Disgraced Trump Fundraiser Tried to Use GOP Contacts to Score “Billions” in Africa
Mother Jones illustration; Billy Bennight/UPPA/ZUMA, Getty
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In late 2016, as Donald Trump was readying to move into the White House, Elliott Broidy, then one of the Republican Party’s top fundraisers, was working on a deal to gain control of what a business partner called “billions of dollars in oil & gas, and mining assets” in Angola. And while he was trying to pull together this gigantic venture—as well as mounting another project to provide intelligence services to the Angolan government—Broidy used his clout to hook up top Angolan government officials with members of the US Congress and the Trump administration. It was a swampy endeavor involving old-fashioned political influence, a Beverly Hills activist and realtor, and a Nigerian American businessman who had been a close friend of Michael Jackson.
Broidy is no longer a power player wielding sway in the Republican cosmos. Early this year, he faced a series of media stories that raised questions about his business dealings (which included ventures with the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Romania, and the Republic of Congo) and alleged influence peddling. Those articles were based on emails hacked from his personal accounts. Broidy subsequently sued Qatar, claiming Qatari officials orchestrated the hacks and a smear campaign because Broidy, a vigorous supporter of the Israeli government, was a vocal opponent of Qatar. (In August, a federal judge dismissed the government of Qatar as a defendant in the case.) And in April, news broke that Broidy had in 2017 used Michael Cohen, then Trump’s personal lawyer, to pay $1.6 million in hush money to a Playboy model with whom he had an extramarital affair. Broidy soon resigned as deputy finance chair of the Republican Party. In August, the Washington Post reported he was under federal investigation for possibly selling his influence within the Trump administration to foreign officials for tens of millions of dollars. And recently, federal prosecutors implicated Broidy in a scheme under which millions of dollars ended up in his wife’s law firm in return for Broidy helping a Malaysian financier, who was accused of embezzling billions, end a Justice Department investigation.
This venture involved, Broidy’s business partner wrote in an email, the Angolans “signing over billions of dollars in oil & gas, and mining assets.”The hacked Broidy emails are an incomplete set of records. The hackers obviously disseminated material to cast the businessman/fundraiser in a negative light. But the emails do depict slices of Broidy’s world in which he attempted to grease deals with ties he forged as a top fundraiser for Trump and the Republican Party. And Broidy’s wheeling and dealing in Angola—a full account of which has not yet been reported—reveal how he mixed commerce and politics.
The story begins with an unlikely hook-up: a prominent Beverly Hills resident named Lisa Korbatov brokering a partnership between Broidy and Dolapo Asiru, a Nigerian American dealmaker. On his LinkedIn page, Asiru describes himself as a “highly regarded international investment banker and diplomat” who “has represented African governments at the United Nations and regularly advises other governments on all aspects of their financial planning, investments and international trade.” In 2001, Asiru was sued by Motown for being connected to a company that the record label complained was infringing on its trademark by using the Jackson5.com domain name. (Asiru says that his attorney “not only demonstrated that the action lacked merit, but achieved a confidential and very satisfactory financial settlement in my favor. On a personal note, that frivolous lawsuit never affected my relationship with Michael Jackson who was one of my close friends.”) In 2008, Asiru attended a state dinner at the George W. Bush White House for the president of Ghana. A columnist for Africa News in 2009 called him “one of Nigeria’s most influential men in America.” Asiru, an American citizen, has donated to Republican political candidates, most notably Mitt Romney.
In the latter months of 2016, Lisa Korbatov, a realtor, member of the Beverly Hills school board, and pro-Israel activist, connected Broidy with Asiru, according to sources familiar with the deal. Actually, they already knew each other.
About a decade earlier, Asiru, who had links to the ruling family of Gabon, and Broidy had been involved in a venture in the coastal African country. But that deal—of which there are scant public details—never materialized. “It imploded,” says a former Broidy associate. (The Gabon venture might have ended in a legal fight. In one of the hacked emails, Asiru, writing to Broidy, refers to “litigation with Gabon.”) And around that time, Broidy’s overall dealmaking hit a major roadblock. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to charges he had handed out $1 million in illegal gifts to New York state officials so they would invest $250 million from the state’s pension fund in Broidy’s investment company. (Three years later, after Broidy had cooperated with prosecutors, a federal judge reduced his felony conviction to a misdemeanor.)
