On October 20, 2021, it was announced that former U.S. president Donald Trump plans to create his own social media app, Truth Social, as well as a video on demand service (TMTG+). A prototype of Truth Social already exists, and the platform is scheduled to roll out early next year. Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG) said in an announcement that its “mission is to create a rival to the liberal media consortium and fight back against the ‘Big Tech’ companies of Silicon Valley, which have used their unilateral power to silence opposing voices in America.”
The announcement came at the same time as Trump’s media company, TMTG, founded in February 2021, had entered a merger agreement with the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Digital World Acquisition Corporation (DWAC) that would combine the two entities, allowing TMTG to become a publicly traded company through DWAC. In the days that followed reports about the breathtaking rise in value of the already publicly traded DWAC shares hit the headlines, jumping from about $10 to as much as $175, then dropping back to around $60.
Market watchers have dubbed the phenomenon a “meme stock,” a “pump & dump” scheme causing a volatile buying frenzy caused by mass-advertisement on social media platforms, in this case targeting staunch Trump fans. According to Forbes: “Hedge funds who got in early were sitting on hundreds of millions in gains … And everyday Trump supporters, betting on the SPAC from their brokerage accounts, were doubling and tripling their money in a matter of hours.”
A special purpose acquisition company, such as DWAC, is a type of shell or blank check company that buys up other companies, particularly those which intend to transition from a private to a publicly traded company without having to go through the rigorous reporting and filing process. Using a SPAC for the transition to the stock market instead of initial public offerings, or IPOs, can have other advantages for a company, such as concealing certain aspects of its finances.
Since DWAC, registered in July 2021, “had neither operations nor revenue” at the point when it “launched an initial public offering” in September 2021, and TMTG was the first company to be infused with that money, according to Forbes, it is speculated that DWAC was created for the sole purpose to funnel money into TMTG—or at the very least make its shareholders rich very quickly.
The gains were truly enormous: Orlando’s stakes in DWAC are currently estimated at $450 million, and while it is not known how big of a shareholder Trump is, given the current value of the stock, TMTG as a whole will receive an estimated $5 to $8 billion worth of stock—currently Donald Trump's most valuable asset.
Looking at the leading staff members of DWAC and TMTG, it becomes clear that they are embedded in an established international network of financial operatives, that spans from China, Russia and Brazil to tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands and Cyprus.
A listed “director nominee” in the Digital World SEC registration is Bruce J. Garelick, a venture capitalist who also runs the Cayman Islands off-shore Garelick Capital Partners QP Feeder Fund (Cayman), LTD. On the Garelick Capital Partners filings appears the name of Boston-based Robert E. Finneran, who had been cited in the press as a major organizer for Trump.
But the central figure behind the Trump project is Miami-based SPAC wizard Patrick Francis Orlando, chairman of Digital World Acquisitions Corp. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Orlando negotiated the deal with Mr. Trump, with whom he had a relationship ... He declined to comment on the details of the agreement or how it came together.”
Mr. Orlando is a busy man. He earlier worked for the German Deutsche Bank which had provided major financial support for Trump. Today, he is CEO of Benessere Capital Acquisition Corp. as well as managing partner of ARC Global Investments, which was the “sponsor” of Digital World and is also part of the DWAC/TMTG merger. According to CNBC, “In an 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission … DWAC said it had entered into an agreement and plan of merger with DWAC Merger Sub Inc., which is a wholly owned subsidiary of DWAC, and with Trump Media & Technology Group and ARC Global Investments II.”
Two other directors of Benessere Capital Acquisition Corp., Eric Swider and Justin Shaner, are also working for DWAC as director nominees. According to DWAC SEC filings, "Benessere Capital Acquisition Corp. is a special purpose acquisition corporation that focuses its search for a business combination on technology-focused middle market and emerging growth companies in North, Central and South America, which overlaps with the industry and geographic scope of our search."
International connections of Patrick Orlando's business ventures.
The Chinese Connection
Mr. Orlando, since September 2019, has also been CEO of Yunhong International (ticker: ZGYH), another SPAC. Yunhong International, incorporated in the Cayman Islands, is based in Wuhan, China, according to SEC filings. That same address is shared by Yunhong Group, which sells an array of supplements such as “Natural Brain Booster Capsule” and “Bitter Gourd Peptides.” Yunhong International’s SEC filings list several officers and directors of Chinese background, Wan Zhang, Baibing Li and Li Yubao, and others, the latter also doubling as chairman of the Yunhong Group.
These Chinese connections to a central project in Trump’s orbit may seem odd to some, given the Trump government’s ostentatious enmity towards China. However, such dissonances may quickly resolve when it comes to matters of common interest. A perfect example is Erik Prince’s military intelligence project Frontier Services Group, for which Chinese oligarchs had previously raised nearly $1 billion.
