The following article by Jack Moore was written for Newsweek and posted on the National Memo website March 7, 2017:
Donald Trump has styled himself as a hardline opponent of the Iranian regime, but new details of a business deal in Azerbaijan point to his organization’s relationship with an oligarch’s family that has close links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
A New Yorker feature alleges that indirect ties between Trump’s business interests and the Iranian regime, which he is currently railing against in office, may have been closer than previously believed before he ascended to the presidency.
It reports that the Trump Organization, the business that Trump handed to his sons when he was inaugurated in January, had conducted business with the Mammadov family, specifically “close relatives of Ziya Mammadov,” the Transport Minister of Azerbaijan.
He is a powerful Azerbaijani oligarch that has sat in the Transport Ministry since 2002, and the New Yorker alleges that he has financial ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the operations arm of the Iranian military tasked with the defending the country internally and externally. Last month, anonymous officials within Trump’s team told the Wall Street Journal he was considering classifying the force as an extremist organization.
The allegations center on the Trump Tower Baku in the Azerbaijani capital, a $35 million project that was slated to become a large tower of apartments. Construction began in 2008, with the Trumps joining the project in 2012, the report says. It was set to include a Trump hotel but Trump’s business was not leading the project, and any financial investments in the project have not been disclosed.]
But an Azerbaijani lawyer involved in the project said Trump’s staff paid visits to the construction site “at least monthly.” The most high-profile Trump Organization to visit Baku was the president’s daughter: Ivanka, who traveled in October 2014.
“We were always following their instructions. We were in constant contact with the Trump Organization. They approved the smallest details,” the lawyer told the New Yorker .
But, as Trump prepared for the presidency after his election win in November, he canceled the deal. The agreement was a licensing deal, for those behind the project to use the Trump name. Those people were the Mammadovs.
The report says Mammadov in 2008 approved contracts to Iranian construction company Azarpassillo, headed by Keyumars Darvishi. The link is significant as Darvishi was once the chairman of Raman, the Iranian construction firm that acted as a direct arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The report alleges that the Azarpassillo company essentially acts as a front for the Iranian force.
Before the Trump administration had itself placed sanctions on several Iranian entities last month following a ballistic missile test, the U.S. State Department in 2007 blacklisted the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the IRGC, for “its support of terrorism.” Iran is accused of supporting Shiite proxy groups across the Middle East, such as the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and Shia opposition groups in Bahrain.
It is also accused of funding Sunni militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which is also opposed to Israel. Iran considers Israel its foremost enemy besides Saudi Arabia.
But the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer Alan Garten told the New Yorker that the company used a third-party company to conduct due diligence into the Mammadov family, yet no troubling information emerged. Despite this due diligence, WikiLeaks cables leaked in 2009 showed a U.S. diplomat calling Mammadov “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.” These allegations, of the Trump Organization’s contract with a figure with close links to the Iranian regime, will again shine light on the president’s business dealings, in spite of his bellicose rhetoric towards the Islamic Republic.