Mikheil Saakashvili

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Miheil Saakashvili is a Ukrainian politician who once served as President of the Republic of Georgia. In 2011, Trump and Saakashvili signed a licensing deal that would have emblazoned Trump's name on proposed residential towers in the Georgian cities of Batumi and Tbilisi. Saakashvili was defeated in elections held in 2012. Following his defeat, Trump's business deals in Georgia were canceled.

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Georgia- Batumi and Tbilisi

Trump took money from Georgian business partners to put his name on towers that were never built: Donald Trump signed a licensing deal with the President of Georgia in March of 2011 that would put his name on two proposed towers – the Trump Riviera Batumi and Trump Tower Tbilisi.[1] Development of the $300 million deal was led by Giorgi Ramishvili, a Georgian businessman whose Silk Road Group was one of the largest companies in the region.[2] Trump made no promises to invest his own money in the project, but stood to earn a licensing fee for the use of his name and would have managed the buildings if they ever opened.[3] Neither building was ever completed.[4]

Trump and Georgia's President showered each other with praise in New York, while Georgian media falsely reported that Trump would bring badly needed foreign investment: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili attended the signing of the deal with Trump in New York City, apparently hoping that the agreement would bolster confidence among Western investors.[5] For his part, Trump used the ceremony to boast of his foreign policy experience, claiming he was “dealing with one of the great leaders of the world.” [6] Local television stations back in Georgia apparently misreported the nature of the deal, wrongly claiming that Trump had agreed to invest in the former Soviet Republic.[7] Georgian economic development officials portrayed the Trump deal as a significant public relations achievement, despite local criticism that it required no personal investment from Trump.[8] At the time Trump's deal was signed, Georgia was in dire need of foreign investment, which had been sharply plummeting in the wake of Russia’s 2008 invasion and a global financial collapse.[9] Georgia’s average per capita income in 2009 was a mere $2,455.[10] Under Saakashvili, Georgia had a flat income tax rate of 20% for all payers and lacked worker protections such as labor laws, unions, or a minimum wage.[11]

Trump received an undisclosed sum for allowing his Georgian partners to use his name: It is not presently known how much money Trump was paid to put his name on the Georgian real estate projects. Giorgi Ramishvili claimed in 2016 that Trump had been paid when the agreement was first signed.[12] Trump’s lawyer refused to explain how much Trump had received, telling a reporter that “the terms of the agreement are propriety and confidential.” [13] Trump’s financial disclosures reveal that he owns and controls two companies that may have been set up to receive licensing fees from Georgia. The two companies – Trump Marks Batumi LLC and Trump Marks Batumi Member Corp – have no disclosed income, assets or value.

Trump personally traveled to Georgia in April of 2012, nearly two years after he began negotiating his deal there: Trump first began exploring the possibility of a deal in Georgia in early 2010.[14] Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, traveled to Georgia for two weeks, reportedly to scout out possible sites for the Trump-branded developments.[15] Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili first announced that an agreement had been reached in September of 2010.[16] Trump personally traveled to Georgia in April of 2012, where he was awarded the local “Order of Lights” award.[17] Local officials touted Trump’s brief visit as evidence that Georgia had received the “green light” for foreign investment.[18] Following his visit, Trump claimed he was “considering” investing $100 million of his own money in Georgia.[19] In the same interview he explained the Silk Road Group would be responsible for fundraising on the project. We have found no evidence that Trump ever invested his own money in the Georgia developments.

