Donald Trump St Andrews: US President’s secret attempts to buy landmark hotel

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Donald Trump tried and failed to convince one of Scotland’s leading banks to provide him with nearly £40m in order to bankroll his attempted purchase of one of the country’s most prestigious properties, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

The US president asked the Bank of Scotland for £38m in financing as he tried to establish what would have been his first wholly owned hotel venture outside of the US.

Donald Trump on the Swilken Bridge at the Old Course in St Andrews in 2006. Picture:: Andrew Milligan/PA.

Donald Trump on the Swilken Bridge at the Old Course in St Andrews in 2006. Picture:: Andrew Milligan/PA.

READ MORE: Revealed: How Donald Trump tried and failed to buy one of Scotland’s most expensive properties

The 71-year-old, whose portfolio of Scotland-based businesses includes the coveted Trump Turnberry hotel and golf course in South Ayrshire and Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, wanted to create a luxury hotel at St Andrews, the home of golf.

READ MORE: A history of Hamilton Hall

The real estate developer turned politician tried for more than three years to purchase Hamilton Hall, the iconic Victorian sandstone building which overlooks the 18th green of the Fife town’s famous Old Course.

Lawyer George Sorial speaks on a mobile phone at the Menie Estate, where Donald Trump is building a multi-million pound golf development on October 28, 2009. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Lawyer George Sorial speaks on a mobile phone at the Menie Estate, where Donald Trump is building a multi-million pound golf development on October 28, 2009. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Trump, along with his children, Donald Jr, Eric, and Ivanka, held talks with senior executives from the Bank of Scotland in the hope they would provide the money for the project. The Trumps even hosted a meeting with bankers at the property magnate’s offices in Trump Tower in New York.

READ MORE: Celtic’s Dermot Desmond and the other competitors in the battle for Hamilton Hall

Trump’s highest offer for the 19th century property - now owned by his fellow American, Herb Kohler, who has converted it into some of Scotland’s most expensive and exclusive flats - was £23m.

However, his proposal stipulated that the bank’s corporate division provide him with a £23m mortgage, with no interest for the first two years of the term. It also insisted on an additional construction loan worth £15m which would attract the same interest arrangements.

READ MORE: Why did billionaire Donald Trump need bank support?

However, the bank executive who negotiated directly with Trump considered the deal “too risky’ and tantamount to a “free loan.” He also expressed concern that Trump would hold the bank to “future ransom.”

The banker, Charles Wighton, an area manager with the Edinburgh institution, also claims that both Trump and George Sorial, an executive vice-president at the Trump Organisation, asked the bank to foreclose on Hamilton Hall’s owners and deal directly with Trump’s company.

Such propositions, Wighton said, were “worrying” and “inappropriate.”

Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, whose North East Fife constituency takes in St Andrews, said such conduct offered evidence of Trump’s “bully boy tactics.”

Trump, who is expected to visit Turnberry later this month as part of his contentious three-day visit to the UK, has never made public his thwarted plans to create a hotel in St Andrews.

Until now, his attempts to own a slice of golf’s birthplace have been a secret known only to the Trump Organisation and a handful of bankers and lawyers,.

But a Scotland on Sunday investigation has obtained a catalogue of documentation via the US District Court in Providence, Rhode Island, where a civil lawsuit filed by the Bank of Scotland against Hamilton Hall’s former owners details Trump’s determined and repeated efforts to secure a foothold on golf’s most sacred site.

At one point, Trump wrote to Wighton and the Bank of Scotland, vowing that Trump St Andrews Hotel would be a “beautiful” landmark that “will be a great source of pride for Scotland.”

He also expressed his ambition to have the hotel completed prior to the 2010 Open Championship, which was held at the Old Course.

In all, Trump made four offers for Hamilton Hall. He initially entered into a confidentiality agreement with the property’s owners in August 2006, just 15 weeks after he visited the Old Course.

His attempt to buy the former University of St Andrews hall of residence for £23m was made in October 2008. Two months later, Sorial proposed a “50/50 joint venture or partnership” between HBOS and Trump’s firm.

In August 2009, Trump made two final offers for the property. One was a cash deal for £4m. The second, worth £10m, would only go ahead if the Bank of Scotland gave him a decade-long loan worth £9m. None of Trump’s offers were accepted.

Yet the details of those bids for Hamilton Hall are instructive in how they raise questions about the notoriously opaque finances of Trump’s network of companies.

Just three weeks after trying in vain to secure £38m from the Bank of Scotland, Trump gave an interview to our sister title, The Scotsman, in which he claimed his firm was in a “very, very strong” cash position.

Soon afterwards, Sorial also spoke to The Scotsman. He said Trump had £1bn in cash for his then fledgling Aberdeenshire course, and had “recently increased his cash position.”

As he tried to close a deal for Hamilton Hall, Trump also told the Bank of Scotland that he would be “honoured” to use it as the Trump Organisation’s “primary bank for all our United Kingdom enterprises, in particular, the Aberdeen development.”

Yet Trump bought his Scottish resorts for cash, with Companies House records showing that there are no mortgages attached to either property, a trend which has sparked debate in the US about where the money is coming from.

Stephen Gethins, the SNP MP for North East Fife and the party’s foreign affairs spokesman, said: “It is worrying but not surprising that Mr Trump wanted to buy property here, and Hamilton Hall is a prestigious building in a prime location.

“I’m sure many will feel St Andrews has had a lucky escape from someone who simply thinks he can buy influence.”

Rennie added: “I am glad that he didn’t get away with it. St Andrews may be a very different place today if he had strong armed and bounced the bank and the owners of Hamilton Hall.”

A spokesman for Lloyds Banking group, which owns the Bank of Scotland, said: “Whilst litigation in relation to this matter has concluded to the satisfaction of both parties it is subject to a confidential settlement agreement so it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Amanda Miller, senior vice-president of marketing and communications at the Trump Organisation, did not respond to a series of questions put to her by Scotland on Sunday.
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