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Deutsche Bank was keen to land a 'whale' of a client in Trump, documents at his fraud trial show

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (AP Photo/Bryon Houlgrave) Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (AP Photo/Bryon Houlgrave)
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NEW YORK -

Deutsche Bank viewed Donald Trump as a "whale" of a client, was eager to land him and eagerly cultivated a relationship that grew from US$13,000 worth of revenue to US$6 million in two years, according to documents presented Wednesday at the former president's civil fraud trial.

The bank's dealings with Trump are a key issue in New York Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit, which accuses Trump, his company and some executives of hoodwinking lenders and insurers by presenting them with grossly inflated statements of his asset values.

The defendants deny any wrongdoing. They have sought to show that the bank felt delighted, not deceived, by Trump and courted his business.

"We are whale hunting," then-bank managing director Rosemary Vrablic wrote colleagues in November 2011, after she had been introduced to Trump's son Donald Jr. but had yet to meet the elder Trump. The bankers used "whale" to refer to a very wealthy client, Vrablic testified Wednesday.

Vrablic first came into contact with the Trumps when they were looking for a loan to buy the Doral golf resort near Miami. Over the next three years, that contact blossomed into loans for that project, then two others in Chicago and Washington, as well as multimillion-dollar deposits in the bank.

The bank's revenue from its Trump business shot up from about US$13,000 in 2011 to a projected US$6 million in 2013, according to a bank document prepared for the then-co-chairman, Anshu Jain, before a lunch with Trump in early 2013.

The briefing document suggested "key asks" for Jain to make: "Obtain more deposits and investment management assets," and "strategically discuss leveraging Mr. Trump's personal and professional network within the real estate industry in NY" for the bank's benefit.

And how did it go?

"It was a very, very nice, productive lunch," Vrablic recalled on the stand.

Behind the scenes, she told a colleague at the time in an email: "It went great. Donald was low key and demure. Unbelievable. The conversation was fantastic. Not sure he could do it again for a second meeting but hey … miracles can happen."

Adding that the two were planning to golf together that spring, she wrote: "I bet the real D shows up for that one."

The next year, her direct boss went to lunch with Trump to thank him and "ask whether we can work on other opportunities with them," according to a document for that meeting.

James maintains that Trump's allegedly inflated financial statements were critical to netting his company the Deutsche Bank loans at favorable rates, saving him many millions of dollars in interest.

Trump says the financial statements actually underestimated his wealth and that a disclaimer on them absolves him of liability for any problematic figures. Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, claims that James, a Democrat, is trying to harm his prospects of returning to the White House.

Trump personally guaranteed the loans at issue -- standard practice for loans made by Deutsche Bank's division that caters to rich individuals, Vrablic said. The deals came with conditions about Trump's net worth and, sometimes, liquidity, and they often required annual submissions of his financial statements.

Other current and former Deutsche Bank executives have testified that while they expected the information to be accurate, they came up with their own numbers.

Documents show the bank sliced Trump's US$4.2 billion estimate of his net worth to US$2.4 billion when considering the Doral loan, for example. Asked Wednesday whether the cut had concerned her, Vrablic said that if the bank's credit experts "were comfortable with it, I would be comfortable with it."

The US$125 million loan went ahead, with one banker writing in an email that Trump had "among the strongest personal balance sheets we have seen." A top executive agreed to sign off but insisted on an "iron clad" guarantee from Trump.

Trump provided it, Vrablic said Wednesday.

Over the years, she and colleagues spoke enthusiastically among themselves about the potential for building on Deutsche Bank's Trump ties. The bankers envisioned offering him estate planning services, presenting him investment options and netting more clients through word-of-mouth -- "given the circles this family travels in, we expect to be introduced to the wealthiest people on the planet," Vrablic wrote in a 2011 email.

She advocated within the bank for lending to Trump Organization ventures. In a 2012 email to then-Executive Vice President Ivanka Trump, Vrablic promised to ensure that a Deutsche Bank lending executive knew "how important you and your family's business have become to the bank."

Eventually, though, the bank started saying no. In 2016, when Donald Trump was on the campaign trail and his company sought a loan for its golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, the bank decided it didn't "want to increase its exposure," Vrablic testified.

"The bank felt that the increased exposure, scrutiny -- it was an unprecedented situation to have a customer who was about to become president of the United States," she said.

Judge Arthur Engoron will decide the verdict. He ruled before the trial that Trump and other defendants engaged in fraud and he ordered that a receiver take control of some of Trump's properties, putting their future oversight in question. An appeals court has put that order on hold for now.

The trial concerns remaining claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. James is seeking more than US$300 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.

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