NEW YORK - Donald Trump's Indonesian business partner dismissed concerns by ethics officials that the U.S. president-elect's companies' overseas business deals might be vulnerable to conflicts of interest in an interview on Wednesday.
Hary Tanoesoedibjo, 51, is the billionaire chairman and chief executive of MNC Group, which is constructing two luxury resorts in Indonesia that will be managed by the Trump Hotel Collection, a subsidiary of the Trump Organization.
Like Trump, Tanoesoedibjo believes his country's politics could benefit from his business acumen and says he now devotes half his 16-hour days to tending to Perindo, the political party he founded last year, and other political efforts.
"We didn't add any new project since he decided to run for president so I don't think there is a conflict of interest," Tanoesoedibjo said in an interview at the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan where he was staying before traveling to Washington for Trump's inauguration on Friday.
"A conflict of interest happens when if after he won the election and then we decided to add more projects. That's where we get to a gray area," he said. "But our project actually has been decided long before that." He said he signed the deal with Trump in early 2015.
Trump's unusual path to the White House as a businessman who has never previously held political office and his decision to retain ownership of his companies has drawn him into conflict with ethics watchdogs.
Walter Shaub, director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, has unsuccessfully urged Trump to "divest his conflicting assets."
Trump has said the company would not make any new deals abroad while he is president and that his two elder sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, will take over his roles in running the business. Tanoesoedibjo said he met with the two brothers for two and a half hours on Wednesday morning at Trump Tower to discuss the resorts' progress, and said Donald Jr. was expected to return to Indonesia this summer.
MNC is investing between $500 million and $1 billion in the developments, one near Jakarta and the other in Bali. It is paying the Trump Hotel company to manage luxury hotels, golf courses and country clubs at the two sites. The properties should be open by early 2019, Tanoesoedibjo said.
He demurred on how U.S.-Indonesia relations might change under a Trump administration except to welcome Trump's willingness to take on the United States' larger trading partners in pursuit of what he calls better trade deals.
"When the U.S. is pushing too hard against another big country like China or maybe a European country that may create a situation where that country may shift their investment somewhere else," Tanoesoedibjo said, "and potentially to Indonesia."
He said he would decide before the end of next year whether to run in Indonesia's 2019 presidential election, while describing Trump's victory as inspiring to would-be candidates with thin political experience.
"Maybe some day I'll call him for political advice," he said.