President Donald Trump’s business background continues to weigh heavily on his administration. This week, in the face of reported opposition from within his administration, he declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization — but The New Yorker has previously revealed that he has financial ties to the group, albeit through an intermediary.
The Trump Organization closely participated in the development of an intended luxury hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, that was backed by a notoriously corrupt politically active family that had at times supported the IRGC. Pressed by the publication’s Adam Davidson, the Trump Organization’s Alan Garten insisted that the company had performed a risk assessment before entering into the deal, but he declined to provide many more specifics. He wouldn’t say who had been responsible for the assessments inside or outside the company nor would he share any documentation of the alleged examinations of the situation.
At this point, the president’s business is no longer actively financially tied to the project, having abandoned it soon after he was elected — but not before they could thoroughly intertwine themselves with the mess of corruption. Ivanka Trump herself — the president’s daughter who currently works as his adviser — claimed at one point to have “overseen the development of Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku since its inception,” which entailed a close attention to the details of the construction project well beyond what might be expected by the licensing deal the Trump team has pointed to as the extent of their involvement in the project. That licensing deal was worth millions of dollars.
Those connections have a wide-ranging possibility for corrupting influence. Past Azerbaijani Transportation Minister Ziya Mammadov — whose son and brother worked on the Trump Tower Baku project — awarded a series of multimillion dollar contracts to the IRGC-controlled construction company Azarpassillo in 2008, which is the same year that the original tower plans were announced. (The Trump team joined the project in 2012.)
The very nature of the project has been revealed as troubling, since the tower was situated well away from the city’s business district that housed actually operational high-end hotels. In 2017, The New Yorker shared that the location was surrounded by hookah bars and “narrow, dingy shops,” prompting a former top official in Azerbaijan’s Tourism Ministry to exclaim:
‘Why would someone put a luxury hotel there? Nobody who can afford to stay there would want to be in that neighborhood.’
They definitely seem to have been on the right track since Trump Tower Baku has never opened in any form. In 2018, fire engulfed dozens of floors, leaving its future even more on the rocks.
Global business consortium Trace International’s president and founder Alexandra Wrage admonished The New Yorker that when projects that seem to have little to no actual relevance to the market or chance of profit, the likelihood that it’s just a front for money laundering, bribery, or some related financial crime spikes. Money flowing through the Trump Tower Baku could have benefited a whole host of corrupt interests around the globe, including but far from limited to the IRGC. Federal legislation prohibits American companies from participating in any such scheme, even if they can claim plausible deniability.
The issue is one of many similar ones enveloping the president, who is also accused of bank, insurance, and tax fraud.
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