Mar 6, 2017
Donald Trump has regularly spoken out against Iran’s regime—but that hasn’t stopped him from helping it get rich.
A lengthy piece in the New Yorker reports that the Trump Organization conducted business with the family of Ziya Mammadov, Azerbaijan’s minister of transportation, in order to develop a luxury property in the capital city of Baku. Yet the Mammadov family has a “troubling connection,” author Adam Davidson writes: “For years, it has been financially entangled with a family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which has been identified as a major supporter of international terrorism.”
According to Davidson, in 2008 Ziya Mammadov awarded a series of contracts to an Iranian construction company known as Azarpassillo. Azarspassilo is chaired by Keyumars Darvishi, a former soldier in the Iran-Iraq war who once chaired Raman, an Iranian construction firm that was a direct branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Davidson cites scholars who suggest that Azarspassilo is merely a front for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
In 2012, meanwhile, the Trump Organization signed a deal with Mammadov’s family to build the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku, a five-star hotel and residence that remains unopened. The Trump Organization’s legal officer Alan Garten said that it hired a third-party company to perform due diligence on the Mammadov family and found nothing alarming. Yet the Mammadov family is one of the most widely known oligarchs in Azerbaijan, and US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks in 2009 repeatedly described him as corrupt.
Earlier media reports stated that the Trump Organization’s involvement with the project remained minimal, and quoted Garten as saying that the company did not work directly with Mammadov and the deal was primarily a licensing agreement. But an Azerbaijani lawyer involved in the project said that’s not true—the Trump team visited the site “at least monthly” to approve certain specifications.
“We were always following their instructions. We were in constant contact with the Trump Organization. They approved the smallest details,” the lawyer told Davidson. Ivanka Trump was reportedly the most senior member of the Trump Organization to travel to the site—in October of 2014, Trump’s daughter Ivanka posted a video of herself in Baku:
In December 2016 the Trump Organization announced it would end its licensing deals in Azerbaijan and neighboring Georgia, in order to stave off potential conflicts of interest. In the case of the Baku project, however, it’s already too late—the building is nearly complete.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is a major military, political, and economic force in Iran and in the Middle East. Domestically, it has ties to companies that oversee roughly $12 billion in capital for construction and engineering projects, including Iran’s nuclear defense programs. It has also helped finance terror organizations, including al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.
Davidson suggests that the Trump Organization might have violated sanctions placed against Iran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for conducting business with the Mammadov family. He quotes lawyers who were astounded by the Trump camp’s claims that the due diligence process revealed no red flags. It’s also possible that the Baku project violates the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law designed to prevent American companies from rewarding foreign governments in exchange for preferential treatment.
Ironically, the Trump regime has been a regular critic of Iran, and has reportedly proposed classifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization in line with those other groups. Apparently it could still make a great business partner.