Domestic opponents of Georgia's president derided the Trump deal as a "complete lie:" Saakashvili’s dealings with Trump were the object of domestic criticism by Georgians who questioned their President’s priorities. Trump Riviera Batumi was one of several high-profile projects pursued by Saakashvili while core domestic infrastructure investments were neglected. [20] Saakashvili’s election rival, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, singled out the deal with Trump for criticism. Speaking of Trump’s reported investment in Georgia, Ivanishvili told an American reporter “Two months they have been circulating this on TV. Not a single cent has been invested by Trump. It's a complete lie.”[21] Saakashvili was defeated in the 2012 election by a margin of 15 points. At a press conference following his victory, Ivanishvili again criticized his predecessor’s deal with Trump.[22] Trump’s Georgian business partner, Giorgi Ramishvili, had been a financial supporter of Saakashvili’s candidacy.[23]

Trump's deal was canceled after his business partners went down in electoral defeat: Local reports claimed that Trump’s project had been canceled after the election, but Trump’s business partner denied them.[24] The project nevertheless languished. A scheduled ground-breaking in 2013 never happened. Following Trump’s win of the 2016 US Presidential Election, the Silk Road Group announced construction of Trump Riviera Batumi would resume.[25] The Trump Organization and Silk Road Group canceled the development in January of 2017, shortly before Trump’s inauguration.[26]

Georgia relaxed travel restrictions against Russians shortly before Trump's visit: Georgia unilaterally waived visa restrictions on Russian citizens in February of 2012. The move was described as an effort by Saakashvili to attract more foreign investment.[27] The announcement was made two months before Trump’s trip to Georgia, which – as discussed earlier – was also portrayed as an effort to attract more foreign investment. To the best of our current knowledge, this is merely an interesting coincidence.

Trump had earlier ties to Saakashvili

The other day, the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, came to town to see an old friend: Donald Trump. [...] Saakashvili, who is six feet three, with close-set eyes and floppy black hair, explained that he had been a Trump fan since the mid-nineties. After getting a master's in law from Columbia, he worked at a New York firm that was a Trump tenant. "I met him in an elevator," the President recalled. "He asked me whether we liked the building. I said to him, 'You better fix the showers on our floor,' and it was done within, like, twelve hours."The Trump touch left an impression. "I always stay in New York in Trump hotels," Saakashvili said; this time it was the International Hotel and Tower, at Columbus Circle. (New Yorker, April 18, 2011)

Saakashvili, now living in exile as an appointed politician in Ukraine, boasts of his ties to Trump after 2016 election

At least one Ukrainian politician appeared to seize on the opportunity to promote his closeness to the U.S. president-elect. On Facebook, Mikheil Saakashvili, the firebrand former Georgian president who resigned as governor of Ukraine's Odesa region on November 7, shared a photograph of himself with Trump during the opening of Trump Tower in Batumi, Georgia, in 2012, when he was head of state. "I've known [Trump] for more than 20 years, we are friends. I accurately predicted [his win]," Saakashvili wrote. He added a word of caution as to not place himself too close to the controversial Trump, saying the American businessman turned politician had "a strong personality with unpredictable policy ... we must be careful." (Radio Free Europe, November 9, 2016)

Saakashvili quits political post in Ukraine, forms party to oppose anti-Russian president

KYIV -- Mikheil Saakashvili, a onetime Georgian president who resurrected his political career in nearby Ukraine, has announced the launch of a new Ukrainian political party and called for early elections just days after resigning his governor's post in Odesa. Speaking to reporters in the Ukrainian capital on November 11, Saakashvili repeated accusations that rampant profiteering and obstacles to reform are hurting Ukraine, which remains divided two years after Russia seized Crimea and Moscow-backed separatists began fighting against Kyiv's authority. "We will create a new broad political power, a platform of new forces, and our goal is to change the present, existing, so-called political elite, who are actually profiteers and social misfits," Saakashvili told a press conference. He said the new party would be called Hvylia, or Wave, and added, "Our goal is for early parliamentary elections to be carried out as quickly as possible." He again lashed out at Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, a former schoolmate whom Saakashvili accused of sabotaging reform efforts in the Black Sea port region when Saakashvili unexpectedly quit the Odesa governorship on November 7. [...] "Unlike Trump," Saakashvili said, "Poroshenko, who has known me even longer, did not want to use my experience because he didn't want to change Ukraine." He then played archive footage dubbed into Ukrainian of Trump -- who once called Saakashvili "one of the great leaders of the world" -- lauding Saakashvili's reform efforts in Georgia. (Radio Free Europe, November 11, 2016)

