Only three days after Argentina's President Mauricio Macri called President-elect Donald Trump to congratulate him on his upset victory, it was announced that construction on a long held-up project for a Trump tower in Buenos Aires would proceed.
As Quartz reported on Wednesday, Trump's associates at YY Development Group in Buenos Aires told La Nacion, one of Argentina's most influential conservative newspapers, that construction on the tower would be going ahead. La Nacion also reported that the initial call between Trump and Macri (who have been friends since the 1980s) was arranged due to efforts made by foreign minister Susanna Malcorra to get in touch with Trump's son Eric through Felipe Yaryura, an Argentine businessman who is friends with Trump and was present to celebrate when he discovered that Trump had been elected. Eric Trump reportedly then put Malcorra in touch with Trump's foreign affairs team.
As Quartz also notes, Malcorra avoided answering a question posed by a reporter about whether she knew Yaryura and used him to get Macri in touch with Trump. Similarly, a spokeswoman from YY Development refused to comment to Quartz about any of these questions because “they have already had too much media exposure.”
While there is no evidence that Trump's phone conversation with Macri is connected to the sudden positive development for one of his real estate projects in that country, there are other circumstantial details surrounding that call which suggest something is amiss.
As ThinkProgress reported on Wednesday, prominent Argentine journalist Jorge Lanata claimed that the 15 minute conversation between Trump and Macri included a direct request from Trump for assistance receiving the permits needed to move ahead with construction on the tower. It was later confirmed by Reuters that Trump's daughter Ivanka, who is expected to help manage her father's businesses while he is in office, participated in the call.
ThinkProgress also reported that Trump first broke into the South American real estate market in 2012 with a Uruguayan tower that was financed by Argentine investors. Although the leftist government of Christina Kirchner was unlikely to support Trump's ambitions in Buenos Aires, the conservative Macri would have been more sympathetic even if it hadn't been for his pre-existing friendship with Trump. That said, after Trump's conversation with Macri, La Nacion reported that "they [Yaryura and other partners of Trump for this project] showed confidence that the construction would begin on 9 de Julio Avenue next year."
Although Trump has claimed that a president cannot have conflicts of interest, the president is barred from accepting foreign emoluments — that is, gifts from foreign politicians or businessmen. If Trump has indeed leveraged his power as president to facilitate construction of a lucrative real estate venture for his private business, that could very well be illegal.