Donald Trump appears to have financial links to the violent Iran Revolutionary Guard — a group that the Trump Administration itself says it will soon label as a terrorist organization — through a shadowy business deal involving a spectacular luxury hotel in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, according to a new bombshell investigative report published in the New Yorker.
The full New Yorker report, titled "Trump's Worst Deal," can be accessed by clicking on this link.
The hotel, now named Trump International Hotel and Tower Baku, began in 2008 with plans to create a luxury hotel in the city's downtown area. But in 2012, Trump and his organization signed multiple deals to become part of the development which would now become what they described as an "ultra-luxury property."
The first 13 floors of the 33-story, sail-shaped tower were to be developed as "expensive guest rooms" for the hotel portion of the facility. The upper floors would be turned into high-end luxury apartments.
But the Trump Tower Baku, which at a casual glance appears to be a finished project, has never actually opened.
The first controversial aspect of the project was the location, described as a more run-down area in the city of more than 2 million people.
"Why would someone put a luxury hotel there?" New Yorker reporter Adam Davidson quoted an Azerbaijan tourism official saying. "Nobody who can afford to stay there would want to be in that neighborhood."
But perhaps the most sinister aspect of the seemingly failed project involves Trump's business partners in the deal — the Mammadov family, which is described by the journal Foreign Policy as Azerbaijani oligarchs and one of three families in control of the Azerbaijan business world.
Labeled by Foreign Policy as "The Corleones of the Caspian" — a reference to the fictional crime family at the center of the Godfather film series — Ziya Mammadov, 64, was the country's transportation minister for 15 years, until he was quietly purged by Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev last month.
Mammadov's son, Anar, was Trump's partner in the Trump Tower Baku development, according to findings by Newsweek investigative reporter Kurt Eichenwald.
Ziya Mammadov, according to both Eichenwald and Davidson's reporting, is also "financially entangled" with Iran's Revolutionary Guard. As Transportation Minister, Mammadov doled out millions in construction contracts to Keyumars Dervish, who once ran a company, Raman, that was effectively owned by the Revolutionary Guard.
The Mammadov links to Iran were not a secret at the time Trump's group joined the Baku hotel project. A U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010 had noted the family's apparent connections to the Revolutionary Guard and that the Mammadovs were possibly laundering money for the Iranian military group.
But according to Davidson's New Yorker report, Trump also partnered in the deal with Ziya Mammadov's brother, Elton Mammadov, who holds a powerful seat in the Azerbaijan parliament. The Mammadov family has long been accused of using their political positions and connections to benefit their own business interests, but they have never faced charges of corruption.
Trump, through his Trump Organization legal department, has denied having any contact with the Mammadovs, saying only that he licenses them the use of the Trump name. But that is entirely true, according to the New Yorker, which revealed that the Trump Organization signed contracts to maintain the quality standards of Trump Tower Baku and that the Trump group "approved the smallest details."
Trump's daughter Ivanka personally supervised the hotel project and traveled to Baku in 2014 to inspect it.
"She had very strong feelings, not just about the design but about the back of the hotel—landscaping, everything." an Azerbaijani lawyer involved with the deal told the New Yorker. "Ivanka personally approved everything."
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Other Azerbaijani officials involved with the project said that members of the Trump team visited the hotel site at least monthly.
"The entire Baku deal is a giant red flag — the direct involvement of foreign government officials and their relatives in Azerbaijan with ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard," said legal expert Jessica Tillipman of George Washington University Law School. "Corruption warning signs are rarely more obvious."
A legal spokesperson for the Trump Organization acknowledged that he could not "defend the Mammadovs" but added that if there was corruption involved in the Trump Tower Baku project, it had nothing to do with the Trump Organization and no one from the Trump group should be held legally responsible.
Donald Trump himself has blasted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law that prohibits United States companies from paying bribes to officials of foreign governments do business abroad, calling it "a horrible law" that should be repealed.
[Featured Image by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images]