Saakashvili basing his Ukrainian election campaign on personal ties to Trump, improving relations with Russia

Saakashvili, who built his reputation upon opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the oligarch Ivanishvili, has swiftly shifted over the past two years from serving in the government of Ukrainian oligarch and President Petro Poroshenko to aligning himself with Poroshenko's opponents. At the same time, he is seeking to portray his relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, an avowed Putin admirer, as a positive in addressing Ukraine's ongoing struggle with Russia. He developed a relationship with Trump in the lead up to a failed 2012 development project in the Georgian Black Sea city of Batumi. His rival Ivanishvili denounced the project following the 2012 election, and then he re-assessed his position after Trump's election in 2016. Trump ended up cancelling the project at the end of the year. (Eurasia Review, January 31, 2017)
  1. In a ceremony with caviar and wine at Trump Tower in Manhattan on Thursday, Mr. Trump signed a deal to develop the two tallest towers in the republic of Georgia, the former Soviet state at the nexus of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Giving his blessing to the deal was Mikheil Saakashvili, the flamboyant, English-speaking president of Georgia. (‘’New York Times’’, March 11, 2011)
  2. Any actual construction, if it begins as scheduled in 2013, would be overseen by Giorgi Ramishvili, chairman of the Silk Road Group, one of the largest private investment companies in the south Caucasus region. The deal, which the partners estimate at $300 million, calls for two projects. The Trump Tower Tbilisi would go up on Rose Revolution Square in Georgia's capital. The Trump Riviera would be part of a planned Silk Road complex that includes a casino, an exhibition hall and a marina, in the resort city of Batumi on the Black Sea, near Turkey. (New York Times, March 11, 2011)
  3. In Georgia, Mr. Trump will license his name, and his company will manage the two properties. He will also work with Silk Road to line up financing for the projects and market the towers. Mr. Trump said that so far he had no plans to put his own cash into the deal. (New York Times, March 11, 2011)
  4. Donald Trump’s company pulled out of a proposed $250-million tower project in the Georgian Black Sea resort town of Batumi, the latest effort by the U.S. president-elect to defuse charges that his global businesses will cause conflicts of interest once he enters the White House. […] The Trump Tower in Batumi was widely assumed to have been shelved when Saakashvili lost power in 2013 and was later stripped of his Georgian citizenship. But Giorgi Ramishvili, Silk Road’s founder, said a month ago that it was still on track. (‘’Bloomberg News’’, January 4, 2017)
  5. For Georgia's president, it was a chance to show that his country, the former Soviet republic, is grand enough to attract the world's best-known real estate developer. And for that developer, Donald J. Trump, it was yet another opportunity to demonstrate that he is world class. [...] Mr. Saakashvili has been eager to draw celebrity foreign investors to show Georgia is again open for business, after the global recession and a war with Russia in 2008 dried up the foreign direct investment that had been propelling the economy. (New York Times, March 11, 2011)
  6. Trump even touted his meeting with Saakashvili, where the developer signed an investment deal for Georgia's Black Sea resort of Batumi, as proof of his made-for-the-presidency foreign policy credentials. "Of course. I am dealing with one of the great leaders of the world," Trump said, looking over at Saakashvili. (Agence France Presse, March 10, 2011)
  7. US businessman Donald Trump "plans to invest 250 million dollars in Georgia" and will "certainly" visit Georgia in the near future, the privately owned Rustavi-2 channel reported on 11 March. [...] While all three main national TV channel's presented the move as Trump investing money in Georgia, reports in international media suggest that Trump's will be managing the project and that the starting capital of 250m dollars is being put up by Georgian company Silk Road Group. (‘’BBC Monitoring Trans Caucusus Unit’’, March 11, 2011)
