Donald Trump Jr.’s India Visit Raises Ethics Questions

Donald Trump Jr.’s India Visit Raises Ethics Questions
By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Donald Trump, Jr.) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This week, Donald Trump Jr. is visiting India where he is working on a multimillion dollar business deal. President Trump, the head of the multibillion dollar real estate empire that bears his name, has agreed to abstain from international business deals while serving out his term, leaving his two sons in charge. Trump Jr.’s India visit has succeeded in raising criticism in the US and causing somewhat of a frenzy in the South Asian nation.

Donald Trump Jr.’s India visit will last a week and include meetings with investors, promotional appearances for the new Trump Towers, and speak at a New Delhi business summit. The trip is of high importance to the Trump Organization; India is currently its largest market outside of the US.

On the front page of several Indian newspapers, a large ad, a “yuge” ad some might even say, announces Trump Jr.’s arrival, “Trump has arrived. Have you?”

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The Projects

One of the new Trump Tower spotlighted on , yet to be built, will stand in Gurgaon, a bustling and seemingly ever growing suburb of New Delhi. The Trump Organization is not directly building the latest installment of Trump Towers, instead they have a licensing agreement with local Indian builders who have permission to leverage the Trump brand in their luxury development in exchange for a fee. The Trump Organization does not invest any of their own money in the deals.

The condos in Gurgaon are pre-selling for between $775,000 and $1.5 million. The residence will house 254 condos and are planned to be completed by 2023. Although pricey, the condos are hardly exorbitantly priced in the New Delhi real estate market. Those who pre-purchase a condo in the new Trump Towers by Thursday are promised a “a conversation and dinner” with Trump Jr. on Friday.

Trump Towers is one of two Trump developments underway in Gurgaon. Three other Trump projects in India include a 23 storey Trump Towers in Pune, which is already open and operational. There are also lavish Trump Tower projects in Mumbai and Kolkata.

Conflicts of Interest?

During the 2016 campaign, both Trump’s critics and supporters expressed concern over potential ethics violations and the possibility for corruption if President Trump continued to spearhead his real estate empire. Trump Jr. has instead taken over much of the business end of the Trump empire, while the company has not inked any new foreign deals. Despite this, there are still deals made before Trump Sr. assumed the presidency that the company is contractually obliged to carry out. The five Trump Towers projects in India is one of these deals. Although it was signed before President Trump assumed the office, government ethics watchdogs have had a field day over Trump Jr.’s India visit.

Critics worry that the promised dinner with Trump Jr. may imply to India’s mega-wealthy that purchasing a condo in Trump Towers will grant them access to the President and his family. Norman Eisen, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institute told CNN, “What is to stop a foreign national with interests before the U.S. government from asking Don Junior to raise some issue or concern with his father? We know that father and son talk all the time, and discuss business.” Earlier this year buyers of Trump Tower condos had the opportunity to fly to New York City to meet with Trump Jr. at a private reception.

Why License Trump?

For the developers building the Trump Towers across India, they are licensing the Trump brand and image, which in India at least, has been risen in prestige since Trump was elected president. The website for the Trump Towers project in Mumbai reads, “Mumbai is now home to the Trump lifestyle,” evoking images of unabashed luxury, echoed by the building’s gold color. Yes, the building will literally be shiny gold and feature privileges like a private jet service, a luxury spa, white glove services, and something called a Trump card, which grants you access to Trump properties around the world.

Trump Tower Kolkata evokes the entire Trump family to sell their image of luxury. The website reads, “The Trump family welcomes you to a life of perfection, exclusivity, and refinement.” Some of their luxury amenities include a rooftop pool & banquet hall, as well as an on-call chef. As of January, 2018, Trump Tower Kolkata had already sold 65% of their residences since going live in October. Residences in Trump Tower Gurgaon are said to be likewise selling like hotcakes.

Although the details of the real estate deals have been kept hush hush, reports indicate that adding the Trump name to luxury condos increases their value by 30% in India. One of the investors in the Trump Towers projects has said that the Trump properties are selling for 40% more than his other projects.

Tuesday, Trump Jr. posed in a photo-op with the Indian developers leading the projects in the four Indian cities. One of the men featured was Kalpesh Mehta, the developer behind Tribeca, the main firm behind the Trump projects in India. A November meeting between then President-elect Trump, Mehta, and other Indian business leaders initially raised questions over President Trump’s potential conflicts of interest between his new presidential authority and business interests.

And a Little Bit of Politics

Trump Jr. will also appear on stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss Indo-Pacific relations at at business summit in the Indian capital of New Delhi. Trump Jr. will be a keynote speaker at the summit.

Prime Minister Modi has lavished praise on President Trump following the Trump administration’s announcement that they will be terminating security aid to Pakistan. As Pakistan’s collaboration with China through CPEC grows, now worth some $60 billion, tensions between India and Pakistan have only escalated. Modi has even tried to take some credit for Trump’s decision to end funding to Pakistan.

Despite hundreds of luxury condos bearing the Trump name now available to India’s wealthy, the average salary in India is about $2,000 a year.

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