After Trump, The Culture Of Corruption Will Never Be The Same-- Take Azerbaijan
Monday, both Rachel's researchers and New Yorker writer Adam Davidson made a few small-- but significant-- errors (and omissions) in the report that each filed on the Trump Azerbaijan scandal. Maddow's long, circuitous dramatic report-- once she got to it-- was just based on Davidson's article. As usual, she had nothing substantive to add, just some entertainment-value drama and random superfluous facts barely-- at best-- related to the matter at hand. The video above came after the long circuitous thing, which I won't bore you with, and is her interview with Davidson who spent more time in Baku than I did-- but must have not talked to the right people there... which I did... back in June.
Last summer I visited Azerbaijan for the first time, at the suggestion of first Alan Grayson and later Ted Lieu. Both had been there and both recommended it highly, especially since I was going to be in the "neighborhood" (Moscow) anyway. I did a few posts here and a few posts at my travel blog. The top takeaway was that Trump was in business-- not just in Azerbaijan, but literally everywhere in the world-- with the most corrupt criminal elements in the world. Both Davidson and Maddow got that.
What Davidson missed (he got it wrong) was that Trump Tower Baku did open (albeit without a "Grand Opening") and did start renting out rooms-- and was almost immediately shuttered-- and that eventually-- after it was clear it would not be in business in time for the week long festivities around the Formula 1 Race (the 2016 European Grand Prix), the Mammadov mafia tried burning it down, presumably for the insurance money. Davidson messing up on that caused Maddow to go off on her theory about how if the business was never meant to make any financial sense, it must have had another reason to exist. She isn't necessarily wrong about the money-laundering aspect from Iran's Revolutionary Guard-- the CIA had been talking about that and that relationship with Trump's partners, the Mammadovs, for years. But Trump Tower Baku was very much meant to be-- at least by Trump and Ivanka-- a profitable, on-going enterprise.
What they didn't quite understand was that Baku is a "with it" cosmopolitan and highly-educated and connected city/society. Other than the politics of a kleptocracy/kakistocracy, the city is not some impoverished backward backwater. As soon as Trump went on a campaign-related rampage against Muslims, this progressive and relative secular city realized he was shit-talking them. And that was the end of any chance Trump Tower Baku could be a success. By the time I got there, they were already debating how long it would take before they could change the name and re-open.
Here's the stuff Davidson missed that my sources in Baku told me. A team claiming to be part of the Trump Organization went through Baku's 5-star hotels hiring away many of the best employees. How could that have happened? They offered to pay people high salaries that included 6 month advances. Nothing like that had ever happened in the Baku hotel industry and Trump Tower was soon far more filled with employees than Trump doddering administration has been.
Now, remember, the crooked Transportation Minister, Ziya Mammadov, who went from a lowly railway worker to a billionaire/Mafioso, owns a lot of Azerbaijan. His son, Anar, is a shady character and a perfect fit for The Donald. It was only a matter of time before they found each other, which they did when Anar decided to rent Trump's name for his glitzy new hotel. He paid Trump between $2.5 and $2.8 million for the right to slap "Trump Tower" on his building and to get some "consultations" from Ivanka. In November, 2014, the Trump Organization announced that Trump Tower Baku was part of it's hotel empire and The Donald himself boasted that "Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku represents the unwavering standard of excellence of The Trump Organization and our involvement in only the best global development projects. When we open in 2015, visitors and residents will experience a luxurious property unlike anything else in Baku-- it will be among the finest in the world." Ivanka added that "This incredible building reflects the highest level of luxury and refinement, with extraordinary architecture inspired by the Caspian Sea and sophisticated interiors that seamlessly blend contemporary style with timeless appeal. We are looking forward to bringing our unparalleled Trump services and amenities to Azerbaijan.”
It sort of opened. Trump's partner, Anar, has been described by U.S. diplomats as "notoriously corrupt" and as working to launder money for the Iranian military. The hotel hired a full staff and started renting rooms but never had a promised grand opening. Everyone in the Baku hotel industry knows someone who worked there... briefly.
Trump often talks of hiring the best people and surrounding himself with people he can trust. In practice, however, he and his executives have at times appeared to overlook details about the background of people he has chosen as business partners, such as whether they had dubious associations, had been convicted of crimes, faced extradition or inflated their resumes.As Davidson wrote, "After Donald Trump became a candidate for President, in 2015, Mother Jones, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and other publications ran articles that raised questions about his involvement in the Baku project. These reports cited a series of cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan in 2009 and 2010, which were made public by WikiLeaks. In one of the cables, a U.S. diplomat described Ziya Mammadov as 'notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.' The Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, told reporters that the Baku hotel project raised no ethical issues for Donald Trump, because his company had never engaged directly with Mammadov."
...In the Azerbaijani case, Garten said the Trump Organization had performed meticulous due diligence on the company's partners, but hadn't researched the allegations against the Baku partner's father because he wasn't a party to the deal.