  8. Local critics were quick to note that although Trump signed a deal to allow the proposed luxury towers to be branded with his name and help raise financing for construction, he didn't actually commit any of his own funds to the estimated $250 million (180 million euro) project. But despite this, the government is optimistic that the US tycoon's celebrity allure could act as an advertisement. "When someone like Trump decides that Georgia is the right place to put his brand name, a lot of other companies will feel comfortable following in his footsteps," said economy minister Kobalia. (‘’Agence France Presse’’, March 20, 2011)
  9. The deal was a PR boost for the ex-Soviet state which is struggling to lure back foreign investors following its war with Russia in 2008 and the global financial crisis. But statistics published the day after the agreement suggested that Georgia needs more help than the flamboyantly-coiffured US magnate has to offer. Foreign direct investment decreased by 16 percent in 2010 to $553 million (397 million euros), following an even more dramatic fall of 58 percent the previous year, according to preliminary figures from the state statistics office. […] The Georgian economy was propped up by $4.5 billion (3.23 billion euros) of US and EU aid and loans after the 2008 conflict, which maintained stability during the global crisis and enabled a post-war return to growth. (‘’Agence France Presse,’’ March 20, 2011)
  10. Mr. Saakashvili has been eager to draw celebrity foreign investors to show Georgia is again open for business, after the global recession and a war with Russia in 2008 dried up the foreign direct investment that had been propelling the economy. Georgians remain poor. The average income, in a country of about 4.3 million people, was $2,455 in 2009. (New York Times, March 11, 2011)
  11. The current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, now 44, was first elected when he was 36. The relative tenderness of their age is accompanied by an almost utopian ambition to create a super-capitalist free-market society. There are almost no labor laws, no trade unions and no minimum wage. Taxes are low and uniform - wage-earners pay 20 percent income tax regardless of how much they earn (compared to as much as 48% in Israel). The corporate rate is 15%, compared to 25% in Israel. "We believe that the main role for government is in building infrastructure," says Gvindadze. (‘’Jerusalem Post’’, June 8, 2012)
  12. Trump's business ambitions have extended throughout the former Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. [...] He spent three days in Georgia in 2011 to announce another project in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi. It has not been built, but a project official, Giorgi Rtskhiladze, told The Post that Trump was paid a fee for the use of his name when the agreement was signed. (‘’Washington Post’’, June 17, 2016)
  13. Cohen would not elaborate on the nature of the relationship between Silk Road and the Trump Organization. When asked if Trump had invested any of his own money in the Batumi high rise, he responded that "The terms of the agreement are propriety and confidential." (‘’The Atlantic’’, August 28, 2012)
  14. Maia Lomadze, public relations manager of the Silk Road Group, told RFE/RL on June 25 that the Trump Organization will jointly work with the Silk Road Group to invest in business projects in Tbilisi and the Georgian port city of Batumi. [...] Trump reportedly discussed the possibility of investing in Georgia in April during a meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in New York City, where the Trump Organization is headquartered. (Radio Free Europe, June 26, 2010)
  15. Entrepreneur and real estate mogul Donald Trump is considering real estate investments including casinos and golf courses in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. He has sent Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, to the country to sound out possibilities after being impressed by the country's president Mikheil Saakashvili on a recent trip to New York. [...] Cohen visited 13 potential development sites and said he was impressed by the Black Sea coastal town of Batumi. It is largely an unknown destination outside central Europe but is a popular destination for tourists from Central Asia due to a temperate climate and proximity to the Turkish border. (Realty Plus, July 16, 2010)
  16. Trump signed an agreement with Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili in New York to build the tower, the presidential administration said in a statement. It provided no financial details of the agreement and said a decision had not yet been made on where the building would be located. [...] Saakashvili was in New York for the UN General Assembly session and for meetings with potential investors as he seeks to revive Georgia's struggling economy. (‘’Agence France Presse’’, September 22, 2010)
