Experts say these organizations are often the work of the offspring of the Azeri elite. “There is a phenomenon of the children of oligarchs acting as lobbyists abroad,” said Tom de Waal, a South Caucasus expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They have these very posh gala dinners,” said one Azerbaijan expert who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Alliance is “one way that [Mammadov] is making his family more important to the regime.”
Luxury hotels bearing Donald Trump’s name grace some of the world’s ritziest locations, including New York, Waikiki, and Rio. There is one outlier: the Trump Hotel and Tower in Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan. And the story of this particular deal involves an unconventional and controversial business ally. Trump’s partner in the venture is Anar Mammadov, a 34-year-old billionaire playboy whose father serves as Azerbaijan’s transportation minister. According to media reports and opposition critics in the tiny Caucasian country—which is considered one of the world’s most corrupt regimes—Mammadov’s wealth has resulted in part from his father’s political connections. Meanwhile, Mammadov has mounted a campaign to rehabilitate Azerbaijan’s kleptocratic image in the West by courting some of Washington’s most powerful politicians.
Fueled by billions of dollars reaped from the country’s oil and gas fields, Baku has transformed over the last decade into a city of flamboyant excess and garish architecture. The latest addition to the glittering skyline is the Trump Tower, a 33-floor luxury hotel in the shape of a sail, which was originally slated to open last month. A hotel spokeswoman said it would open by the end of the year.
“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,” Trump said when the venture was announced in 2014. “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.”
Azerbaijan’s government has escalated repression against its critics, marking a dramatic deterioration in an already poor rights record. In recent years, dozens of human rights defenders, political and civil activists, journalists, and bloggers have been arrested or imprisoned on politically motivated charges, prompting others to flee the country or go into hiding. Bank accounts of independent civic groups and their leaders have been frozen, impeding their work, or in some cases forcing them to shut down entirely. New legal regulations make it almost impossible for independent groups to get foreign funding. While criticizing the increasing crackdown, Azerbaijan’s international partners have failed to secure rights improvements.