Azerbaijan, Iranian Guard and Trump

“Azerbaijan, Iranian Guard and Trump.” What, you say. yes, that combo sounds a little strange but it’s not. The Trump organization built a hotel in the Azerbaijan capitol of Baku that appears to have been financed by a corrupt Azerbaijani oligarchs with connections to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a known terrorist group. Monday night MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow took an in depth look at an article written by Adam Davidson of the New Yorker.

In her close up look she traced the connections

She explained the history of Azerbaijan’s relationship with Bechtel, a U.S.-based infrastructure company that in 2007 lost out on a bid to build roads in the former Soviet state. She noted the public learned about Bechtel’s failed bid from a website that made significant waves in the 2016 presidential election: the transparency organization, WikiLeaks.

“Before WikiLeaks got all inextricably bound up in our new national nightmare about Russia hacking our presidential election … back when WikiLeaks was instead just wholesale dumping U.S. State Department cables into the public domain, one of the things we learned was actually about a funny thing that happened to this giant company, Bechtel,” Maddow began.

She explained that Azerbaijan’s oil wealth “resulted in them doing a lot of building,” including “show off-y buildings.” The country’s transport minister Ziya Mammadov met with the Senior Vice President of the Bechtel Corporation, Charles Redman, in 2007, eventually declining to work with Bechtel because the rates were “quite expensive.” The country instead went with a company that cost three times as much as Bechtel.

“Instead of costing 5 or 6 millions dollars per kilometer [for roads], they had the work done for 18 million dollars per kilometer,” Maddow said. “Huh? Bechtel must have been like, ‘Say what now? We’re too expensive so you send us away so you can have the work done instead at more than triple our price? What?’” [..]

The MSNBC host explained that the company that landed Azerbaijan’s road contract “is a company that is believed to be controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard”—an Iranian military organization that preserves “internal order” in the country and “wages war on behalf of Iranian interests.” As Maddow pointed out, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is a “supporter of international terrorist movements” and “deeply sanctioned by the U.S. government.”

She explained that it’s often “awkward, hard” and “illegal” for companies that sponsor terrorists “to move money around,” adding it’s important that monetary transactions “appear to be legitimate business transactions.”

Maddow then turned to the never-opened Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku, a planned building in Azerbaijan that “on the surface makes no financial sense.” The hotel was planned miles away from any other major luxury hotel, with no access to the Caspian Sea.

“It really just doesn’t make sense on the surface,” Maddow repeated, later asking “why was this built, how could this ever make financial sense?”

The MSNBC host explained the Trump family “abandoned this project” a month after Trump’s election, but “not before [Trump] received millions of dollars in that deal”—a deal forged between Trump and billionaire transport minister Mammadov (the same Mammadov that helped the Iranian Revolutionary Guard launder money to terrorist organizations).

Maddow said while U.S. companies are free to do business with any company in the world, they are not free to conduct business if funds originate from companies tied to terrorism. “You have to know,” Maddow explained. “Looking the other way is not a defense.”

“You are expected to do your due diligence,” she added.

“Trump and his family were in business with the cartoon caricature of corruption,” Maddow said of the president’s ties to Azerbaijan’s Mammadov. The host pointed out, “It is a violation of U.S. law” to do business with a company that helps fund terrorism.

Maddow suggested “if there is going to be an independent investigation into this president,” it must include an investigation into Trump’s financial holdings.

“There is a reason we should expect this White House to do everything in his power to keep secret his finances and his business dealings,” she said.

In regard to the law, this is from Mr. Davidson well research piece:

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.

As a result, American companies must examine potential foreign partners very carefully before making deals with them. I recently spoke with Alexandra Wrage, who runs Trace International, a consortium of three hundred corporations that do business overseas. Trace helps these firms avoid violating the F.C.P.A., and it has a division that can be hired by individual clients to assess potential foreign partners. To comply with the law, Wrage noted, an American company must remain vigilant even after a contract is signed, monitoring its foreign partner to be sure that nobody involved is engaging in bribery or other improprieties.

Wrage pointed out that corrupt government leaders often use their children or their siblings to distance themselves from illicit projects. Such an official creates a company in the relative’s name which appears to be independent but is controlled by the official. To lessen the likelihood of an F.C.P.A. violation when working with a company that is owned by a child or a sibling of a government minister, Wrage told me, “you’d need to show that the child has real expertise, real ability to do the work.” Otherwise, Wrage said, “the assumption is that they are a partner entirely because of their ability to use their parent’s power.” Before Elton Mammadov became a member of parliament, in 2000, he was a maintenance engineer who had no experience in real-estate development. When the Trump Organization joined the Baku project, it barred a Mammadov-owned company from doing construction work, because it was deemed incompetent.

Rachel also interviews the author of the New Yorker piece, Adam Davidson.