  17. The President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili awarded American billionaire and media tycoon Donald Trump with "Order of Lights". The ceremony took place on Saturday evening at the presidential palace in Tbilisi. […] Trump arrived in Tbilisi today and tomorrow he will attend a presentation of "Trump Tower" project in Batumi. (Trend Daily News Azerbaijan, April 21, 2012)
  18. Georgian Economy Minister Vera Kobalia has reiterated that US businessman [Donald Trump's] visit to Georgia is a sign of the green light for investors across the world. "Trump spent only two days in Georgia [on 21-22 April], but this fact has already triggered unprecedented interest of investors and the international media," Kobalia said. [...] "Trump['s visit] is a real sign of 'green light' for Georgia in terms of attracting new investments.” (‘’BBC Trans Caucasus Monitoring Unit’’, April 23, 2012)
  19. US property mogul Donald Trump is considering investing more than $100 million in a residential high rise on the Black Sea coast of Georgia as he considers projects in other former Soviet Union countries. "I'll be putting something in, but that has not been determined yet. For the job itself, it will be more than $100 million," he said during a visit to the capital city Tbilisi. Trump, who travelled to Georgia after a visit to Istanbul, unveiled the 47 story Trump Tower Batumi project with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and partner Silk Road Group, one of the country's biggest private investment companies. "Batumi is becoming quite a place, it's the best location, the Monte Carlo of the region," Trump said. Silk Road will be responsible for fundraising, he added. [...] "As Georgia becomes a player in the global economy, what's extremely important for Georgia is to have a brand like Trump coming to Georgia and showing the world that like Western development Georgia is coming to the market as well," Michael Cohen, the Trump Organisation's executive vice president, told Reuters. (‘’Realty Plus’’, May 8, 2012)
  20. Saakashvili’s critics tens of thousands of whom rallied in Tbilisi on Sunday call these plans the vanity projects of a megalomaniac. They are baffled as to who would live in the enormous Trump Tower, they have no idea where Lazika’s 500,000 putative residents would come from; and they see political machinations behind the transfer of parliament from Tbilisi. They also complain that Georgia’s existing infrastructure needs urgent renewal, as evinced by the collapse of dilapidated houses and the death of five people during flash floods in Tbilisi this month. (‘’Irish Times’’, May 29, 2012)
  21. ‘’’Q:’’’ So, in your mind, the idea of there being a foreign investment economy in Georgia is a fiction? ‘’’A:’’’ Absolute fiction. They cannot name a single investor. They brought in [U.S. real estate mogul Donald] Trump. You can research this yourself. Trump did not put any investments. He was actually paid from us. You can double-check this with this Donald Trump example. The government was saying, promoting in the States as well as in Georgia, that Trump is going to invest in Georgia.Well, no investment came from Trump. Two months they have been circulating this on TV. Not a single cent has been invested by Trump. It's a complete lie. Quite the contrary: Trump wanted to sell his brand, and we don't know what actually happened. One thing is evident: when the government controls business totally, not a single investment goes to that country. (Atlantic Online, August 28, 2012)
  22. President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia conceded defeat in parliamentary elections on Tuesday and declared himself an opposition politician, an extraordinary event in a country whose other post-Soviet leaders have left office under pressure from chanting crowds and the threat of civil war. [...] A coalition of opposition groups, called Georgian Dream, won the vote on Monday by 55.1 percent to 40.1 percent, the Central Election Commission reported on Wednesday morning, with about 96 percent of precincts reporting.[...] At his news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Ivanishvili said without hesitating that he planned to bring Georgia even closer to the United States and that he, like Mr. Saakashvili, hoped to steer the country toward NATO membership. However, he went on to inveigh against Mr. Saakashvili, deriding his trademark reforms, as well as recent projects like a plan to build a city, Lazika, on the Black Sea, and a joint construction venture with Donald J. Trump. (New York Times, October 3, 2012)
