Washington: Senior Senate Democrats on Thursday said they were demanding the US government investigate connections between President Donald Trump’s real estate company and an Azerbaijani oligarch reported to have ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The lawmakers wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey to express concern that the billionaire president’s Trump Organization may have violated anti-corruption laws.
In 2014, Trump announced a hotel project in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in which he partnered with Anar Mammadov, son of the country’s then-minister of transportation Ziya Mammadov, known to be a close ally of strongman President Ilham Aliyev.
The project was the subject of a bombshell investigative report early this month in The New Yorker titled “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal.”
It portrayed the hotel as an ethically hazy project that may have ended up aiding money laundering linked to Iran’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The magazine reported on a potentially sloppy due-diligence process which may have failed to raise alerts about possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the 1977 US law that forbids American companies from rewarding foreign government officials in exchange for material benefit or preferential treatment.
“It appears that the lack of due diligence by the Trump Organization described in the article exposed President Trump and his organization to notoriously corrupt Azerbaijani oligarchs, and may also have exposed the Trump Organization to the IRGC,” Senators Dianne Feinstein, Ben Cardin and Sherrod Brown wrote in their letter.
“Even though the Trump Organization appears to have withdrawn from the Baku Tower deal, serious questions remain unanswered about the Trump Organization’s potential criminal liability.”
The New Yorker reported that diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Azerbaijan from 2009 and 2010 — exposed by WikiLeaks — described Ziya Mammadov as “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.”
Alan Garten, a Trump Organization lawyer, told the magazine that the real estate conglomerate was not to blame for any corruption by the Mammadovs.
“We didn’t own it,” Garten said of the hotel. “We had no equity. We didn’t control the project… We did not pay any money to anyone. Therefore, it could not be a violation of the FCPA.”
The New Yorker reported that Trump’s daughter Ivanka, now a White House advisor, oversaw the project since its inception and toured the Baku hotel site in 2014.
A November 2014 photograph showing Ivanka in a hard hat high up in the Baku hotel remains on her Instagram feed.