Broidy’s involvement in that crime put a crimp in his relationship with Asiru, and by 2016, they were not on the best terms, according to sources familiar with the men. But Asiru had some business prospects he wanted to share with Broidy, and Korbatov, a social acquaintance of both, brought the pair together again. “Elliot wanted to pitch companies in Africa,” a former Broidy associate recalls. (Korbatov and her husband, Igor Korbatov, met Asiru in 2007, when a trust controlled by her parents bought a Beverly Hills mansion from the family of Omar Bongo, the longtime dictator of Gabon. Asiru was then the “managing member” of the limited liability company that officially owned the property for the Bongo family.)
Korbatov convinced the two men they should once again throw in with each other. On December 7, 2016, Broidy, Asiru, and Korbatov signed a memorandum of agreement related to a joint venture called BCH Development Group. A later amendment to this memorandum noted that Korbatov would get a finder’s fee of 3 percent for any security contract negotiated by the Republic of Angola and Circinus, a security firm Broidy owned. And Asiru would pocket 30 percent.
Asiru and Broidy at this point were working on at least two different ventures in Angola. As 2016 was ending, the hacked emails show, the pair finished up a deal under which Circinus would set up and operate an “Open Source Intelligence Center” for the Angolan government. Much of the paperwork for that project was handled by Circinus executives. The contract was worth $12 million.
Yet at the same time, Broidy and Asiru had their eyes on a bigger prize: They were developing a deal with Grupo Simples, an Angola-based oil services company that in late 2015 had been assigned oil concessions by Angola’s state-owned oil company for possible development. (The company, at that point, had no experience developing oil wells.) This venture involved, Asiru noted in an email to Broidy, the Angolans “signing over billions of dollars in oil & gas, and mining assets” to BCH Development, the company formed pursuant to the agreement between Broidy, Asiru, and Korbatov.
Asiru was Broidy’s go-between with Grupo Simples. In a December 29, 2016, email from Asiru to Broidy—under the subject head, “Framework Agreement Between BCH Development Group and Grupo Simples Oil”—Asiru included a note from Alberto Mendes, the head of the Angola company, requesting that Asiru “urgently send me the due diligence” on BCH Development, including “formation year, directors, basic information.” Asiru pointed out to Broidy that “the Angolans are concerned” about striking a deal with “a newly formed entity (BCH Development Group). We need to show some history to avoid raising any Red Flags.”
As Broidy and Asiru were working with Angolans on the oil deal and the intelligence center, Broidy used his Republican Party connections to obtain invitations to Trump’s inauguration for two Angolan officials.Asiru had some ideas how to assuage the concerns of their Angolan partners. He asked Broidy whether they should tell the Angolans that BCH Development Group was formed as an affiliate of the company he and Broidy had used for their earlier dealings in Gabon. This way, Asiru added, they could “show some history.” Asiru also noted they needed “to provide some credible names to add to the board of Advisory for BCH.”
Broidy replied in an email that same day and said Asiru should not “tie BCH Development Group, LLC to any BCH Group entity that relates to Gabon.” Instead, Broidy instructed Asiru to tell the Angolans that BCH Development Group was formed in 2016 and that its directors included Asiru, Broidy, and Korbatov, with only Broidy and Asiru having “signature authority.” Broidy noted it was his understanding that Asiru had already “formed” BCH Development Group in Delaware. Yet a corporation of that name was not created in Delaware until three days later, on January 1, 2017.
Though Korbatov was part of this company, she was unaware Broidy was pursuing this mammoth deal in Angola, according to sources familiar with this episode.
As Broidy and Asiru were working with Angolans on the oil deal and the intelligence center, Broidy used his Republican Party connections to obtain invitations to Trump’s inauguration for two Angolan officials: João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, the defense minister, and André de Oliveira João Sango, the director of external intelligence. In a January 3, 2017, letter to the two men—on BCH Development Group letterhead—Broidy invited Sango and Lourenço to the inauguration, and he also included a copy of the contract for the Circinus project in Angola and asked them to sign and return the paperwork within six days. The letter was drafted by Asiru.