  23. The article is based on materials of "Transparency International" - [...] Namely, "National Movement" has received 117,000 lari from construction company "Modern House", per 60,000 lari - from Lado Gurgenidze (executive chairman of "Liberty Bank"), Temur Kokhadze (partner in subsidiary company of "Tegeta Motors"), Ekaterine Chkhaberidze (director general of "Goodwill"), Giorgi Ramishvili ("Silk Road Group"), Levan Pkhakadze ("Wissol Group"), Mikheil Svimonishvili ("Marneuli Food Plant"), Devi Ovashvili ("Interplast"), 55,000 lari (Sarke Economic Press Monitor, April 19, 2013)
  24. "Silk Road Group" had spread a statement today, saying "recently various media call "Trump Tower" among those governmental projects, which may be canceled by the new government". However, the company stresses, Batumi "Trump Tower" is not the state, but the private project, being implemented by "Silk Road Group" on the base of license agreement with Donald Trump. General plan and a draft for the "Trump Tower" project are already finished, the company said. Besides, so-called "model house" is installed on the territory, aiming to facilitate the sales process after development of the detailed design. (Sarke Daily News, October 12, 2012)
  25. Days after Donald Trump's election victory, a news agency in the former Soviet republic of Georgia reported that a long-stalled plan for a Trump-branded tower in a seaside Georgian resort town was now back on track. [...] Once scheduled to break ground in 2013, however, the project was halted by an economic downturn, a local land planning dispute and, some analysts said, the electoral defeat of then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a personal friend of Trump's who had championed the deal. In recent months, long-standing roadblocks to the project's groundbreaking resolved without government assistance, said ­Giorgi Rtskhiladze, a U.S.-based partner working with the local developer, the Silk Road Group, which paid Trump a licensing fee to put his name on the building. Rtskhiladze said the developers informed the Trump Organization in September or October that the project could now proceed. After Trump was elected, he said he emailed a congratulatory note to Trump's adult children and to a top Trump Organization executive - and reiterated that developers are prepared to move forward. He said Trump executives have indicated the project is being "reevaluated," as they discuss how his company will be operated after Trump takes office. "We're ready," Rtskhiladze said. "We're waiting for them to give us the green light." (Washington Post, November 25, 2016)
  26. Donald Trump’s company pulled out of a proposed $250-million tower project in the Georgian Black Sea resort town of Batumi, the latest effort by the U.S. president-elect to defuse charges that his global businesses will cause conflicts of interest once he enters the White House. The Trump Organization and its local partner in Georgia, the Silk Road Group, said in a joint e-mailed statement that they’ve decided “to formally end the development of Trump Tower, Batumi.” The project, a 47-story residential condominium, was announced in 2012 by Trump and then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Silk Road said it will go ahead on its own with a luxury tower in the town, once dubbed the Monte Carlo of the Caucasus by Trump. [...] The Trump Tower in Batumi was widely assumed to have been shelved when Saakashvili lost power in 2013 and was later stripped of his Georgian citizenship. But Giorgi Ramishvili, Silk Road’s founder, said a month ago that it was still on track. Ramishvili, contacted by phone today, didn’t elaborate on why it’s been abandoned now, and also declined to comment on whether he’ll be attending Trump’s inauguration. (Bloomberg News, January 4, 2017)
  27. Georgia will no longer require visas for Russian visitors as it tries to attract more foreign investment, President Mikheil Saakashvili said Tuesday in a rare gesture of good will between the two countries, former Soviet republics that fought a brief war in 2008. Russia has refused to have any contact with Mr. Saakashvili since its military crushed an assault by Georgian forces on the Russian-backed rebel region of South Ossetia. Mr. Saakashvili said Tbilisi now wanted to abolish visas to send a signal to Russian business executives and tourists that Georgia would welcome them. "We want to give peace a chance," he said in Parliament during an annual address to the nation. (New York Times, February 29, 2012)