The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Center for Public Integrity on Monday revealed Donald Trump's real estate group rented office space to Bank Melli, Iran's largest state-controlled bank, which U.S. officials believe to be connected to terrorism and the country's nuclear arsenal.
The Republican nominee has repeatedly maligned the Obama administration's "botched" Iran deal, simultaneously bragging about his own deal-making capacity. For a week on the campaign trail in August, Trump repeatedly claimed to have seen a nonexistent video of U.S. officials delivering $400 million in bags to Iran on an airport tarmac in exchange for hostages. He eventually admitted his mistake — in itself a rarity.
As recently as last week, during the first presidential debate, Trump called the Iran deal "one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history," and falsely claimed it required the U.S. to pay Iran $150 million out-of-pocket. (Whether or not the figure is accurate, that money derived from Iran's assets, unfrozen as a stipulation of the deal.)
According to the ICIJ's report, Trump's company, the Trump Organization, inherited the bank's lease when he purchased the GM Building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in 1998, and held onto the lease "for four more years after the U.S. Treasury Department designated Bank Melli in 1999 as being controlled by the Iranian government."
"U.S. officials later alleged that Bank Melli had been used to obtain sensitive materials for Iran’s nuclear program," the ICIJ noted. "U.S. authorities also alleged that the bank had been used between 2002 and 2006 to funnel money to a unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that has sponsored terrorist attacks — a period that overlapped with the time the bank rented office space from Trump."
In 2007, after Bank Melli moved out of the 44th floor of the GM Building, U.S. officials charged it with facilitating "purchases for Iran’s nuclear program" and being used to send "at least $100 million to the Quds Force, the feared special operations unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards."
However, experts told ICIJ, "Bank Melli played an important role in Iran’s nuclear program and support for international terrorism in the years before it was singled out by Treasury in 2007."
Until last year, heavy sanctions made it illegal — barring special exemption from the Treasury Department — for the Trump Organization to conduct business with Iran — including collecting rent, estimated to be as much as $500,000 per year.
"At the time, Donald Trump called for the U.S. [to] take a tougher line against the Iranian regime," the report noted in an effort to highlight the hypocrisy. Trump told The Guardian in 1998 that he'd "be harsh on Iran," adding, "They've been beating us psychologically, making us look a bunch of fools."
Read the full report here.