board game] Monopoly: if you have one home on Boardwalk, its not a new deal to go for three hotels on Boardwalk.

At a contentious press conference on Wednesday, the president-elect announced that his organisation would no longer pursue foreign investments as part of his controversial plans to avoid conflicts between his substantial business interests and his presidency.

In a document issued by the Trump team afterward that day, the president-elects lawyers Morgan, Lewis& Bockius wrote that his new pledge prohibits without exception new foreign deals during the duration of President-Elect Trumps Presidency.

Trump and his legal adviser Sheri Dillon said control of his property, hotels and golfing empire which includes two golf resorts in Scotland and one in Ireland would pass to his sons Eric and Donald Jr, and Trump executive Allen Weisslberg, before his inauguration as president on Friday 20 January.

There is speculation that Eric Trump will fly to Scotland next week, as that transfer of power takes place.

Trump
Trump International Golf Links, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Photo: Mapbox, OpenStreetMap

Crucially, President-elect Trump has not agreed to sell or transfer his shares in the golf resorts, which entails he retains ultimate ownership and stands to benefit from increases in the value of those investments. He owns 100% of the shares in the Aberdeenshire course, which has all along been attained heavy losses. He has personally loaned it nearly 40 m, and it lost 1.1 m last year.

The so-called white paper released by Trumps legal advisers on Wednesday, setting out the new management the agreements and announcing a new trust to be run by his sons and Weisselberg, also said the agreement prohibits the Trump Organization from entering into any new transaction or contract with a foreign country, agency[ or] any nation or local government or any agency or instrumentality thereof, other than normal and customary arrangements already undertaken before the president-elects election.

Trumps legal advisers claim this structure will avoid Trump from breaching foreign bribery regulations because any profits earned by allowing foreign dignitaries and leaders to stay at his two Scottish hotels, and his large Irish golf resort and hotel at Doonbeg there, would be passed to the US Treasury.

Walter M Shaub, director of the US Office of Government Ethics, said Trumps scheme doesnt meet the standards that the best of his nominees are satisfying and every president in the past four decades has met.

Painter added that this structure was not legally enforceable. This is meaningless language, because what is the definition of a new deal? When youre a real estate developer, you are constantly entering into new contracts, expanding existing facilities, refinancing leases.

The phrase new deal is subject to such wide range of interpretation that it can easily be worked around, he said.

Trumps executives in Scotland argue that his new agreement to halt overseas investment cannot affect the Trump International Golf Course Scotland in Aberdeenshire course, which lies 10 miles north of Aberdeen, since its expansion schemes predate Trumps election victory on 9 November. A spokesman for the Trump transition team did not immediately return a request for comment.

The expansion proposals are partly derived from the resorts masterplan, which was approved against fierce opponent from environmentalists by the Scottish government in 2008.

The largest of his two Scottish hotels is the 149 -room five-star hotel at Turnberry, which Trump bought with its associated Open championship course in 2014. He has since expended some 60 m developing the resort, adding a new ballroom, a 3,500 -a-night presidential suite and an ostentatious fountain.

Aberdeenshire councils planning department has recently approved plans to expand Trumps boutique hotel at the resort north of Aberdeen, which he bought in 2006, and is processing a live planning application for the second golf course.

On 2 November, a week before Trump stunned his foes by winning the presidency, it dedicated listed building consent to extend the resorts boutique hotel, a converted early Victorian country house called Macleod House in memory of the president-elects Scotland-born mother Mary Macleod, to include a banqueting foyer and six new bedrooms.

On 22 December, the council published a further official report on water management plans for the second 18 -hole golf course, which is also being named in honour of Trumps mother. The course was a central part of the 2008 masterplan and this application has been in the planning system since September 2015.

The boutique hotel was not included in the masterplan approved by Scottish ministers in 2008 but it has been in use as a hotel for several years. Trumps critics in Aberdeenshire argue that its expansion creates substantial the issue of the future of Trumps ultimate plans for the resort.

The Trump Organization had tried to dilute the original masterplan proposals last year by setting out plans for a new 850 -home private housing estate and 1,900 leisure accommodation units, thought to be timeshares. Those schemes were incorporated in Aberdeenshires draft local scheme, although the council said he would also have to build a new primary school and affordable homes for local residents in return for planning consent.

But in December government planning inspectors hurled that proposal out and insisted the Trump Organization stuck to the original 2008 scheme which requires it to first build the 450 -bed luxury hotel, and associated athletics facilities, as a prerequisite for approving to build highly profitable private homes.

They said that if he built a new housing estate, he must also provide hundreds of affordable homes, the new school, community facilities and pay for a new roundabout, alongside robust environmental checks during construction.

David Milne, a local resident and vocal critic of the resort, said the decision to press ahead with expanding the boutique hotel indicated the Trump Organization had dropped plans for a five-star hotel at the resort.

I would question whether or not theres any valid reason why the plans are compatible, Milne said. If youre going to be required to do a 450 -room hotel, why are you messing around with adding a six-bedroom extension to a boutique hotel?

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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