WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump shut down some of his companies in the days after the election, including four that appeared connected to a possible Saudi Arabia business venture, according to corporate registrations in Delaware.
News of the move comes days before Trump is expected to describe changes he is making to his businesses to avoid potential conflicts of interest as the U.S. president.
The Trump Organization's general counsel, Alan Garten, described shutting down the four companies as routine "housecleaning," and said there is no existing Trump business venture in Saudi Arabia. The four Saudi-related companies were among at least nine companies that Trump filed paperwork to dissolve or cancel since the election.
The recent dissolutions represent a fraction of Trump's global network of companies — the breadth of which has raised conflict-of-interest concerns about whether Trump can balance being an international businessman while conducting the nation's business abroad as president.
Trump's holdings include more than 500 private companies, some of which he creates for prospective deals. The complex and changing structure makes it difficult for Americans to track his financial interests and partners. Trump has disclosed the names and some details about companies in public filings. But a complete picture of Trump's finances is unclear, given that he has broken with decades of presidential precedent by not releasing his tax returns.
Next week, Trump said, he plans to announce how he will separate himself from his business interests as president.
Trump operates branded hotels and resorts in a handful of countries around the world, though he and his executives have talked about expanding more globally. Last year, Ivanka Trump singled out the Middle East and Saudi Arabia as potential locations.
During the campaign, he created eight companies that included Jeddah, a major Saudi city, in their formal names. Four of those companies were shut down months after they were created. The other four were dissolved about one week after the election.
For years, Trump has routinely named corporate entities after the projects to which they were connected. Companies set up as part of licensing or management deals in Indonesia and India bear the names of the cities where those projects are located. The same is true for some of his companies connected to properties and business ventures in the United States.
Garten said Friday that the dissolution of the companies, which occurred last month, was part of a periodic process to shed corporate entities that were no longer needed or were set up for ventures that did not materialize. Garten said he did not know why the companies were set up last year or whether they involved business ventures in Saudi Arabia that didn't happen.
"I'm not aware of any deal in Saudi Arabia," Garten told The Associated Press. "I'll go further: There is no deal in Saudi Arabia."
Garten declined to say whether the closures were related to Trump's election or his expected announcement next week about how he will be handling his businesses as president.
There is nothing preventing Trump from establishing new businesses or using his existing companies to expand in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. There also is nothing to prevent his children from re-establishing the same companies he shut down under different names.
Business deals in a country like Saudi Arabia — a strategic U.S. partner — raise potential conflicts of interest because there is not much distinction between the Saudi royal family and major Saudi businesses.
It's important that the U.S. president have a close relationship with the Saudi king and crown prince, said Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a fellow at the Washington Institute and expert in U.S.-Gulf relations. "But we also want to have a president who can talk frankly to the Saudis about any complications in the relationship and uphold American interests," she said.
Saudi Arabia has long been a key American ally in the Middle East, prized for its vast oil reserves and depended on by a succession of American presidents for its potential as a Persian Gulf peacemaker.
But President Barack Obama and some U.S. counterterror officials have grown increasingly frustrated with Saudi Arabia's unofficial role in exporting ultraconservative religious dogma and funding terror groups and the militant Taliban movement.
Trump also shut down several shell companies that he had created over the past seven years which had no listed income or value. For instance, Trump Marks Magazine Corp., founded in 2007, had no listed value and was dissolved the day after the election, according to Delaware corporation documents.
Some of the now-dissolved Trump entities are U.S.-based limited liability companies, legal structures that provide owners with legal and tax protections. The entities, commonly abbreviated as LLCs, often offer owners "pass-throughs," ensuring that they are taxed only for the income they receive.
Chase reported from Dover, Delaware. Associated Press writers Stephen Braun and Jeff Horwitz in Washington contributed to this report.
Eileen Sullivan, Chad Day And Randall Chase, The Associated Press