Donald Trump has long dreamed of expanding his real estate empire in South America, but the business climate in one of the continent’s wealthiest countries only became favorable for the mogul-turned-President-elect in the past year.
Just a few months after the November 2015 election of Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri, the Trump family entered discussions with YY Development Group, an Argentine developer, to license its name for “Trump Office Buenos Aires,” a luxury office building in the heart of the nation’s capital. Macri, a neoliberal former civil engineer and mayor of Buenos Aires, came to office with the promise of revitalizing Argentina’s foundering economy, and he immediately moved to roll back the strict import and currency controls enforced by his predecessor, Cristina Kirchner.
As TPM reported, the President-elect allegedly asked for help with the Trump Office project when Macri called to offer his congratulations after the election. Jorge Lanata, one of Argentina’s most prominent journalists, said that Trump asked Macri to ensure that the city government of Buenos Aires approves plans for the $150 million office tower so that construction can get underway.
The alleged use of his platform as President-elect to push a foreign government to move forward with a private building project that would bear his name is just one thread in a web of potential conflicts of interest Trump’s portfolio presents. Already, the Trump family has raised questions by hosting foreign executives at Trump Tower to discuss ongoing construction projects abroad while the President-elect goes about choosing cabinet appointees and ironing out policy proposals.
Juan José Cugliandolo, CEO of YY Development Group, unwittingly laid bare the difficulty of separating Trump the politician from Trump the developer in a recent interview with El País, one of Argentina’s largest dailies.
“The Trump brand should be associated with a free market, beyond the political symbol,” Cugliandolo said in Spanish.
In a separate interview with Uruguayan newspaper El Observador, Cuagliandolo insisted that there was a firm separation between Trump’s business and political interests. But he acknowledged that the campaign had made the Trump brand even more high-profile than it was before he launched a presidential bid.
“Everyone is talking about it,” he said in Spanish.
Cuagliandolo’s YY Development Group has played a key, proud role in helping the Trump Organization gain a foothold in South America. The company’s website devotes an entire subsection to Trump Tower Punta del Este, Trump’s first venture on the continent.
Eric and Ivanka Trump were the force behind the 129-apartment luxury condo building in the upscale seaside town in Uruguay. Forbes reported that discussions for the project began in November 2012, and that it will be completed in 2018.
This existing relationship made YY Development Group a natural choice for the Trumps to work with when Macri’s election lifted currency controls and rendered Argentina’s business climate newly favorable to development.
YY executives told La Nación, an Argentine newspaper, that Trump had long hoped to expand his business empire there but the previous currency controls and Kirchner’s stringent restrictions on imported building materials like fittings, electrical elements and paint pigments kept him from making any moves.
“To be Trump, it has to be the very best,” YY Director Felipe Yaryura told the newspaper.
Cuagliandolo told El País that he first met with Trump executives in February to discuss the project and “satisfy the unmet demand” for the Trump brand in Buenos Aires. YY hopes that city officials approve final plans by the end of this year, and that the luxury office tower will be completed by 2020.
According to Argentine reporter Romina Manguel, who appeared Sunday night on Lanata’s TV program “Periodismo Para Todos,” Trump’s phone call with Macri allegedly touched on building permits overseen by the city government. She explained that while YY maintains that the permits are in order, some members of the city government want to ensure that they are up to date before granting approval for the project.
The President-elect has maintained that he will have no hand in the Trump Organization’s business dealings going forward, instead entrusting them to his three adult children. Yet Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr. are serving on his transition team while carrying out the company’s day-to-day operations. Ivanka Trump sat in on her father’s meeting last week with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Trump took a break from staffing his new administration last week to meet with Indian business partners working on a Trump-branded apartment building in Mumbai.
YY’s Yaryura even traveled to Manhattan for Trump’s election night party, where he snapped a photo with Eric Trump. He said that Trump’s election, coming so soon after Macri’s, boded well for Argentina’s business climate.
“The planets aligned,” he told La Nación.