Federal prosecutors in New York investigating former President Donald Trump's social media company "examined" whether it violated money laundering laws by accenting $8 million in loans with suspected Russia ties, according to The Guardian.
Trump Media, which owns Truth Social, came under a criminal investigation last year in connection to its planned merger with a blank check company called Digital World (DWAC). Towards the end of the year, prosecutors began looking at two loans totaling $8 million sent to Trump Media through the Caribbean from two obscure entities that appear to be "controlled in part by the relation of an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin," according to the report.
The first loan, a $2 million wire transfer, appears to have been approved by Donald Trump Jr., who sits on the company's board, according to the report.
"Just want to keep you in the loop – no guaranty that these will get signed and funded, but we remain hopeful," John Haley, a lawyer for Trump Media, wrote in a December 2021 email.
"Thanks john much appreciated," Trump Jr. replied.
Guardian reporter Hugo Lowell explained on MSNBC that prosecutors "got a tip" at the end of last year over the loans that came at a time when Trump's company was "cash poor."
"They went and got bridge financing from first a bank, then in February 2022 they got a second loan of $6 million from two different companies," Lowell said. "As it turned out, they're pretty much one and the same company, and if you trace the beneficiaries back you get to the nephew of a Putin ally who was the first deputy justice minister in Russia and previously served in Putin's executive office."
The first $2 million loan was wired in December 2021 by a company called Paxum Bank, which has a history of providing banking sources for pornography and sex worker industries, though the promissory note identified an entity called ES Family Trust as the lender. Trump Media then received an "unexpected" second $6 million payment from the ES Family Trust, according to receipts reviewed by The Guardian.
Will Wilkerson, a former co-founder of Trump Media, told The Guardian that DWAC CEO Patrick Orlando, who sourced the first loan, declined to provide details about the true identity of the lenders or where the money came from.
Prosecutors examined the "Russia connection," according to the report, focusing on Anton Postolnikov, the nephew of Putin ally Aleksandr Smirnov, who served in Putin's administration.
Wilkerson told The Guardian that former Trump Media CFO Philip Juhan weighed returning the money but it was never sent back, in part because losing $8 million of about $12 million the company had in its account would have strained its finances.
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Prosecutors began investigating the payments after Wilkerson alerted the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan to the payments in October 2022. Trump was the chairman of the company at the time, though it's unclear if he was aware of the nature of the loans and did not seem interested in the day-to-day operations, Wilkerson told the outlet.
The report stressed that the extent of the exposure for Trump Media and its officers is unclear, though legal experts told the outlet that money laundering prosecutions are frequently based on circumstantial evidence.
"Even if Trump Media and its officers face no criminal exposure for the transactions," Lowell wrote, "the optics of borrowing money from potentially unsavory sources through opaque conduits could cloud Trump's image as he seeks to recapture the White House in 2024."
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