Lourenço and Sango accepted the invitation, and while they were in Washington for the inauguration, Broidy, according to the hacked emails, arranged for them to meet Republican members of Congress, including Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). The meetings were set up by Aryeh Lightstone, a leading Orthodox Jewish rabbi and businessman who owned a stake in a Broidy company called Threat Deterrence Capital LLC. (Lightstone, a well-connected player in GOP circles, is now a senior adviser to Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.) In one email, a Broidy aide informed Lightstone that the meetings would include Broidy, Asiru, Lourenço, and Sango, as well as Alberto Mendes of Grupo Simples and Mario Gomes, another executive from the company. (The email did not explain why the two Angolan oil executives would be present.) Broidy appeared to be blending politics with his Angola business dealings: the intelligence center he was establishing for the government and the big oil endeavor he was pursuing. Reporting on Lightstone’s role in arranging these meetings, ProPublica recently noted, “Some legal experts argue that Lightstone and Broidy should have registered [as foreign agents] with the [US] government for the Angolan meetings, though representatives for both dispute that.” (Lightstone did not respond to an email request for comment.)
In mid-January 2016, Broidy received the first payment from Angola for the intelligence center project. It was for $6 million, but Broidy had been expecting $8 million, per his agreement with the Angolan government. He accepted the lower payment but requested Angola pay the rest of the $12 million fee within 180 days. According to the hacked emails, he would spend the coming months pushing the Angola government to pay up. (For her role, Korbatov pocketed $180,000. The emails do not show how much of a fee, if any, Asiru received.)
In February, Alan Blaine Stone, founder and CEO of Circinus, emailed Broidy that he needed a signed contract related to the firm’s Angola project: “I wanted to let you know that we need something from the Angolans signed even if it just says we’re ‘consulting and advising’ with the US Government; something to put in the records to show that we are on contract in order to justify the influx of funds.” Soon after that, Broidy asked Asiru to send him the signed contract for the company’s files, noting, “You mentioned that it was provided to you some time ago.” (Lawyers for Broidy say he provided the Angolans with no advice or consulting services related to the US government and that the Circinus contract only covered setting up and operating the open-source intelligence center in Angola.)
At this time, Broidy was chasing after yet another venture in Angola. In February 2017, Fran Moore, a former top CIA official who was a board member of the Broidy-owned Threat Deterrence Capital, sent an email to Broidy noting she wanted to “strengthen” a proposal related to Angola. This project aimed at diminishing the “high-level of corruption” in Angola in order to create a “better investment atmosphere,” according to Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser in the Bush-Cheney White House and now chairman of the Financial Integrity Network, a consulting firm specializing in thwarting money laundering. Zarate tells Mother Jones that Broidy had heard Zarate’s firm wanted to develop business in Africa, reached out to him, and said he could “get a proposal from us in front of the Angolan government.” In an email Zarate sent Broidy, he referred to this endeavor as “an ambitious and important project for the Angolans (and us).”
Asiru, Zarate recalls, was going to make contacts for the Financial Integrity Network in Angola and would earn a finder’s fee, if a contract were signed. Asiru, Zarate says, “was very well-versed in African politics and business. Well-connected. He was a business mover-and-shaker.”
As Broidy was trying to do all this assorted business in Angola, he was using his political bonds to connect Lourenço, the Angolan defense minister, with the Trump White House. In a February 27, 2017, email to Asiru about the anti-corruption project, Broidy reported, “I will be at the White House meeting with VP Pence, CoS Priebus etc. tomorrow and can begin to set the wheels in motion for a meeting for the Defense Minister.”
“I wanted to let you know that we need something from the Angolans signed even if it just says we’re ‘consulting and advising’ with the US Government; something to put in the records to show that we are on contract in order to justify the influx of funds.”And Broidy was willing to go all the way to the top. In this email, Broidy noted he would be visiting with “President Trump this weekend at Mira Largo [sic] (Friday) and on [casino owner and GOP fundraiser] Steve Wynn’s Yacht Aquarius on Saturday evening. I can also ask Trump for the meeting.” He noted it might be tough to arrange a meeting for the Angolan defense minister for this weekend, but added, “[W]e can certainly accomplish [it] this month predicated on next deal for BCH and immediate collection of balance.” The message seemed clear: If Angola paid what Broidy believed he was owed and moved ahead with a new project, he would use his political juice to arrange a face-to-face between Lourenço and Trump officials.
In this email, Broidy referred to a conversation he had with Sango, the Angolan intelligence chief, a few weeks earlier at a high-end Washington, DC, restaurant: “The bottom line is that Sango looked me in the eye and promised at the Occidental Grill lunch that the funds would be sent by early February; I asked for January payment. Sango was effusive in his praise and said that I had exceeded all of his expectations. He needs to hear from me that this…treatment of us is unacceptable and that payment needs to be made now. I can also convey things directly that he will appreciate.” Then Broidy referred to the two Grupo Simples officials: “Of course Mario and Alberto can join us on the call.” This suggests that somehow the oil deal Broidy was pursuing with Grupo Simples was connected to his interactions with Angolan government officials.
