NEW DELHI >> “Trump has arrived. Have you?” shout the barrage of glossy front-page advertisements in almost every major Indian newspaper.
The ads, which have run repeatedly in the past few days, herald the arrival not of the American president but of his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who is in New Delhi to sell luxury apartments and lavish attention on wealthy Indians who have already bought units in a Trump-branded development outside the Indian capital.
The newspaper ads promise that buyers who order apartments in the development by Thursday will get “a conversation and dinner” with Trump Jr. a day later.
President Trump has pledged to avoid any new foreign business deals during his term in office to avoid potential ethical conflicts. While the projects that Trump Jr. is promoting in India were inked before his father was elected, ethics experts have long seen the use of the Trump name to promote even existing business ventures as tricky territory.
The distinction between old and new projects can be hazy, they note, and new deals can be shoehorned into old.
Several foreign deals touted over the past year by the Trump sons have “stretched the definition of what ventures were previously in the works,” said Scott H. Amey, general counsel for the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight in Washington.
“The president should be putting the public’s interest before his business interests. That can’t happen if his son is flying around the world trying to trade on the fact that his father is sitting in the oval office.”
This isn’t the first time that President Trump’s sons have raised ethical concerns as they promote their eponymous brand across the world.
Early last year Trump Jr. and his brother Eric opened a Trump-branded golf club in Dubai.
The brothers, who now lead the Trump Organization, watched as fireworks lit the sky over the Trump International Golf Club to mark the event.
On Tuesday morning Donald Trump Jr. posed for photos in New Delhi with Indian developers building complexes in four cities. Among the business partners accompanying him was Kalpesh Mehta who heads Tribeca, the firm described as the main Indian partner for Trump brand real estate projects.
Mehta came to notice soon after President Trump’s November election victory, when pictures of him and two other Trump Indian real estate partners with the president-elect in New York made a big splash in Indian and American media.
Later in the week, Trump Jr. is scheduled to give a speech about Indo-Pacific relations at a New Delhi business summit, sharing the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Trump Jr. may be raising another set of ethics concerns by offering his thoughts on international relations, said Lawrence Noble, senior director of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center in Washington.
“The assumption is he has his father’s ear,” Noble said. “By talking about international relations and sharing the stage with government officials, he’s acting as an informal ambassador for the U.S. at the same time he’s selling properties in India. It just blurs the lines even more.
In Gurgaon, the sprawling and ever-growing New Delhi satellite city where a new Trump Towers will eventually rise, the construction site is just mountains of dirt and unruly shrubbery, one of many residential projects yet to be built. Buyers can hope to move into their swanky homes sometime in 2023.
For miles upon miles, the landscape is little more than tin-roofed huts for construction laborers and tiny makeshift food shacks to keep them fed.
And while there’s almost nothing at the Trump construction site, a handful of burly guards enthusiastically insisted on keeping journalists out of the area.
The Trump Organization has licensing agreements with all its Indian business partners, who build the properties and acquire the Trump name in exchange for a fee. The organization has five projects in India, making it the brand’s largest market outside the United States. A luxury complex is already open in the central city of Pune, with other developments in varying stages of construction in the coastal cities of Mumbai and Kolkata, and two in Gurgaon.
The apartments are expensive – though not outrageously so in the overheated real estate world of the Indian rich, where apartments in upscale neighborhoods can pass $5 million. Still, in a country of 1.3 billion, where many people can barely afford $100 a month to rent a shack in a crowded shantytown, apartments in the Trump Towers complex in Gurgaon run between $775,000 and $1.5 million.
The rest of the details of Donald Trump Jr.’s itinerary are hazy despite repeated emails to the Trump Organization and its Indian partner Tribeca. However, local media have reported that he is slated to visit other Trump projects across India.
On Wednesday he is expected to be in the eastern city of Kolkata to promote luxury housing bearing his family name there. On Thursday he is reported to be in India’s business capital, Mumbai, where he is to quaff champagne with the city’s elite at a reception hosted by the Lodha Group, the real estate company that is building the golden-hued Trump Tower there.
Trump Jr.’s visit so far has been very different from his sister Ivanka Trump’s high-visibility visit to India in November, when she led the U.S. contingent at a global business conference. The city of Hyderabad filled up potholes and cleared away beggars ahead of her visit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Hyderabad for the conference and hosted her for dinner at a historic palace turned hotel. Television stations broadcast her speech live.
In contrast, Trump Jr.’s visit seems all about keeping the spotlight on business.