Former broker in Trump Panama project under investigation in Brazil

AMERICANA, Brazil, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in Brazil are conducting a criminal investigation into alleged international money laundering by a man at the center of a Reuters inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump’s first international hotel project.

Reuters reviewed more than 350 pages of a sealed investigation by federal police into Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who spent two years in Brazil after fleeing Panama in 2012. The inquiry has not previously been disclosed. Nogueira was instrumental in selling many units in the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, an investigation by Reuters and NBC News found.

“Federal prosecutors in Sao Paulo have been investigating Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira since 2013 for financial crimes and money laundering,” the prosecutors’ office said in a written statement. The inquiry slowed after Nogueira fled Brazil in October 2014, but the statement added: “The case remains open, Brazilian authorities are aware of the target’s suspicious activities in other countries, and we hope that will help to locate his whereabouts.”

Nogueira, 43, told Reuters he had laundered money for corrupt officials in Panama but said he was not aware of a federal investigation into him in Brazil. He denied wrongdoing in Brazil, and does not face criminal charges there.

Nogueira was arrested by Panamanian authorities in 2009 on charges of fraud and forgery, unrelated to the Trump project. Released on $1.4 million bail, he fled the country and is considered a fugitive by Panama.

Prosecutor Karen Kahn said the Brazilian federal investigation began in 2013 after the Finance Ministry’s financial crimes unit noticed several transfers of more than 1 million reais ($305,500) from accounts in Panama with HSBC and Citibank registered under the name Alexander Ukstin to Nogueira’s Brazilian accounts at the state-run Banco do Brasil, Citibank and Santander.

Nogueira confirmed to Reuters that he had made money transfers from Panama to Brazil, sometimes using a pseudonym, including the name Ukstin, but said it was his own money.

Citibank in Brazil, Banco do Brasil and Santander had no comment. U.S.-based spokespersons for HSBC and Citibank declined to comment about Nogueira’s accounts in Panama.

Nogueira also faces 19 civil lawsuits filed in Sao Paulo state courts. They run to more than 3,100 pages, mostly related to allegations of fraud at five gas stations he opened in and around Americana, a city of 233,000 people located 125 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of Sao Paulo.

Nogueira told Reuters the businesses were legitimate and the cases arise from events beyond his control. He said he left Brazil with only a few thousand dollars. His former business partners in Brazil allege in lawsuits that he cheated them of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Brazil’s federal police have sought the assistance of Interpol, who confirmed Panamanian police also opened an inquiry into alleged money laundering by Nogueira but did not provide further details.

Brazilian police say they last knew the whereabouts of Nogueira in 2015 – when they tracked him to a country in South-East Asia. But with no arrest warrant or charges in Brazil, police could only monitor his movements.

Edited by Dan Flynn and Richard Woods