By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
The last thing Donald Trump needs these days is one more controversy. Then again, Trump thrives on controversy and most probably would welcome any publicity -- positive or negative -- as long as his name is in the headlines.
Due to his prominent name and bluntness, Trump is leading the large field of 17 Republican candidates for President of the United States, according to the latest national polls.
A few years ago when Trump agreed to lend his name to a hotel in Azerbaijan, he could not have predicted that associating with a notorious Baku oligarch would not only reflect negatively on his political ambitions, but also create a serious conflict of interest should he become President.
Even though the hotel would carry his name, Trump is neither the builder nor owner of “Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku.” Nevertheless, he earns “lucrative management fees for lending his name and expertise to the project,” according to Russ Choma author of a critical article in Mother Jones magazine last week, titled: “Donald Trump is Doing Business with a Controversial Azerbaijani Oligarch.”
Trump’s recently filed financial disclosures, a requirement for presidential candidates, revealed that his company received $2.5 million from Baku in 2014, even though the hotel is slated to open its doors later this year. Trump estimates his total wealth to be worth over $10 billion.
Choma reports that “Trump’s partner in the venture is Anar Mammadov, a 34-year-old billionaire playboy whose father serves as Azerbaijan’s transportation minister.” He goes on to cite several major human rights organizations, describing Azerbaijan as “one of the world’s most repressive and corrupt countries due to the regime’s intolerance for dissent and the high degree of concentration of wealth among the politically powerful and their families.”
Mammadov, said to be worth over $1 billion, is Chairman of the Garant company, the builder and owner of the Trump Tower. His father, Zia, is closely linked to Azerbaijan’s autocratic President, Ilham Aliyev.
More significantly for Armenians, Choma reports that Anar Mammadov “heads the Azerbaijan American Alliance, a group that at one point was registered with the US Department of Justice as a foreign lobbyist. Last year, the Alliance spent more than $2.8 million lobbying Congress and State Department to improve US- Azerbaijan relations.”
According to OpenSecrets.org, the Alliance has spent $11.5 million in the last four years on lobbying US lawmakers and officials. Choma reveals that “in 2011, Mammadov himself registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act in connection with his work with the Alliance. Though he is still featured prominently on the organization's website, Mammadov is no longer listed as a foreign lobbyist. But he still seems to be very keen on courting powerful American politicians. Mammadov's personal website features a gushing recap of the group's Washington gala last November, which he hosted. The event was attended by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Burr (R-Ala.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) and a bipartisan slew of House members…. Mammadov's Facebook page is full of photos of the businessman posing with other politicians, including House Speaker John Boehner.”
Donald Trump proudly announced 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.”
During her recent visit to Baku, Ivanka Trump echoed her father’s confidence in the success of the hotel project: “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.”
The Trump Tower in Baku has 33 floors and is shaped like the mast of a sailing ship. It includes 75 luxury residences, 190 guestrooms, a spa, fitness center, indoor swimming pool, business center, ballroom, retail stores, bar, and restaurants, surrounded by gardens, promenades and fountains.
Donald Trump, by associating himself with questionable business partners in a oppressive regime, risks tarnishing his reputation for a fistful of dollars in the midst of a presidential campaign!