The president of the United States holds a trademark in Jordan for a Donald Trump casino, despite the fact that gambling is illegal in the kingdom. It is one of four he received before he ran for office, and suggests that the former casino executive may have had wider hopes for businesses across the Middle East than was previously known.
To keep the trademarks active, the Trump Organization would need to reapply for them during Trump's four-year term, raising potential ethical concerns for his company in Jordan, a stalwart U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State group and a mediator in relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Trump Organization told The Associated Press that its "decision to enforce its intellectual property rights is nothing new," while declining to discuss whether it knew how controversial gambling was in the kingdom.
Jordan's government acknowledged the trademarks, but that doesn't mean gambling is in Jordan's future.
"That does not give any right to the company to practice any activities unless it is formally registered as a company in Jordan and licensed to practice," government spokesman Mohammed Momani wrote in an email. "Needless to say, gambling is illegal in Jordan, so if a company applies for this, it will be disapproved."
Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, said the casino trademark raised new concerns about the Trump Organization's international entanglements. He is part of a lawsuit alleging Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution by allowing his business to accept payments from foreign governments.
"We don't want foreign governments in a position to pay off our politicians with special treatment," Painter said.
Trump for years tried to enter the Mideast as a businessman, seeing it as an open market for his profitable business of licensing his name to construction projects. He applied for and received trademarks in Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Trump shut down some of his companies in the days after beating Hillary Clinton in the November election, including several connected to a possible venture in Saudi Arabia. While most recent presidents have sold their financial holdings to avoid conflicts, Trump has said that is not necessary. Instead, he has turned managerial control over to his two adult sons, vowing not to pursue more deals abroad and appointing a lawyer to screen his business for conflicts.
Meanwhile, his sons recently opened a new Trump golf course in Dubai as a developer there still plans for another.
The developer, DAMAC Properties, also offered $2 billion in new deals after Trump's victory, which he declined.
As the Trump Organization remains composed of hundreds of companies in a complex, interconnected web, it makes the full scale of his deals before becoming America's 45th president difficult to understand, a mystery only deepened by the president's unwillingness to release his tax returns.
In Jordan, Trump applied for four trademarks with the Industry, Trade and Supply Ministry in June 2008 and won its approval in February 2009. Those trademarks, retained by an organization under Trump called DTTM Operations LLC, include holding his name for developing commercial, residential and hotel property, as well as running restaurants, bars, cafes or a golf course.
The trademarks expire in February 2019, about halfway through Trump's term in the White House.
Among those businesses listed was "gambling and casino services, and the provision of casino facilities," according to one of the trademarks.
Trump once owned three Atlantic City casinos, but the businesses nearly destroyed him financially.
'Broad trademark protection'
Jordanian law explicitly bans gambling. However, a secret deal in 2007 signed by Jordan's then-tourism minister would have allowed a Britain-based developer to open a casino on the Dead Sea. It also made the government potentially liable for hundreds of millions of dollars to the developer if it breached the 50-year agreement. It was rescinded later the same year.
The deal caused a major political scandal that reverberated for years in Jordan, a nation ruled by King Abdullah II. Amid the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the king appointed as prime minister Marouf al-Bakhit, who personally signed off on the 2007 casino deal. Al-Bakhit's appointment outraged Islamists and he stepped down from the role eight months later.
It's unclear whether Trump knew the controversy surrounding the casino proposal when his company sought the trademark a year later. Alan Garten, an executive vice president and chief legal officer at the Trump Organization, described the company's decision as "broad trademark protection" to guard against others using the Trump name.
"While the trademark registration also included casino-related activities, the company has never pursued a casino," he said.
In the Middle East, Jordan remains a crucial partner for the U.S. The kingdom hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees displaced by that country's grinding war, while also taking part in the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group. Jordan has hosted Americans training Syrian rebel fighters.
Jordan also serves as custodian of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, the third-holiest site of Islam, located in east Jerusalem on the same spot that Jews revere as the Temple Mount. Jordan routinely mediates in conflicts over access to the sites and has warned that moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a "red line" that would inflame the Arab and Muslim worlds.
On February 2, King Abdullah II briefly met with Trump in Washington. The same day, the White House issued a statement saying "the construction of new (Israeli) settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful" in achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians. However, the White House stressed it hadn't "taken an official position on settlement activity."
The casino trademark, however, raised new questions about what the White House could ask for, said Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer.
"If we're going to get involved in trying to work out Middle East peace, Jordan is a key player," Painter said. "We're going to have a lot of different things on the table and I guess this casino is going to be part of what's on the table. ... That's just corruption."
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