US President Trump may have been involved in a business deal with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the New Yorker reported on Tuesday.
A thirty-three storey high building in the city centre with TRUMP blaring at the top, remains unopened since its conception in 2008. The Donald Trump Organisation signed multiple contracts with Azerbaijain developers to transform the tower into a high-end luxury hotel in 2012.
An investigation by the New Yorker found the timing of the deal dubious since it came right after the construction boom in Baku hit its worst patch. “Why would someone put a luxury hotel there? Nobody who can afford to stay there would want to be in that neighbourhood,” a former official at Ministry of Tourism in Azerbaijan told the reporter.
Timing is not the only suspicious issue in this case, as the report also found the developers behind Trump Tower in Baku to be close relatives of Ziya Mammadov – a local politician allegedly involved in corruption scandals in the country.
The Mammadov family has ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps – which the US government has frequently accused of criminal activities. Recently, Reuters stated that the Trump administration was deliberating its inclusion it in its list of militant organisations. According to a WikiLeaks document released in 2010, Ziya Mammadov had close financial ties with Iran’s Darvishi family – which has about three members associated with the Revolutionary Guard.
Speaking to the newspaper, a lawyer who worked on the project confirmed that the Trump organisation was in direct contact with the construction company in Baku. “We were always following their instructions. We were in constant contact with the Trump Organisation. They approved the smallest details,” he claimed. Ivanka Trump’s visit to the city in 2014 to oversee the project further supports the newspaper’s claim.
Alan Garten, chief legal officer at Trump’s organisation, refuted the claim insisting that Trump played a ‘passive’ role in the venture. Garten said that Trump only lent his famous name, “he was merely a licensor,” he told the reporter.
Earlier, Graten told the Washington Post that no red flags were raised when the company ran an “extensive due diligence” assessment before commencement of the venture.
Although there is no concrete evidence showing Trump or any of his employees being directly involved in any criminal activity for the scheme, the current president could have broken a law by working with the Mammadov family under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1077 which forbids American companies from “participating in a scheme to reward a foreign government official in exchange for material benefit or preferential treatment,” the New Yorker writes.
The newspaper reported discrepancies in the project, starting from how the land was acquired for the luxury hotel – citing ex-residents who were evicted by the government – to tax officials, government inspectors being bribed during the construction.
While Garten did not deny the corruption, he refused to accept any responsibility. “I’m not going to sit here and defend the Mammadovs,” he said.
In December 2016, Garten had announced that the Trump Organisation was distancing itself from the Baku hotel project – a month after Trump was elected as president of the United States.