Trump lobbied Japan’s Abe on casino for Sheldon Adelson — report

ProPublica/WNYC also say Jewish billionaire influenced EPA’s Scott Pruitt to push for expedited deal with Israeli firm owned by a friend, raising ethics concerns

Sheldon Adelson and Miriam Adelson look at a model of the Sands Cotai Central resort during a news conference in Macau on April 12, 2012. (AP /Kin Cheung)
Sheldon Adelson and Miriam Adelson look at a model of the Sands Cotai Central resort during a news conference in Macau on April 12, 2012. (AP /Kin Cheung)

A wide-ranging report into the relationship between President Donald Trump and Sheldon Adelson says that Trump intervened on the GOP mega-donor’s behalf in the Jewish billionaire’s quest to open a casino in Japan.

The report published Wednesday by news site ProPublica and public radio station WNYC said that Trump told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe he should strongly consider allowing Adelson to open a casino in the country.

“It was totally brought up out of the blue,” one person briefed on the exchange told ProPublica/WNYC. “They were a little incredulous that he would be so brazen.” After the exchange in which Trump said he should consider Las Vegas Sands for a license, “Abe didn’t really respond, and said thank you for the information,” the person said.

Adelson’s spokesman, Ron Reese, denied the claim.

“If our company has any advantage, it would be because of our significant Asian operating experience and our unique convention-based business model,” Reese told ProPublica/WNYC. “Any suggestion we are favored for some other reason is not based on the reality of the process in Japan or the integrity of the officials involved in it.”

US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrive for a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 10, 2017. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Abe also met with Adelson during his visit in February 2017, a month after Trump assumed office. Since then Abe has advanced legislation that would allow casinos to open in Japan, although it is not clear yet that Adelson’s Sands operation would be given a license.

Adelson, the Las Vegas-based casino magnate and one of the wealthiest men in the world, spent $20 million to help elect Trump and another $5 million for his inauguration.

His oft-stated rationale for backing Trump is the president’s Israel policy, which aligns closely with the Israeli right wing, including moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

American businessman and investor Sheldon Adelson (sitting R), his wife Miriam with President Reuven Rivlin (standing middle), and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (L) at a ceremony for a medical school at Ariel University in the West Bank, on August 19, 2018. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

However according to the report Adelson’s financial fortune has also benefited under Trump, including a provision in last year’s tax rehaul that gives a break to companies that incur high taxes abroad. Adelson paid lobbyists to argue for the provision, and Sands saved $1.2 billion because of it.

The report also noted that the US Environmental Protection Agency signed a no-bid contract with an Israeli water technology company due to the influence of Adelson on then-administrator Scott Pruitt, despite misgivings of officials who said that the technology was not new and that due process was being ignored.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a meeting with state and local officials and President Donald Trump about infrastructure in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 12, 2018. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Watergen, which is owned by Israeli-Georgian billionaire Mikhael Mirilashvili, has technology which enables it to extract potable water from the air.

Mirilashvili is an old friend of Adelson’s, and the board of Watergen also counts Trump defender Alan Dershowitz among its members.

Last year, Mirilashvili was one of 14 people detained for questioning in the lead-up to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s interrogation on suspicion of a slew of corruption allegations. He is one of Israel’s wealthiest citizens, according to Haaretz, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion.

According to ProPublica/WNYC, a month after he was confirmed, Pruitt met with representatives of Watergen at the request of Adelson and then “promptly” signed a deal for the agency to study the startup’s technology.

WaterGen unit. (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Hundreds emails obtained by ProPublica/WNYC through the Freedom of Information Act show that EPA officials immediately voiced concerns about the deal, arguing that the technology was not innovative or unique and that Pruitt was violating procedures by expediting the deal.

Israeli-Georgian tycoon and philanthropist Mikhael Mirilashvili. (YouTube screenshot)

In one email Pruitt asked staffer to examine “on an expedited time frame” if a deal could be done “without the typical contracting requirements,” ProPublica/WNYC reported.

Other messages said the matter was “very time sensitive” and had “high Administrator interest.”

Furthermore, one scientist said the “technology has been around for decades,” and that the EPA should not be “focusing on a single vendor, in this case Watergen.”

Officials said that there were about 70 other suppliers on the market with similar technology and that the agency “does not currently have the expertise or staff to evaluate these technologies.”

According to one internal exchange, lawyers at the EPA “seemed scared” about the deal. The EPA didn’t respond to requests from ProPublica for comment. It is unknown how much money the US government spent on the deal.

Pruitt later resigned amid a series of scandals.

Watergen was one of the sponsors of the US Embassy in Israel’s Fourth of July party, and Mirilashvili was photographed attending the event.

The embassy in Jeruslaem is considering leasing or buying a Watergen system as part of a “routine procurement action,” a State Department spokesperson told ProPublica.

A spokesperson for Watergen defended the company’s technology in a statement to The Times of Israel.

“Watergen’s revolutionary patented technology and energy efficiency is what distinguishes Watergen from all other companies that produce atmospheric water generators (AWG). The key is its effectiveness in extracting water from the air, and ultimately, there is no competition to the technology that Watergen have developed. It extracts water from the air and then produces very high-quality drinking water while using a minimal amount of electric power and in the most cost-effective way,” the statement read.

The spokesperson said several world leaders were working with the company to bring the technology to underserved areas.

A spokesman for Mirilashvili denied that he and Adelson have business ties but said that Adelson is interested in the technology.

Also revealed in the report was that Israel’s Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai performed at Adelson’s 85th birthday party in August, a four-day extravaganza in Las Vegas.

Adelson declined to comment to ProPublica for the story.

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