A reference to a mysterious condominium purchase and sale in the 1990s is the earliest mention of Donald Trump in the notorious Panama Papers, according to a report published Friday.
A Panamanian company called Process Consultants Inc., which was owned through bearer shares, purchased a residential unit in the Trump Palace skyscraper in New York City in 1991, investigative journalist Jake Bernstein reported, citing the documents.
Bernstein is the author of "Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite."
Bearer shares, which provide a convenient means to transfer property anonymously, have been tightly regulated in recent years because they are frequently used in money-laundering and other illicit ventures.
The directors of Process Consultants (which is sometimes spelled “Process Consultans” in the documents) were employed by Mossack Fonseca, the once-obscure law firm whose clients were exposed by the massive Panama Papers leak.
But these directors were in reality “nominee directors,” Bernstein wrote, meaning that they were not the real decision-makers. Companies sometimes name nominee directors to obfuscate who is really running operations.
Jürgen Mossack, founder of the firm, was one of the nominee directors of Process Consultants, Bernstein reported.
In 1994, Process Consultants sold the apartment for $355,000 to a woman from Hong Kong, using the Trump Corporation as its broker.
While there is no indication that the sale was illegal, the quick turnaround on the condo and the secretive nature of Process Consultants spurred some concern that money laundering may have been involved, the New York Daily News reported.
Trump's name pops up elsewhere in the Panama Papers, but Bernstein’s find marks the president's earliest known appearance.
The 2016 leak of the Panama Papers, a trove of nearly 12 million financial documents tracing Mossack Fonseca's efforts to help politicians and celebrities shield their money from taxes, led to the removal of Pakistan and Iceland’s prime ministers and numerous high-level investigations around the world.
Early in November, Trump's Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, was revealed in the so-called “Paradise Papers” to have conducted large business deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin's son-in-law.