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Trump’s ‘huuuuuge’ Caribbean estate is for sale

The opulent beachfront estate that recently went on the market on the Caribbean island of St. Martin has a number of appealing factors, including two elaborately adorned villas and an expansive pool overlooking the crystalline waters of Plum Bay.

And there's another unique aspect that nearby properties can't claim: It is owned by the president of the United States.

Le Chateau des Palmiers, which President Donald Trump described as 'one of the greatest mansions in the world' when he bought it in 2013, was quietly listed for sale last month on the website of Sotheby's International Realty, whose St. Martin office noted coyly in an Instagram post, 'It's huuuuuge!' The price, according to a person familiar with the listing: $28 million.

It's unclear why the property is for sale. It earned Trump between $200,000 and $2 million in rental fees between 2014 and mid-2016, according to financial disclosures. Officials with the White House and the Trump Organization did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The effort to sell the high-priced estate in the midst of Trump's tenure could present a similar ethical problem to the one his lawyer cited in defending his decision not to sell off his company after the election: that a buyer could overpay as a way to gain currency with the president.

If the estate is sold, the public probably would learn little, if anything, about who has purchased it.

Public records in the French territory do not always show details of private property transactions. Trump would eventually have to disclose the sales price on his financial disclosure form - a report detailing 2017 transactions must be filed in the spring of 2018 - but he would not be required to reveal the identity of the buyer.

In January, before his inauguration, Trump placed his business holdings in a revocable trust overseen by his son Donald Jr. and longtime Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg.

He said he was turning over management of the Trump Organization to his two eldest sons, who Trump said are 'not going to discuss it with me.'

However, experts said Trump did not give up control of his assets under the trust agreement.

The trust appears to be seeking substantially more for the St. Martin residence than Trump paid the previous owners, Steve Hilbert and his wife, Tomisue Hilbert, an Indiana businessman who had licensed a caviar-based skin-care line developed by Melania Trump, sold Donald Trump the house in 2013. At the time, the Hilberts were seeking $19.7 million for the oceanfront compound, although the final sales price was never disclosed.

Lesley Reed, the Sotheby's agent who is representing the property, declined to comment on the current listing, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

The palm tree-ringed estate - whose name translates as 'Castle of the Palms' - covers nearly five acres and includes a tennis court and a fitness center. There are nine bedrooms between the oceanside villa and garden villa, including a two-story master suite, as well as a commercial-size catering kitchen and media room.

Chandeliers, marble floors, gold-hued wallpaper and heavy gold curtains dominate the interior, according to photos accompanying the listing - decor that dates to the Hilbert's ownership, say people who toured it then.

A website that aggregates luxury properties, 7th Heaven Properties, initially listed Chateau des Palmiers with an asking price of $28 million, although it subsequently changed it to 'price on application,' per the Sotheby's request, according to a 7th Heaven representative.

Four St. Martin real estate agents told The Washington Post that the $28 million price tag far outstrips the amount that sellers are getting for the most exclusive properties on the Caribbean island, where the market is still rebounding from the 2008 banking crisis.

Owners of the most luxurious homes on the market are asking $15 million to $17 million, agents said.

A 10-bedroom hillside estate on a lot adjacent to Chateau des Palmiers is for sale for $4.75 million.

'It's a lot of money,' Hanneke Snow, the owner of Re/Max Island Properties, said of the price for the president's property. 'If it were in St. Barts, you would have a bigger chance. But if the name Trump is attached to it, people may want to see it.'

Arun Jagtiani, the owner of Island Real Estate Team, said he thinks the property is 'overpriced by about $10 million.'

'If someone does pay anything close to the asking price, it will be because they are paying a premium to say they own a property that was once owned by President Trump,' Jagtiani said.

Jagtiani has had at least one client whose interest was piqued by the estate's lineage. In February 2016, as Trump's profile in the Republican presidential primaries was rising, Jagtiani said he was showing estates in the area to a Russian investor and mentioned that Chateau des Palmiers was owned by the New York developer.

'He seemed to light up when we mentioned the name 'Trump,' ' said Jagtiani, who declined to share his client's name. 'He seemed very excited and asked to see it. He wasn't clear if he was looking for himself or a friend. But he was intrigued.'
Even though the property was not on the market, the Russian investor arranged to tour the estate but never followed up after viewing it, he said.

The sale of the St. Martin estate would be one of the biggest transactions involving Trump’s assets since he took office.

In January, in response to calls for him to divest his real estate empire, Trump attorney Sheri Dillon said that selling all his holdings could actually “exacerbate” possible conflicts of interest.

“Whatever price was paid would be subject to criticism and scrutiny,” Dillon said at a news conference. “’Was it too high, is there pay-for-play, was it too much pay to curry favor with the president-elect?’”

Dillon declined to comment for this story.

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