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  1. ITV Report

Donald Trump business transfer to sons criticised by ethics chief

The President-elect's eldest sons Eric, left, and Donald Jr will oversee their father's business interests. Credit: AP

Donald Trump's plans to hand control of his business empire to his sons during his presidency has been criticised by the director of the US Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and fiercely attacked by former White House ethics advisers.

Walter Shaub said Mr Trump's plan "cannot achieve his goal" of avoiding a conflict of interest before his inauguration on January 20 and fell below the standards of his predecessors.

The US president-elect told a news conference on Wednesday he would maintain ownership of his empire but resign from all positions overseeing his hotels, golf courses and hundreds of other businesses, with sons Eric and Donald Jr taking over.

Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka will no longer be involved in managing her father's organisation or her own clothing brand. Credit: AP

Mr Trump outlined his business plans while speaking out over an alleged Russian dossier containing lurid claims against him.

He said the moving of his assets into a trust would help ensure he will not consciously take actions as president that would benefit him personally.

But OGE director Mr Shaub said Mr Trump's plan was "not even close" to establishing the kind of blind trust needed to protect against a conflict of interest.

Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective. The Presidency is a full-time job and he would've had to step back anyway. The idea of setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation. This is not a blind trust - it's not even close.

– Walter Shaub, director of the US Office of Government Ethics

Other ethics experts were even more outspoken in criticising the proposals.

Professor Norman Eisen, a former White House ethics adviser to Barack Obama, declared: "Mr Trump's ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption."

Professor Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer to George W Bush, added: "The plan we heard today does not comply with the law."

OGE director Mr Shaub said the process of 'divestiture' - where the profits from a sale of corporate assets are held in a blind trust run by an independent trustee - was the only way the tycoon could ethically hold the nation's top political office.

Donald Trump said he turned down a $2 billion (£1.63 billion) development deal in Dubai over the weekend. Credit: AP

"(The US Office of Government Ethics's) primary recommendation is that he divest his conflicting financial interests," he said. "Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts."

Unlike other US government officials, the president is not required by law to steer clear of conflicts of interest - a point Mr Trump raised during his news conference.

"I could actually run my business and run government at the same time," he said. "I don't like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to."

Underlining the commercial value of his company on the eve of him taking office, Mr Trump said he had turned down a $2 billion (£1.63 billion) development deal in Dubai he had been offered over the weekend.

Mr Shaub welcomed Mr Trump's keenness not to be seen to profit from his newfound power, but urged him to rethink his future business arrangements.

We can't risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit. That's why I was glad in November when the President-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, 'in no way have a conflict of interest' with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal.

– Walter Shaub, director of the US Office of Government Ethics

Trump adviser Sheri Dillon confirmed the Trump Organisation won't negotiate any new overseas deals while he is president and will get a company ethics adviser to approve any domestic projects.

She said Mr Trump will not be privy to such details and will only learn of those deals through the media.