President Donald Trump on Monday blasted any company doing business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as “bankrolling terrorism.” But Trump’s own business partners were suspected of helping launder money for the guard through his Trump Tower Baku project in Azerbaijan, The New Yorker has reported.
Trump made his comments as he declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization.” It’s the first time in U.S. history that part of another government has been classified by America as a terrorist group. The declaration comes with sanctions, including a ban on Americans doing business with the corps.
Such sanctions weren’t in place for his own business venture. The Trump Organization learned in 2015 that guard funds were suspected of being laundered in the construction of Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku, according to The New Yorker. Ivanka Trump, the lead Trump family member on the project, visited the site and made design recommendations on the building, New Yorker journalist Adam Davidson reported in 2017.
Davidson tweeted Monday after the president’s “terrorist” declaration that more than ever he wanted to “scream” that Trump “was a knowing partner in a likely Iranian Revolutionary Guard money-laundering scheme.”
The Trump Organization in 2012 signed multiple contracts with developers of the “ultra luxury” Baku tower. They were relatives (including the son and brother) of Azerbaijan’s billionaire transportation minister, Ziya Mammadov, considered by U.S. officials to be “notoriously corrupt,” The New Yorker reported. In his political role, he had awarded several multimillion-dollar construction contracts to a company run by Iran’s Darvishi family, which has strong ties to the Revolutionary Guard.
Anyone paying any attention to the Trump Tower Baku project would have been suspicious about money laundering, Davidson noted. The $200-million-plus construction project appeared to be strangely ill-conceived right from the start. And a contractor told The New Yorker that he was paid $200,000 and witnessed a payment of $2 million in cash, which couldn’t be traced.
Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten conceded to Davidson that company officials learned in 2015 about the “possibility” that the Mammadovs had ties to the Revolutionary Guard. But the Trump Organization didn’t pull out of the Baku project until December 2016, a month after Trump was elected president. Despite the money spent on the project, the tower was never opened. The Trump Organization was paid millions by the operation to use the Trump name. The company was to manage the building when it opened.
American companies are expected to carry out due diligence before dealing with potentially corrupt foreign partners. Allison Melia, a former CIA lead analyst on Iran’s economy, told Davidson she could have put together a damning dossier on the Mammadovs and their connection to the Revolutionary Guard in a “couple of days.” Garten has insisted that the Trump Organization investigated its Baku partners.
Trump has been involved with a number of shady business partners. No evidence has emerged that Trump or his organization were directly involved in bribery or money-laundering in the Baku project, but the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act made it a crime for a U.S. company to even unknowingly benefit from a partner’s corruption if it could have discovered illicit activity but avoided doing so.