When the Dubai-based property developer Dariah Management Services Company (DAMAC), first came under fire in 2015 for its dealings with then-candidate Donald Trump, it responded that business was business; DAMAC claimed it would remain apolitical. But after Trump’s win, founding CEO Hussain Sajwani (himself a practicing Muslim) did admit to CNN that a Trump win would be a boon to business.
But Federal Election Commission records show that what appears to be a DAMAC executive and amember of the Sajwani family made a series of strikingly small campaign contributions — not to Trump, but to Senator Bernie Sanders.
The news comes amid suggestions in the media that Russia helped support not just the Trump campaign, but also opponents to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary—in an effort to sway would-be Clinton voters over to Trump.
From December of 2015 to June of 2016, a Hassan (not to be confused with CEO Hussain) Sajwani — who is listed as a “procurer” at “DAMAC Properties,” DAMAC Group’s real estate arm that has partnered with the Trump Organization — made a total of nine donations to the Sanders primary campaign. The amounts ranged from as little as $5 to $50, and racked up to a modest total of $179.15.
The address on file for the donor appeared to belong to another person, according to public property records. That person could not immediately be reached.
“Contributions made by one person in the name of another are prohibited,” says FEC spokesman Christian Hilland, adding that only green card holders and citizens can legally donate to campaigns.
Reporting contributors is up to the committees receiving the donations, Hilland adds.
“When making solicitations, committees and their treasurers must make ‘best efforts’ to obtain, maintain and report the name, address, occupation and employer of each contributor who gives more than $200 in an election cycle,” he says. “In order to show that the committee has made ‘best efforts,’ solicitations must specifically request that information and inform contributors that the committee is required by law to use its best efforts to collect and report it.”*
The Sanders campaign boasted small donations — which reportedly averaged around $27 or $28 — as a symbol of its opposition to the special interests that try to curry favor with massive donations to Super PACs. The Hassan Sajwani donations looked exactly like ones received from Sanders’ much lower-income supporters. Sanders’ press office did not respond to a request for comment.
Assuming the donations in question were, in fact, from a Sajwani and a DAMAC executive — as the FEC filing says they were—why would a member of one of Dubai’s leading business families give small donations to Sanders, an opponent of their then-business partner Trump?
A Hassan Sajwani is listed as the CEO of Quintessentially Travel, Dubai — a luxury travel management company — on its website. His bio notes “a family background of starting and running businesses” and touts his own “business and investment portfolio, in the Real Estate sector and Stock Markets.”
It remains unclear whether this was the Hassan Sajwani in question. Quintessentially Travel’s Sajwani did not respond to requests for comment.
Asked about the Hassan Sajwani reported by the FEC as a Sanders campaign donor, a DAMAC Group spokesman, Jehad Saleh, emphasized that the company’s CEO is not Hassan — in Arabic, the names Hassan and Hussain are very close in spelling.
“Hussain Sajwani is a citizen of the United Arab Emirates and does not hold a green card or permanent residency in the U.S., and as such would be prohibited from making such a contribution as you are referring to,” Saleh said. “We also cannot comment on behalf of someone who happens to share the same family name.”
Saleh did not immediately respond to a follow-up email asking him to confirm whether he knew of a Hassan Sajwani employed by DAMAC.
A Twitter user whom Pacific Standard believed to be Hassan Sajwani said via direct message that he was not the Hassan Sajwani who had made the donations. Asked if donor was a relative, he stopped responding for several minutes, then replied, “I don’t know.”
A source familiar with Emirati society described the Sajwanis as a small family, prominent in business circles — particularly in Dubai and in Oman. Hassan’s place in the Sajwani family tree is unclear.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters last week that Trump had signed control of the Trump Organization and other enterprises over to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr. — a statement confirmed by the release of signed documents. Analysts have suggested that his former companies’ continued deals with international partners may prejudice his diplomacy as president.
In November, following Trump’s election, DAMAC CEO Hussein Sajwani toldCNN that Trump “had a strong brand. And no question in the last 12 months, his brand became stronger and more global. I think it will have a positive impact on sales.”
Hussein Sajwani added that Trump “doesn’t discriminate against sex, religion, or anything else.”
Trump on Friday signed an executive order barring visas to to the citizens and refugees of seven Muslim-majority nations, sparking protests by civil liberties advocates across the country.
*Update— January 31, 2017: This article has been updated to include comment from the FEC.