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Conflict of Interest Allegations Dog Trump Jr. on Indonesia Trip

Donald Trump Jr., right, son of U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks as Media Nusantara Citra (MNC) Group President and CEO Hary Tanoesoedibjo listens during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 13, 2019.

Rio Tuasikal and Eva Mazrieva contributed to this report.

WHITE HOUSE — Donald Trump Jr. promoted two Trump-branded resorts in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on Tuesday, and defended against allegations that the Trump Organization's global business empire creates conflicts of interest for his father's administration.

During an event to "pre-launch" Trump Residences in Bali and Lido, West Java, the eldest Trump son touted the planned luxury homes as "dream projects."

He said the Trump Organization's deal to develop the projects was signed before his father became president, and since then, the group had chosen not to take on new overseas deals to "avoid even the impression of any kind of impropriety."

"We made a very conscious decision of the family not to do that right now," Trump Jr., executive vice president of the Trump Organization, told reporters.

The two Trump Residences will include villas and golf courses, and will be developed within three years by MNC Land.

MNC Land is part of the sprawling MNC Group, an Indonesian multinational conglomerate engaged in media, finance, property, natural resources and transportation. The company is owned by Hary Tanoesoedibjo, a business tycoon and founder of the right-wing Indonesian Unity Party, Perindo, who calls President Donald Trump his "friend."

Trump Resorts in Indonesia Stirs Allegations of Conflicts of Interest
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In 2017, Tanoesoedibjo and his wife, Liliana, attended Trump's inauguration in Washington and stayed at the Trump Hotel. One of Liliana Tanoesoedibjo's Instagram posts was a video showing the view from inside a vehicle driving in the locked-down parade route after the president took the oath of office.

The White House would not comment on VOA's query for this story.

Business vs. foreign policy

Trump Jr.'s visit comes amid Indonesian officials' concerns of being targeted by the Trump administration's protectionist policies, as trade tensions between the United States and China continue. In 2018, Indonesia had an $8.3 billion trade surplus.

Trump Jr. dismissed suggestions that the family's international business interests could affect his father's foreign policy.

The notion that because of a development, President Trump might be influenced to change U.S. policy "is totally asinine," he said. "I'd like to shut that nonsense down, once and for all, right here."

In May, MNC Land announced it had hired a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned Metallurgical Corp. of China to build a theme park in Lido City. MNC Land also announced it has received a letter of interest from the China Export and Credit Insurance Corporation (SINOSURE), "paving the way for project financing from China."

"The theme park has nothing to do with the Trump Organization, we have to make it clear," Tanoesoedibjo said during the event. He added that he had discussed a loan for his theme park with the Chinese bank but ultimately canceled it. "It was done by our team, but finally we dropped it," he said.

Asked if the U.S.-China trade war might have any influence on Trump projects, Trump Jr. replied, "There's literally zero influence in one decision-making process as it relates to the other."

Conflicts of interest

Upon winning the presidency, Trump refused to divest from his company, but promised that the Trump Organization would not sign any new foreign deals while he was in office.

In September 2018, MNC Group signed a memorandum of agreement for first-phase development of MNC Land's Lido City project, valued at $120 million, with POSCO E&C, an engineering and construction firm partly owned by the Saudi and South Korean governments.

Lido City will include an 18-hole golf course and a six-star hotel, both of which will bear the Trump name.

While MNC's agreement with POSCO does not mention the Trump Organization, experts say that in the case of the Trump family's global dealings, it's very difficult to ascertain where business stops and governing begins.

"The problem with corruption potentially involving the president's company is that it's entirely unprecedented," said Jeremy Venook, an analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. He added that the U.S. Constitution's emoluments clause, which prohibits individuals within the U.S. government from receiving gifts, titles of nobility and presents of any kind from agents of foreign governments, has become a major subject of debate since Trump took office.

Whether the funds received by the Trump Organization, including more than $10 million in fees paid by MNC between 2015 and 2017, is considered an emolument, is still being debated.

The Trump Organization and the administration argue that the emoluments clause only applies "if it is a specific bribe, if there is some sort of quid pro quo," Venook said.

He added that some constitutional experts believe that America's founders meant for the clause to be broader, and that the clause was designed to avoid a "halo effect."

"Trump, or whoever was the president at the time who has this kind of organization, may accept money and not actively think of it as influencing their policy decisions," Venook said. "But he may say to himself, 'That Hary Tanoe, he's a great guy. He has spent all this money helping my businesses in Indonesia. Why don't I do him a solid?'"

A win for Trump

In July, President Trump won an emoluments clause lawsuit involving Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., brought by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland.

The three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled unanimously that the attorneys general did not have the standing to bring the lawsuit, and instructed a lower court to dismiss it.

Speaking Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Trump highlighted his victory, calling the lawsuits “presidential harassment.”

“Obama got $60 million for a book, nobody looks,” Trump said, “but with me it's everything emoluments.”

Similar lawsuits alleging Trump violated the emoluments clause while in office were also dismissed in 2017. In those cases, the court ruled, "It is up to Congress to decide whether to challenge or acquiesce" to Trump's conduct.