DUBAI: Every few miles another Trump billboard flashes by on the highways of Dubai, the glitzy Gulf city hosting the first foreign launch of a venue bearing his name since US President Donald Trump took office.
The Trump International Golf Club, developed by luxury real estate firm DAMAC Properties, is to be inaugurated on Saturday by the president’s sons Eric and Donald Jr.
The event marks the Trump Organization’s first public overseas launch since the president’s January 20 inauguration. Cameras and recording devices are banned from the premises, and security will screen attendees’ belongings at the door.
While the deal predates the 2016 election, the golf club’s opening coincides with controversy over the policies and politics of the tycoon president, now at the centre of an emoluments lawsuit filed in a district of New York.
The correlation between wealth and politics is nothing new, and US presidents are not required by law to give up their investments or businesses. But critics have raised questions over the ethics and constitutionality of Trump’s ties to governments and business executives.
Trump says he has transferred control of the Trump Organization to his two eldest sons, and the business empire has said it will not pursue new deals outside the United States. But despite calls by ethics watchdogs, the president has resisted complete divestment from his businesses.
– ‘Donald of Dubai’ –
Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) on January 23 filed a lawsuit citing payments from guests at his hotels — and golf courses — as well as leases with foreign governments as forms of cash and favours.
The suit, which does not seek monetary damages, cites the emoluments clause, a scantly-noticed passage in the US constitution.
The clause originally took aim at then-ambassador Benjamin Franklin, later a founding father of the United States, after he accepted a customary bejewelled snuffbox from French monarch Louis XVI.
It holds that “no Person holding any Office… shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present” from any foreign state.
At a press conference in January, Trump, at the time still president-elect, said he had rejected a new $2-billion deal in Dubai with DAMAC — as a personal and not official move. “I didn’t have to turn it down,” he said. “But I have a no-conflict-of-interest provision as president.”
The Dubai golf course, however, has raised concerns not only over a potential conflict of interest but also Trump’s policies on Muslim-majority countries.
Trump’s ties to DAMAC chairman Hussain Sajwani, whose $3.2-billion net worth last year landed him on Forbes’ list of world billionaires, first sparked controversy during the Republican outsider’s presidential campaign.
– Muslim travel ban –
Trump’s 2015 call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the US led major regional retailer “Lifestyle” to pull Trump-branded home decor items from its shelves out of respect for its customers.
DAMAC Properties, which declined to comment on Trump’s remarks, said at the time that the golf club development would remain unaffected. And it has resulted in an 18-hole golf course designed by Gil Hanse, the architect behind the Rio 2016 Olympics course.
A 2014 video posted on YouTube channel “Arabian Golf TV” shows Trump in his trademark red tie swinging a club in slow motion before flashing two thumbs up, flanked by Sajwani and a smiling Ivanka Trump, his daughter.
On November 25, two weeks after Trump’s against-the-odds electoral triumph, Sajwani posted on his Instagram a shot of the three on the golfing green apparently taken the same day.
Sajwani, an Emirati whom Forbes has called “the Donald of Dubai”, himself received a warm shout-out at Trump’s New Year’s Eve bash.
“Hussain and the whole family, the most beautiful people, are here from Dubai tonight and they’re seeing it and they love it,” Trump said from the stage at his Mar-a-Lago club in sunny Florida.
The United Arab Emirates was not among the seven mostly Muslim countries named on Trump’s now-suspended travel ban. -AFP