Does President Trump Have Financial Interests in Saudi Arabia?

In response to Trump's tweet claiming that he has no such financial interests, social media users shared a Fox News Research tweet highlighting Trump's business dealings with the Saudis.

Image via Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

Claim

Despite his claims to the contrary, President Trump has ongoing financial interests in Saudi Arabia.

Rating

Donald Trump has had business dealings with the Saudi kingdom going back to the early 1990s, and as recently as 2017 profited from Saudis staying at his hotels.

Neither Donald Trump nor the Trump Organization currently owns property or investments in Saudi Arabia.

Origin

On 2 October 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared during a visit to Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Instanbul, Turkey. Although foul play was suspected, the Saudi government at first denied that any harm had been done to the journalist. Then they began releasing conflicting accounts, beginning with the claim that Khashoggi died accidentally in a “fistfight.”

Ultimately, the Saudis acknowledged that evidence provided by Turkish investigators pointed to his being slain in a “premeditated” attack, which they said was undertaken in a “rogue operation” not authorized by the Saudi royal family. Two senior government officials were dismissed, and 18 Saudi nationals allegedly involved in the murder were arrested.

President Trump was criticized in the immediate aftermath of Khashoggi’s disappearance for his apparent reluctance to hold the Saudis responsible for the incident. “We want to find out what happened,” he said. But he also maintained that the United States’ relations with the kingdom were “excellent” and he would not consider stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite calls from members of Congress to do so.

Various commentators, including Washington Post contributor Brian Klaas, suggested that Trump’s official dealings with Saudi Arabia are “compromised by deep financial conflicts of interest”:

His business interests — past, present, and future — make it impossible for him to contemplate the kind of consequences that the Saudis deserve. In 1991, when Trump was $900 million in debt, he was bailed out by a member of the Saudi royal family, who purchased his 281-foot yacht, Trump Princess. Trump’s other princess, Ivanka, is married to Jared Kushner, who has deep ties to the crown prince. In 2015, when asked about his relationship with the Saudis, Trump said: “I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

As recently as December 2016, Trump owned companies in Saudi Arabia, as he sought to build a hotel there. Three days after Trump’s inauguration, lobbyists working for the Saudi government funneled $270,000 directly to the Trump Organization by booking rooms at his Washington hotel. More recently, Trump’s flagging Manhattan hotel got bailed out thanks to a lucrative visit from none other than the Saudi crown prince.

It raises the disturbing possibility that Saudi Arabia will get away with abduction or murder because the president is beholden to Saudi money.

Trump responded by tweeting that he has no financial interests in Saudi Arabia:

That same day, Fox News Research (a Fox News Twitter account that regularly posts newsworthy data) tweeted a list highlighting some of Trump’s business relationships with the Saudis:

Shortly afterward, Trump’s tweet and the Fox News tweet were combined into a meme and unleashed on Facebook:

The meme presented the Fox News tweet as a refutation of Trump’s, but although each of the former’s statements can be confirmed via reliable sources, they don’t necessarily disprove President Trump’s claim that he has no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.

The sticking point (and the reason we’re rating the claim a mixture of true and false) is that the term “financial interests” usually denotes the ownership of property or investments in a given place, company, or industry. We have found no evidence that either Trump or Trump Organization (the umbrella company operated by Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric), currently owns property or investments in Saudi Arabia.

According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, the Trump Organization was pursuing plans to open businesses in Saudi Arabia as recently as 2016, but the Associated Press reported in October 2018 that the companies had been shut down by the time Trump took office:

Shortly after he announced his run for president, Trump began laying the groundwork for possible new business in the kingdom. He registered eight companies with names tied to the country, such as “THC Jeddah Hotel Advisor LLC” and “DT Jeddah Technical Services,” according to a 2016 financial disclosure report to the federal government. Jeddah is a major city in the country.

“Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million,” Trump told a crowd at an Alabama rally on Aug. 21, 2015, the same day he created four of the entities. “Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

The president’s company, the Trump Organization, said shortly after his 2016 election that it had shut down those Saudi companies. The president later pledged to pursue no new foreign deals while in office.

In a statement this week, the company said it has explored business opportunities in many countries but that it does “not have any plans for expansion into Saudi Arabia.”

