Saturday, February 18, 2017

Golf club brings Trump brand to glitzy Dubai

DUBAI - The American president's businessman sons opened the Trump International Golf Club Saturday as Dubai hosted the first foreign launch of a venue bearing Donald Trump's name since he took office.

The Trump International Golf Club, developed in the glitzy Gulf city state by luxury real estate firm DAMAC Properties, was inaugurated by the billionaire's sons Eric and Donald Jr.

The event marks the Trump Organization's first public overseas launch since the president's January 20 inauguration.

Fireworks crackled above the golf course late Saturday, as inside the club the Trump brothers posed for selfies with guests.

"We're gonna have a lot of fun years together," Eric Trump told DAMAC chairman Hussain Sajwani during the speeches.

Trump's sons then left, as they had arrived, in a fleet of four-wheel-drives and diplomatic vehicles under police escort.

The venue was carpeted in red for the opening, with a maquette of the sprawling green, spa and club facilities at the entrance.

"We have brought Beverly Hills right to your doorstep," said a promotional video.

Guests wearing traditional dress, including white gandouras and black abayas, mingled with others in suits and fur wraps.

While the deal predates Trump's 2016 election, the golf club's opening coincides with controversy over the policies and politics of the tycoon president, and potential conflicts of interest.

The correlation between wealth and politics is nothing new, and American presidents are not required by law to give up their investments or businesses.

- 'No conflict of interest' -

Critics have raised questions over the ethics and constitutionality of Trump's ties to governments and business executives, however.

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.

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 favors.

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 bejeweled 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.

- 'The Donald of Dubai' -

Trump's ties to 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.

Trump's 2015 call for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims" entering the US led major regional retailer "Lifestyle" to drop Trump-branded home decor items out of respect for its customers.

DAMAC Properties, which declined to comment on Trump's remarks, said at the time 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 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.