Donald Trump claimed on Twitter today that he has no “financial interests in Saudi Arabia.” But his financial ties to the kingdom go back a very long way.
In 1991, Donald J. Trump was a mid-tier real estate developer with $900 million in debt, a collapsing casino business, and a name perhaps best known for a headline-dominating split with his wife Ivana. With his empire at risk of falling apart, Trump was searching for cash everywhere; his father even illegally bought $3.35 million worth of casino chips and never gambled them, to help Trump make a massive bond payment a year earlier.
A helpful burst of cash from a Saudi prince eased some tension with his creditors. Alwaleed bin Talal bought Trump’s yacht for somewhere between $18 million and $20 million (reports vary). It wasn’t a great bit of business for Trump—he had bought it from the Sultan of Brunei three years earlier for a reported $29 million.
In 1995, Trump was still in deep trouble—and Alwaleed swooped in again. The prince, who calls himself the “Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia,” took over Trump’s 51% stake in his beloved New York Plaza hotel. As a result, Trump’s creditors forgave $125 million of his debt.
Alwaleed, who was one of several royals to be detained by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2017, is deemed the world’s 74th richest man by Bloomberg, and owns stakes in companies like Apple, Snapchat, Twitter and Citigroup.
As late as 2015, Trump was still happy to boast about his connections with Saudi Arabia. Speaking at a rally in Alabama, he bragged: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Correction: A typo in an earlier version of the article stated that Trump was $900 billion in debt in 1991. This article has been updated to note that he was $900 million in debt.