There is no question that Trump has profited from business dealings with the Saudis, however. Let’s take the items in the Fox News Research list one by one:

1991: Sold yacht to Saudi Prince

Fortune reported in 2017 that Trump, facing financial difficulties in 1991, sold a yacht he purchased from the Sultan of Brunei in the 1980s to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

2001: Sold 45th floor of Trump World Tower to Saudis

The Associated Press reported that the Kingdom of Saudi purchased the entire 45th floor of Trump World Tower in New York City in 2001, “the biggest purchase in that building to that point.”

June 2015: I love the Saudis … many in Trump Tower

During a 16 June 2015 speech at Trump Tower announcing his presidential candidacy, Trump said: “Saudi Arabia, they make $1 billion a day. $1 billion a day. I love the Saudis. Many are in this building.” At a campaign rally one month later, he said: “I like the Saudis; they are very nice. I make a lot of money with them. They buy all sorts of my stuff — all kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundreds of millions.”

August 2015: “They buy apartments from me … Spend $40M-$50M”

At a campaign rally in Mobile, Alabama in August 2015, Trump said: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

2017: Saudi lobbyists spent $270K at Trump D.C. hotel

The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2017 that Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., received payments amounting to roughly $270,000 for services provided to lobbyists working for the Saudi government. Although Trump had announced earlier in the year that any Trump Organization profits from foreign governments would be donated to the U.S. Treasury, the company did not respond to the Journal‘s questions about what would be done with the Saudi payments, which were made through a third party.

Despite his not owning businesses, properties, or investments in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Trump has clearly, and by his own admission, profited to the tune of tens of millions of dollars from business dealings with the Saudis, and over a long period of time.

We reached out to the Trump Organization for comment but received no reply.

Sources
  • Beavers, Olivia.   “Saudis Spent $270K at Trump Hotel Amid Lobbying Efforts: Report.”
        The Hill.   5 August 2017.

  • Condon, Bernard et al.   “‘I Love the Saudis’: Trump Business Ties to Kingdom Run Deep.”
        Associated Press.   16 October 2018.

  • Fahrenthold, David A. and Jonathan O’Connell.   “‘I Like Them Very Much:’ Trump Has Longstanding Business Ties with Saudis, Who Have Boosted His Hotels Since He Took Office.”
       The Washington Post.   11 October 2018.

  • Kirkpatrick, David D.   “Trump’s Business Ties in the Gulf Raise Questions About His Allegiances.”
        The New York Times.   17 June 2017.

  • Klaas, Brian.   “Jamal Khashoggi’s Fate Casts a Harsh Light on Trump’s Friendship with Saudi Arabia.”
       The Washington Post.   10 October 2018.

  • Mangan, Dan.   “Trump Claims He Has ‘No Financial Interests in Saudi Arabia’ — But He Makes Lots of Money from It.”
        CNBC.   16 October 2018.

  • Myre, Greg.   “The Big Overlap Between Trump’s Global Holdings and U.S. Foreign Policy.”
        NPR.   22 November 2016.

  • Orden, Erica.   “Saudi Disappearance Puts Spotlight on Trump’s Business Ties.”
        CNN.   12 October 2018.

  • Smith, Geoffrey.   “This Is the 420-Foot Yacht Donald Trump Wanted — Before He Filed for Bankruptcy.”
        Fortune.   13 February 2017.

  • Tau, Byron and Rebecca Ballhaus.   “Trump Hotel Received $270,000 from Lobbying Campaign Tied to Saudis.”
        The Wall Street Journal.   6 June 2017.

  • Watson, Kathryn.   “What’s at Stake in the Trump Administration’s Ties to the Saudis.”
        CBS News.   12 October 2018.

  • Wong, Edward et al.   “Trump Calls Relations with Saudi Arabia ‘Excellent,’ While Congress Is Incensed.”
        The New York Times.   11 October 2018.

  • Associated Press.   “A Timeline of Events in the Khashoggi Case.”
        25 October 2018.

  • CBS News.   “Transcript: Donald Trump Announces His Presidential Candidacy.”
        16 June 2015.

Dear Reader,

Snopes.com has long been engaged in the battle against misinformation, an effort we could not sustain without support from our audience. Producing reliable fact-checking and thorough investigative reporting requires significant resources. We pay writers, editors, web developers, and other staff who work tirelessly to provide you with an invaluable service: evidence-based, contextualized analysis of facts. Help us keep Snopes.com strong. Make a direct contribution today. Learn More.

Donate with PayPal