The Russian Connection
Orlando's Yunhong International also lists one Russian, Andrey Novikov, who signed several of the SEC papers and last year was listed as the “Reporting Person” on the 2020 Yunhong SEC documents.
The SEC 10-K report filed by Yunhong for the period ending June 2020 cites Orlando as CEO since January 2020 and includes this entry for Novikov:
Mr. Andrey Novikov has been serving as our Chief Financial Officer since January 2020 and previously was our Chief Executive Officer since September 2019. He has also been serving as a member of the Board of Directors at Innovative Payment Solutions, Inc. (OTC: QPAGD), a US-based provider of physical and virtual payment services in the Mexican Market, since April 2014. From January 2013 to October 2014, Mr. Novikov served as an advisor of QIWI PLC (NASDAQ: QIWI), a leading payment service provider in Russia, primarily responsible for the company’s international development and merger and acquisition transactions. From May 2008 to January 2014, Mr. Novikov served as a Vice President of QIWI PLC. He was also involved in strategic planning, budgeting, mergers and acquisitions, development of business plan, and attending Telecom conferences. From May 1999 to November 2007, Mr. Novikov served as the Deputy Director General of Bela Catarina Ltd., a Portuguese-Russian trading and manufacturing company, where he engaged in negotiations with foreign customers and partners, marketing in Russia and Belarus, and other business development and expansion activities. From June 1996 to May 1999, Mr. Novikov founded and managed Kvalitet Ltd., a trading company, where he was involved in business development and deliveries and sales technology. Mr. Novikov received a bachelor’s degree in Automated Systems of Technological Preparation of the Production from Moscow State University of Technology.
So Novikov worked for the Russian company QIWI from 2008-2014. What is QIWI?
QIWI was founded by the Russian financial wizard Sergey Solonin and is incorporated in Nicosia, Cyprus, a favorite of Russian oligarchs - serving as their version of the Cayman Islands. It was from a bank in Cyprus that the Kremlin arranged to launder millions of dollars in support of Marine Le Pen’s neo-fascist Front National party (now called Rassemblement National) when no French bank would lend it money.
Novikov worked for Solonin for six years. QIWI specializes in automated “payments.” In October 2017, when Russia's President Vladimir Putin decided to focus on the role of cryptocurrencies, he called a meeting of his top experts including his Presidential Aide Andrei Belousov, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina and QIWI CEO Solonin. Shortly after the top-level cryptocurrency meeting with Putin, Solonin was appointed co-head of the official governmental agency FINNET (Agency for Strategic Initiatives) which Putin himself has chaired. Within a year the press carried stories that ultra-right oligarch Konstantin Malofeev had become one of the biggest operators in the cryptocurrency markets.
In October 2017, when Putin decided to focus on the role of cryptocurrencies, he called a meeting of his top experts including his Presidential Aide Andrei Belousov, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina and QIWI CEO Solonin.
Thus, the former VP (Novikov at QIWI) for the head of Putin’s Agency for Stragtegic Initiatives has emerged as an important collaborator of the Miami-based financial operative, Patrick Orlando, who is raising funds for Trump’s major propaganda effort.
The Brazilian Connection
There are also two Brazilians who are involved in Digital World Acquisition Corp. One of DWAC’s director nominees is a certain Rodrigo Veloso, who, besides various successful business ventures, is the “Co-Founder of BRIC Chamber, an organization established to encourage people from around the world to meet and talk about the development and advancement of programs and services in the fields of investment, entrepreneurship and innovation in Brazil, Russia, India, China (“BRIC”) and other emerging countries,” according to DWAC's SEC filings. However, the California-based BRIC Chamber of Mr. Veloso seems to be no longer active, since the website is defunct (archived versions range from 2010 to 2017).
Luiz Philippe de Orléans and Bragança
Then there is DWAC’s Chief Financial Officer, the ultraright monarchist Prince Luiz Phillipe Orléans e Bragança, a member of the Brazilian Parliament and a staunch supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro—so much so that in 2018 he was considered for the position of Vice President. Before that Orléans e Bragança was heading Acorda Brasil, a political movement that pushed for the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff. Hailing from the Brazilian royal family which ruled over the country until 1889, Orléans e Bragança is openly promoting Brazil’s return to a monarchy, and advocating the creation of a new constitution along the lines of the 1824 Constitution.
The uncle of Bragança, the almost eponymous Prince Luiz Gastão de Orléans e Bragança, is a claimant to the defunct Brazilian throne and a prominent member of the Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), a clerical fascist organization based on the doctrines established by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.
The SEC filings for Digital World cite Luiz Phillipe’s media experience:
Our CFO, Mr. Luis Orleans-Braganza is a businessman and currently a member of Brazil’s National Congress, originally elected in 2018, representing the state of São Paulo. He founded Zap Tech in February of 2012 and remained there until 2015, during which time Zap Tech developed a mobile payment platform ... Later he extended his financial experience at JP Morgan investment banking division in London and at Lazard Frères in New York City. From April 2000 to May 2005, he acted as a director at Time Warner’s, AOL Latin America division where he was responsible for managing strategic alliances with media and telecom players in multiple countries in the region.
