A Trump hotel in Azerbaijan has been linked to corrupt oligarchs and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, The New Yorker reports.
The hotel is run by the Mammadov family, who have been called “the Corleones of the Caspian” and have links to the guard.
The hotel in question, The Trump International Hotel Tower Baku has never opened. It was supposed to be a residential building, a hotel, perhaps both. It’s in a part of Baku’s downtown that a former top official in Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Tourism finds peculiar: “Why would someone put a luxury hotel there?. Nobody who can afford to stay there would want to be in that neighborhood.”
The Trump Organization said the building would be converted into a hotel in 2014, when Baku’s construction boom ended, and luxury hotel occupancy rate was about 35%, which is strange because five-star hotel developers usually have to show an occupancy rate of at least 60% over ten years.
Trump’s financial filings show Trump is partnered with the son of Azerbaijan’s transportation minister, Anar Mammadov. Anar’s father Ziya has been accused by U.S. officials of laundering money for the Iranian military. No charges have been filed against either, but the hotel could be a useful vehicle for money laundering. The Mammadov’s have been accused of using government positions and construction firms tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to enrich themselves and their partners.
The Trump administration will likely call the Guard a terrorist organization amid longstanding accusations of drug trafficking, sponsoring terrorism abroad and money laundering.
The New Yorker calls Elton Mammadov, Ziya’s brother, an “influential” member of the Azerbaijani parliament. Elton signed contracts for the Trump project, founding the company Baku XXI Century, which owns the tower.
The Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, said the company never directly engaged with Mammadov, calling Trump’s role a passive name licensing, for which he was paid at least $2.8 million, according to public documents. Other documents show Trump was paid another $2.5 million for the use of his name in 2012, when he signed a contract to manage the hotel after it opened for an undisclosed fee dependent on its performance.
Garten claimed after the election that the Trump Organization had severed ties with the hotel in December. The New Yorker found the Trump Organization was unusually involved in the project, and likely knew of Mammadov’s corruption andconnection the Revolutionary Guard, leaving the organization potentially exposed to criminal prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:
“If, as Alan Garten told me, the Trump Organization learned in 2015 about ‘the possibility’ that the Mammadovs had ties to the Revolutionary Guard, it is striking that the company did not end the Baku deal until December, 2016. During this period, Garten told me, the Trump Organization never asked its Azerbaijani partners about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but it did send several default notices for late payments.”
(image via Gage Skidmore/Flickr)