Felix Sater: “My main motivation was in building a Trump tower in Moscow and making $100M in the process”

Mueller investigation has made it tough to do deals, but he's persisted, real estate figure tells TRD in exclusive interview

National /
Apr.April 23, 2019 07:00 AM
Felix Sater (Credit: Getty Images)

Felix Sater (Credit: Getty Images)

Felix Sater’s name is mentioned more than 100 times in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative report.

The report indicates that Sater, a former associate of the Trump Organization who built Trump Soho, wanted to arrange a public meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump before the election, an encounter he hoped would help a $1 billion Trump-branded tower in Moscow and boost Trump’s profile internationally.

After a 22-month investigation, Mueller found there wasn’t enough evidence to establish that Trump had conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. He left open the question of whether or not the president’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice. All eyes are now on Congress as to whether further action will be taken.

On Friday and Monday, The Real Deal spoke to Sater about the report and his role in the Moscow tower.

I know you are probably not able to talk about the report…
I can talk about the report, but I haven’t read it. Nobody’s restricting me from talking, but I’m probably testifying in front of a few different committees shortly, and pissing them off is not exactly a good start.

Have you read any news stories about the report at this point?
Not really.

How has the report impacted you?
The report never had any impact on me. It was just the bullshit reporting that people were doing about me, falsely designed to fit their anti-Trump narrative. The report never bothered me. As you can see from the report itself, there was nothing really being done wrong, I was trying to do a real estate deal. I appreciate they all need to have their conspiracy theories, but at the end of the day, it was a real estate deal.

What sort of stories are you referring to?
They called me a mobster. When the hell was I ever a mobster? I don’t think being convicted of a crime 25 years ago, for which I have more than paid my debt, truly qualifies me for mobster status.

How has this impacted your business?
It’s very difficult to do business when so many negative and nasty things have been written about you.

Have you been working on any deals lately?
Yes, I have.

Can you talk about them?
Why, so that they collapse also? If, clearly, it’s difficult to do business, why would I advertise any of my projects, so that people could write nasty things about them as well for their preconceived narratives?

How have you been able to move forward with some deals?
By having an amazing real estate mind.

How do you show that to people/get past the negative press?
People tend to look past things when there’s a lot of money to make.

What’s your role in these deals?
I’m not going to discuss it.

The report included an email exchange between you and Michael Cohen in which you seemed pretty excited at the prospect of getting Donald Trump elected. That included getting Trump and Vladimir Putin to share a stage.
Well, no, I was getting them excited about the prospect of doing that. And I think from their perspective, during the campaign, everybody was saying that he had no foreign policy experience. And getting on stage with Putin … I didn’t have access to the president of China, otherwise I would’ve gotten him on stage. I would’ve gotten the president of China onstage and made it a trifecta. They believed, and so did I, that if he was meeting with foreign leaders, and able to conduct business deals with them, it would help him on the foreign policy component. To show that he is capable. That’s what we thought the benefit would be. Nothing else.

Was there concern that it might look like using relationships with foreign officials to boost personal business?
Yes, I understand. He was a definite long shot, would you agree with that? Donald Trump was running a real estate business and was continuing to run that real estate business until he became president. It was my thought process… [that] his profile [would be] raised significantly, and it would give us the ability to do a lot more Trump towers, which subsequently did not work out because he won. Had he not won, his brand would’ve been even bigger in the press, and would’ve given us the ability to do more Trump towers. Back then, the surety of winning was not as, not that many people believed that and he was certainly going to continue to be a real estate developer after the election. And because of the added exposure he was getting worldwide in the press, was why I felt there was an ability to do Trump Moscow, revisit Trump Paris and potentially Trump towers in other major cities in the world.

So, did you not believe he would win?
Look, when everyone’s saying there’s no way he’s going to be president of the United States, but he’s running and sort of doing well in the primaries, sure it was sort of exciting. But my main motivation was in building a Trump tower in Moscow and making $100 million in the process. What do you think I would’ve preferred: To build a Trump Moscow and make $100 million or for him to be president? You have to take a wild guess.

I’m guessing the $100 million.
Yeah. Versus him becoming president and the press tearing me apart, and destroying my business and personal life.

What’s your connection to Putin?
I’ve done business there and I know a significant number of business people there, and if the projects had moved forward, I would’ve most definitely gotten to everyone who needed to be gotten to, including Putin. The business community in Russia is not that big. It’s actually pretty small and it’s all concentrated in Moscow. Even if they are from outside Moscow, major business people from outside of Moscow, they are still all congregating in Moscow and have apartments in Moscow. And what is that, 10,000 people, tops? So, one big wedding, where 1,000 people attend, and 10 percent of the people that matter and can get to someone. It’s not that complicated to get to whoever you have to get to.

Why did that meeting never end up happening?
Donald never made it to Russia. And once he won the primary, it became quite obvious that business deals were going to be put on the back burner.

The report also discusses how financing was being lined up for the Trump Moscow project. Can you discuss your relationship with the VTB Group?
It was very preliminary conversations. Anyone in real estate understands that you are not lining up financing if you have not even submitted a pro forma, which was in fact not submitted. It was preliminary conversations about which banks may be interested in financing it, if the project went forward. There were a bunch of banks.

Can you say who?
Nope. I don’t need this to become a political football. ‘He said ABC Bank! Oh my god, let’s take a look at ABC bank!’ Come on, it’s ridiculous. We didn’t even have a pro forma yet.

What about Genbank?
It was one conversation. It wasn’t even really talking. I don’t think they count as a bank we were seriously talking to.

Was there concern about the sanctions against the bank?
VTB was a sanctioned bank also. All the banks were probably sanctioned on the list. When people talk about sanctioned banks, it’s important to understand that neither the Trump Organization nor I would’ve been the ones getting the financing. It would’ve been the local Russian developer getting the financing. We were licensing the Trump name. We were not the ones getting the financing. We never would’ve violated any type of sanctions. And more importantly, had the deal progressed, obviously, the lawyers would then start to look at it to make sure everything worked legally.

How many banks do you usually talk to, going into a deal like that?
Four, five. Because it’s a big deal, so you may want to syndicate it.

Do you have any regrets?
Living with regrets is a terrible way to live life. You play the cards that are dealt, and you don’t cry about it afterwards.

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