Fresh questions are being asked about President Duterte’s appointment of the tycoon behind Manila’s Trump Tower as special envoy to the USA.
Jose E B Antonio, the chairman of Century Properties, was appointed in October, shortly before President Trump’s surprise victory.
However, this week it has been reported that the security services of an unnamed European ally of the USA is investigating Trump’s potential conflicts of interests across the world, including in the Philippines.
A report in Newsweek has detailed how the allied intelligence agency had eavesdropped on calls before the election between National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and a Russian official in the USA.
It isn’t known whether this surveillance included the telephone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that has led to Mr Flynn’s resignation this week.
The report also said the that the agency had then widened its investigation into President Trump’s other foreign links, such as that with Mr Antonio.
Kurt Eichenwald, for Newsweek, said: “According to people with direct knowledge of the situation, a European intelligence service has obtained the contracts and other legal documents in the deal between the Trump Organization and Antonio.
“That deal has already resulted in large payments to Trump’s business, with millions of dollars more on the way— all coming from an agent of the Philippine president.”
The website for Trump Tower at Century City, Makati, makes it clear that the $150 million project is not owned, developed or sold by Mr Trump in any way. Mr Trump had no involvement in the project except to license his brand name, for a reported $5 million.
He has also lent his fame and reputation to the scheme, being quoted on the company website as saying: “I’ve always loved the Philippines. I think it’s just a special place, and Manila is one of Asia’s most spectacular cities.”
The site also contains reports of the launch of Ivanka Trump’s jewellery line at Century City, including one article entitled: Special Report: Ivanka Trump: Scion of brand sophistication. A link button labelled “Ivanka Jewelry” currently directs to an “Error 404” message.
Following the confirmation of Mr Trump’s election victory, stocks in Century Property leapt by 20 per cent.
While there’s nothing illegal about the business arrangements between Trump and Mr Antonio (named by Forbes as the Philippines’ 40th richest person in 2016) experts say it could create unnecessary complications for US diplomacy.
Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who was President George W Bush’s chief ethics lawyer, said: “The arrangement means that as president, Trump may have to respond to requests from a business partner who has paid him millions.
“We have a president in the Philippines who is clearly volatile,” he said of Duterte, “we don’t want a situation where the US president is financially involved with a whole bunch of his supporters.
“That will have an adverse impact on our policy and our ability to figure out how to deal with Duterte and try to put back together our relationship with the Philippines.”
When asked about any conflict of interest between his roles as President Duterte’s representative in the USA (there is currently no ambassador) and President Trump’s biggest business partner in the Philippines, Mr Antonio said: “My role is to enlarge the relationship between the two countries.” Of his business ties to Trump, he said: “I guess it would be an asset.”
Antonio also told Bloomberg News that he visited Trump Tower in New York just days after the US election, but did not meet President Elect Trump. His account was confirmed by Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, who said: “They did not meet.”