Trump seeks to shake off Caucasus deals before inauguration

By bne IntelliNews December 19, 2016

The Trump Organisation, the business conglomerate run by US President-elect Donald Trump has cancelled a licencing deal for a Trump Tower in Baku and plans to do so for a similar agreement in neighbouring Georgia, the Associated Press reported on December 16. The moves come amidst concern over the US president-elect's dealings with foreign partners known for or suspected of corruption, and the implications of Trump's business deals on US foreign policy.

In Azerbaijan, the Trump Tower project was leased to Garant Holding in 2012, a business conglomerate owned by Anar Mammadov, son of the country's Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov. Leaked US embassy cables describe Mammadov senior as corrupt even by Azerbaijani standards. Meanwhile, his son's business has a near-monopoly on activities related to the transport sector, like bus and taxi services in the capital city of Baku, after winning a suspiciously high number of government tenders for transport projects.

Trump Organisation has received almost $3mn from Mammadov since 2014, Bloomberg reports. The building is two thirds completed and the exterior is finished. An investigation in April found that the project had been put on hold, amidst concerns over Mammadov's liquidity and transparency.

Alan Garten, Trump Organisation's general counsel, said on December 15 that cancelling the project was a “housekeeping measure” and that the conglomerate was reconsidering several other projects around the world.

One of them is a Trump Tower project in the Georgian Black Sea resort of Batumi – a $250mn, 47-story residential building for which Donald Trump himself signed the licencing agreement in 2012. Trump's Georgian partners, construction company Silk Road Group, told local media in early December that the project would go ahead.

However, according to Garten, the Trump Organisation served the Georgian construction developer a “default notice” earlier this month, which he described as a typical first step in cancelling a deal, ABC News reports.

Trump's projects all over the world have sparked fears over conflict of interests and foreign policy implications when the president-elect takes office. The fears were aggravated by Trump's official state telephone conversation with Argentine President Mauricio Macri in November, during which he reportedly asked the latter to help out with the licencing of a project in Buenos Aires. His daughter and vice president of the Trump Organisation, Ivanka Trump, was reportedly present during the conversation.

Trump's businesses elsewhere - in Iran, Saudi Arabia an, Brazil - have come under scrutiny in recent months. Trump has promised to keep business interests and politics separate, but in December it emerged that he would not divest his stake in the business.

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