Trump’s Would-Be Russian Partner Faces Homebuyers’ Fury

Demonstrators plan to gather Saturday beneath a thicket of concrete apartment towers rising from the mud in the unfashionable eastern outskirts of Moscow. Their families are supposed to be living inside but are among the owners of some 5,000 units they say the developer failed to complete on time. Some have appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Youtube. “Help us get our homes,” chanted one group who identified themselves as “deceived investors” in a recent video shot before tower blocks resembling a ghost town.

The sprawling development, called Novokosino-2, is the most significant project to date of a Russian property firm called IC Expert. The firm was to be the partner in a separate venture: Donald Trump’s failed bid during the 2016 presidential campaign to launch “Trump Tower Moscow,” according to a statement given to congressional investigators this week and a person familiar with the effort, Bloomberg reports.

Trump’s plans were revealed this week in correspondence from Trump’s longtime business lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, in answering inquiries from investigators looking into Trump’s connections with Russia. As a candidate, Trump said he had “nothing to do with Russia.”

Trump and the company behind the suburban housing development would seem an odd pair. Novokosino-2, the Russian firm’s signature project, with its towers cast in beige and brown, is built among car dealerships and shopping malls in gritty sprawl. It is miles away, geographically, economically and aesthetically, from the proposed site of the abortive Trump Tower development. That was to be built in the glitzy Moscow City district, home to Russia’s tallest skyscrapers, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week, noting that he had first heard of the plans only because of an email Cohen sent to a general Kremlin address in early 2016. The Trump Organization wanted its tower to reach higher than any of the others.

The never-completed tower deal isn’t the only tie between the firms. The Russian developer’s chairman survived the wreckage of one of the country’s biggest real-estate collapses in 2008-9 amid the financial crisis, as did the broker who put the deal together for Trump.

IC Expert’s chairman is a Russian businessman named Andrei Rozov. In 2008, Rozov served on the executive board of a Moscow real estate company called Mirax Group alongside a Russian-born U.S. citizen named Felix Sater, according to multiple Russian press reports at the time about the board appointments. The reports cited a Mirax press release.

Sater, who served as an FBI informant in the prosecution of reputed mobsters on Wall Street after pleading guilty to racketeering in 1998, is a longtime Trump business associate. He brokered the Trump Tower Moscow deal with IC Expert, according to the written statement Cohen gave congressional investigators this week. Rozov himself signed a Oct. 28, 2015 letter of intent for IC Expert on the deal, according to the person familiar with it. Donald Trump’s was the signature for the other side, Cohen told investigators.

Cohen said he pulled the plug on the deal in February 2016 after he didn’t get any response to the email he had addressed to Peskov seeking Kremlin assistance in pushing the project forward.

Reached by phone at IC Expert’s office, a company official declined this week to discuss any possible business IC Expert may have had with Trump and said Rozov has been unreachable since news of the deal was made public.

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