While doing business in the U.S., Orléans e Bragança is currently being investigated in Brazil for his involvement in Bolsonaro’s propaganda and fake news network, widely known as the “Hate Office” (gabinete do ódio). The investigation kicked off on May 26, 2020, when the Brazilian Supreme Court judge Alexandre De Moraes issued 29 search warrants against allies of President Jair Bolsonaro deemed involved in the creation of the Hate Office. The network was funded by tycoons and run by politicians, journalists and bloggers, who are now facing an investigation for criminal association.
Six government legislators in the Chamber of Deputies, who are part of what has been dubbed as “President Bolsonaro's shock troop,” are also under investigation by judicial authorities, including the very Prince Luiz Phillipe Orléans e Bragança. According to Judge De Moraes:
The collected evidence and expert opinions pointed to the existence of a criminal association dedicated to the dissemination of false news, attacks on people, authorities, and institutions, such as the Supreme Court, with contents of hatred, subversion of order, and incentives to break the democratic institutions.
Decrying the investigation as unwarranted, President Jair Bolsonaro decorated Orléans e Bragança with the Naval Order of Merit with the rank of Grand Officer. In the meantime, the investigation has also arrived at Jair Bolsonaro’s doorstep, making it the fifth court inquiry that the Brazilian president is currently facing. According to Estadão, "Bolsonaro was included in August this year in the fake news inquiry at the STF [Federal Supreme Court] due to repeated allegations of fraud in electronic voting machines and attacks on ministers such as Luís Roberto Barroso, president of the TSE [Superior Electoral Court]."
An oversight role in the Hate Office has also been ascribed to one of Bolsonaro’s three sons, Carlos Bolsonaro, who is known as the “pit bull” of the family. Federal police named him as one of the organizers of the criminal scheme to spread fake news.
With more information surfacing Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo also came into the focus of investigators. Experts have called the attention to the importance of Eduardo Bolsonaro as Steve Bannon’s local affiliate, who was overseeing the fake news network in support of Donald Trump’s latest presidential campaign.
Eduardo has been a member of the Chamber of Deputies since 2015, and is affiliated to the far-right Social Liberal Party (PSL). In 2018, he was re-elected to a second term as Federal Deputy, having received 1.8 million votes, the most votes of any lawmaker in Brazil's history. In the Chamber of Deputies, Bolsonaro chairs the International Affairs and National Defense Committee.
Twitter post by Eduardo Bolsonaro from August 4, 2018, showing him together with Steve Bannon.
In February 2019, it was reported that Eduardo Bolsonaro was joining The Movement. The European-based organization supports right-wing populism and was founded by former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Bolsonaro is the representative for the group in South America. In October of that year Eduardo Bolsonaro threatened to introduce a decree modeled after the Institutional Act Number Five (“AI-5”), the fifth of seventeen major decrees issued by the military dictatorship of Brazil that gave them the power to override the government and constitution. Eduardo has also been the star guest and sponsor of Brazil’s first CPAC edition alongside Donald Trump Jr. in September 2021, another vehicle through which Trump’s network and political strategies are being exported to the country.
Since Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, Brazil has come into the focus as one of the most important far-right strongholds. Since President Bolsonaro’s polls are currently at a low and the next presidential elections are upcoming next year, he relies more than ever on Trump’s playbook and support from his network. Currently he is sowing doubt in the Brazilian electoral process with full support by Trump’s chief propagandist Steve Bannon, who reportedly said that Bolsonaro would only lose the election if they were stolen by “the machines.”
Bolsonaro is readily adopting the tools developed and tested in the U.S. and elsewhere: far-right social media platforms such as Gettr and Parler are increasingly used by Brazilians; so is Telegram, run by a Russian exile, Pavel Durov, from Dubai, known to hardly cut down on hate speech and far-right content. According to the New York Times:
Gettr’s chief executive, Jason Miller, is Mr. Trump’s former spokesman. He said that President Bolsonaro and his sons’ activity on his site has been a major boost for business. … Parler said Brazil is also its No. 2 market. Both companies sponsored CPAC in Brazil. … Gettr is partly funded by Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire who is close with Mr. Bannon. (When Mr. Bannon was arrested on fraud charges, he was on Mr. Guo’s yacht.) Parler is funded by Rebekah Mercer, the American conservative megadonor who was Mr. Bannon’s previous benefactor.
As of yet it is uncertain which role Truth Social and TMTG+ will play in the far-right social media market. It will certainly be another building block of Trump’s domestic “Hate Office,” and with operatives, such as such Orleans e Bragança and Patrick Orlando in place, international coordination will remain very close.