Albanian and Kosovan officials spent thousands at Washington hotel to win favour with Trump

Albanian and Kosovan officials spent thousands at Washington hotel to win favour with Trump
US House of Representatives report reveals foreign officials from around the world spent a total of $8.7mn at various Trump-owned businesses during his presidency.
By bne IntelliNews January 7, 2024

Top Albanian and Kosovan officials spent thousands of dollars at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC, what was believed to be an attempt to gain influence with the then US president Donald Trump. 

According to the US Committee on Oversight and Accountability report, "White House for Sale: How Princes, Prime Ministers, and Premiers Paid Off President Trump”, between 2017 and 2020, Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama, along with his advisors and the former minister of infrastructure, Damian Gjiknuri, spent approximately $6,000 while staying at the hotel, which at the time was owned by Trump. 

The report also reveals that Kosovo's former deputy premier, Behgjet Pacolli, and other officials from Kosovo spent over $4,950 in the same hotel during the same period.

The 156-page report, compiled by Democrats on the House of Representatives' Oversight Committee, seeks to establish a connection between the payments and an alleged effort to influence the US president. 

The report is based on documents obtained by audit, accounting and consulting group Mazars, and details expenses incurred by foreign officials at various Trump-owned businesses, amounting to a total of $8.7mn.

The report contends that these expenditures, including those made by Albanian and Kosovan officials, were a means of influencing then president Trump. 

According to the report, Rama's advisors spent over $1,000 each in the Trump International Hotel during visits in January and March 2018. Rama himself spent $1,158 during a visit in March 2018, while Gjiknuri spent $1,025 on a one-night stay in June 2018. 

The visits by Rama and other Albanian officials took place in the years after the 2017 elections, when the opposition Democratic Party, then led by Lulzim Basha, accused Rama's ruling Socialist Party of corruption and ties to organised crime. As political tensions escalated in Albania, both major parties sought to influence the Trump administration through lobbying campaigns. 

“Amidst this rancor and volatility, Albanian political parties turned to K Street [a Washington street known as a centre for lobbying] to try to gain a political advantage in Washington,” said the report. 

“The three main Albanian parties hired US-based lobbyists with close ties to then-president Trump; two of the three parties reportedly funded their lobbying services through obscure shell companies with ties to Russian interests.” 

Rama's Socialists hired Brian Ballard, a Trump campaigner, for $20,000 a month, while Basha engaged Nicholas Muzin, a former aide to US conservative Senator Ted Cruz and a Trump campaign advisor. 

Muzin secured a photo opportunity for Basha with Trump, with the pictures circulated widely to imply a close relationship between the politicians. 

“The fact that [foreign politicians] could get a meeting, have a handshake and take a picture that gets distributed far and wide back home that is gold to them. They'll almost do anything to achieve that,” said one Washington lobbyist quoted in the report. 

The report also says that Rama's stay at the Trump International Hotel coincided with a meeting with the disgraced former FBI counterespionage agent Charles McGonigal, sentenced in December 2023 for providing services to sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Kosovan officials, meanwhile, sought to leverage US support in order to gain greater international recognition, including from neighboring Serbia.

“As part of Kosovo's campaign to garner greater American support for its effort to secure international recognition, a delegation from the Kosovar government including then-president Hashim Thaci visited the United States in January 2017, where they reportedly met with several Republican members of Congress and tried to initiate a relationship with the incoming Trump administration,” says the report. Pristina also employed Trump fundraiser and D.C. lobbyist Brian Ballard. 

Trump had initially been seen as more friendly towards Serbia than previous Democratic administrations. However, towards the end of his time in office, Trump claimed a deal between Serbia and Kosovo as a foreign policy triumph.