"I've never heard that before," Garten said, when first asked about allegations of Iranian money laundering by the partner's father, which appeared in U.S. diplomatic cables widely available since they were leaked in 2010.
Garten subsequently said he was confident the minister alleged to be laundering Iranian funds, Ziya Mammadov, had no involvement in his son's holding company, even though some of the son's major businesses regularly partnered with the transportation ministry and were founded while the son was in college overseas. Ziya Mammadov did not respond to a telephone message the AP left with his ministry in Baku or to emails to the Azerbaijan Embassy in Washington.
Garten told the AP that Trump's company uses a third-party investigative firm, which he did not identify, that specializes in background intelligence gathering and searches global watch lists, warrant lists and sanctions lists maintained by the United Nations, Interpol and others.
...Any American contemplating a business venture in Azerbaijan faces a risk: "endemic public corruption," as the State Department puts it. Much of that money flows from the oil and gas industries, but the State Department also considers the country to be a waypoint for terrorist financiers, Iranian sanctions-busters and Afghan drug lords.
The environment is a risky one for any business venture seeking to avoid violating U.S. penalties imposed against Iran or anti-bribery laws under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
...Garten said the Trump Organization had performed background screening on all those involved in the deal and was confident Mammadov's father played no role in the project.
Experts on Azerbaijan were mystified that Trump or anyone else could reach that conclusion.
Anar Mammadov is widely viewed by diplomats and nongovernmental organizations as a transparent stand-in for the business interests of his father. Anar's business has boomed with regular help from his father's ministry, receiving exclusive government contracts, a near monopoly on Baku's taxi business and even a free fleet of autobuses.
"These are not business people acting on their own-- you're dealing with daddy," said Richard Kauzlarich, a U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s who went on to work under the Director of National Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.
"Whatever the Trump people thought they were doing, that wasn't reality," Kauzlarich said.
Anar Mammadov, who is believed to be 35, has said in a series of interviews that he founded Garant Holdings' predecessor-- which has arms in transportation, construction, banking, telecommunications and manufacturing-- in 2000, when he would have been 19. Anar received his bachelor's degree in 2003 and a master's in business administration in 2005-- both from a university in London.
Mammadov's statement that he founded the business in 2000 appeared in a magazine produced by a research firm in partnership with the Azerbaijani government. In other forums, he has said he started the business in 2005, though several of its key subsidiaries predate that period.
Late in the presidential campaign, after he had beaten all the Republicans and was facing Clinton, Trump had a visit from American intelligence officials who explained to him the ramifications of being in business with Mammadov was so overwhelmingly disqualifying that he had to end the relationship immediately. I don't know what they showed him exactly, but Trump Tower Baku completely disappeared from Trump World.
No evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump, or any of his employees involved in the Baku deal, actively participated in bribery, money laundering, or other illegal behavior. But the Trump Organization may have broken the law in its work with the Mammadov family. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, passed in 1977, forbade American companies from participating in a scheme to reward a foreign government official in exchange for material benefit or preferential treatment. The law even made it a crime for an American company to unknowingly benefit from a partner’s corruption if it could have discovered illicit activity but avoided doing so. This closed what was known as the “head in the sand” loophole.Remember, the first significant piece of legislation Trump signed was a bill repealing an Obama administration rule focring energy and mining companies to disclose any payments (bribes) they made abroad. Trumpanzee: "This is a big signing, a very important signing. And this is H.J. Resolution 41, disapproving the Securities and Exchange Commission's rule on disclosure of payments by resource extraction issuers. It's a big deal. And I want to thank Speaker Paul Ryan for being here. He's been tremendous. Jeb Hensarling very, very important and really worked hard. Representative Bill Huizenga and all of the friends-- Peter-- all of my friends are up here. And we really appreciate it." I'm sure he did-- and what's good enough for the Oil barons is certainly good enough for the hotel developing mobsters, no?
...Even a cursory look at the Mammadovs suggests that they are not ideal partners for an American business. Four years before the Trump Organization announced the Baku deal, WikiLeaks released the U.S. diplomatic cables indicating that the family was corrupt; one cable mentioned the Mammadovs’ link to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In 2013, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigated the Mammadov family’s corruption and published well-documented exposés. Six months before the hotel announcement, Foreign Policy ran an article titled “The Corleones of the Caspian,” which suggested that the Mammadovs had exploited Ziya’s position as Transportation Minister to make their fortunes.
...To this day, the Trump Organization has not provided satisfying answers to the most basic questions about the Baku deal: who owns Baku XXI Century, the company with which they signed the contracts; the origin of the funds with which Baku XXI Century paid the Trump Organization; whether the Mammadovs used their political power to benefit themselves and the Trump Organization; and whether the Mammadovs used money obtained from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to fund the Trump Tower Baku.
...More than a dozen lawyers with experience in F.C.P.A. prosecution expressed surprise at the Trump Organization’s seemingly lax approach to vetting its foreign partners. But, when I asked a former Trump Organization executive if the Baku deal had seemed unusual, he laughed. “No deal there seems unusual, as long as a check is attached,” he said.