Days later, Broidy wrote directly to Lourenço and asked if he would be “joining us for the events at Miro Largo.” He told the Angolan defense minister, “Many preparations have been made in advance of your visit, including additional meetings at the Capitol and the Department of Treasury.” He added that Sango “promised me that the balance of the payment due would be received by early February.” He asked Lourenço to send the money immediately.
The available emails do not indicate how the Angolans replied. The anti-corruption plan, though, didn’t get that far and fizzled out, according to Zarate. “Doing what we do is hard,” Zarate says. “It requires a real transformation of culture.”
Lawyers for Broidy maintain that Broidy didn’t discuss any Angola projects with either Trump or Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and they insist Broidy did not trade on his White House connections to receive payments from Angola or to win contracts there. “That message was never conveyed” to the Angolans, a Broidy attorney notes. “What was written down there [in Broidy’s February 27 email to Asiru] never happened.”
In May 2017, Lourenço signed a memo of understanding with Mattis to boost “security cooperation” between Angola and the United States. “The Angolan defense minister met with Mattis on his own, having nothing to do with Elliott,” a Broidy lawyer says.
Come June, Broidy was still after the Angolans to pay the $6 million. And in an August 22, 2017, email exchange with Broidy, Korbatov asked him for help for her effort to stop a mass transit project that would pass beneath Beverly Hills High School, and Broidy informed her he had “a path” to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “Let me work on it a bit,” he said. In response, Korbatov said she was “nagging” Asiru—a reference, according to sources familiar with this project, to collecting the payment the Angolan government owed Broidy. “He’s waiting for the [Angola] election to finish,” Korbatov reported.
The Angolan presidential election was the following day. Lourenço won the presidency. Days later, Broidy drafted a congratulatory message that noted, “We look forward to continuing to work together [to] support you and your country….Please let me know if I can be helpful to you during your transition and I look forward to speaking with you soon.” Three months later, after Lourenço had assumed office, Broidy wrote him, offering to set up a visit for Lourenço to the United States and “possibly” a meeting with Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. “I am able to assess and advise in this matter,” he pointed out. At the time, Broidy was still looking to collect the $6 million the Angola government owed him.
That money, as of September 2018, still had not come, according to Broidy’s attorneys, yet his company was still performing services under the contract. His lawyers also note that the oil deal with Grupo Simples—which Asiru said could involve “billions”—never happened. (In May 2017, the new head of Sonangol, Angola’s state-owned oil company, put a hold on concessions it had granted earlier. And once Lourenço took office, he took steps to overhaul Sonangol, which had been criticized for a lack of transparency.) Mendes and Gomes of Grupo Simples did not reply to repeated emails requesting comment. Angola’s embassy also did not respond to requests for comment.
Asiru declined to answer questions about his involvement in Broidy’s deals in Angola. “Regrettably, I must decline to comment since I now realize your questions pertain to outreach programs I support that are helpful to African countries,” he wrote in an email to Mother Jones. “All these endeavors are covered by a range of confidentiality arrangements, hence the reason I must decline to make any further comments.” In a subsequent text message, Asiru said, “I continue to work with major multinational corporations, NGOs and government agencies to improve the economic situation in Africa. I am proud of my relationships and my reputation. I have never engaged in, nor ever been accused of, unlawful activities. Elliott has been involved in many businesses, including a few ventures in which I participated. The accusations against Elliott do not involve me. Guilt based on mere association smacks of a sad era that I thought concluded more than 60 years ago.” He added, “Be assured, I’ll respond vigorously to any libel or slander by you or your colleagues to link me in any way with any of Elliott Broidy’s alleged misdeeds. Please govern yourself accordingly.”
Broidy’s attorneys did not respond to a list of additional questions about his Angola dealings submitted by Mother Jones.
After helping the GOP regain the White House, Broidy has become a poster child for Trump-era corruption. He has generated headlines about multiple controversies—personal, political, and business. And there could be more Broidy stories to come. But the Angola episode illustrates how Broidy, having used the Trump campaign and victory to establish himself as a force within the Republican Party, did business—and indicates there is a public interest in learning the full story of how Broidy put his Trump and Republican connections to personal use.