The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps established a network of sanctions-evading entities
The Iranian general whose killing sparked a week of heightened tensions between the US and Iran ran an organisation which Donald Trump once indirectly did business with, according to reemerged reports.
During Major Gen Qassem Soleimani's nearly two decades at the top of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds force, the organisation cultivated connections to oligarchs and their businesses as it established a network of sanctions-evading entities which it has used to fund itself and support clandestine activities across the Middle East and around the world.
In 2008, an Iranian construction company controlled by two of those oligarchs - Kamal and Keyumars Darvishy - won a contract with Azerbaijani billionaire Ziya Mammadov to build an apartment complex in Baku, Azerbaijan's capital. Mr Mammadov, who was then Azerbaijan's transport minister, was once described by the US as “notoriously corrupt" even by that country's standards (it was 139th on Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Index).
According to the New Yorker, the Darvishy's company, called Azarpassillo, was actually a front for the IRGC used to evade sanctions by laundering money into Iran.
The project initially went nowhere, but four years later was reimagined as a luxury apartment and hotel tower with “spectacular views of the city and Caspian Sea” when Mr Mammadov took on a new partner: The Trump Organisation.
Though the company was then headed by Mr Trump - who was the company's chair and chief executive officer - the point person on the project was the future president's daughter (and future senior adviser) Ivanka, who in 2015 told the magazine Baku that the hotel would open in June of that year and feature a "huge spa area", which she said she was looking forward to patronising.
While Mr Trump's administration took the unprecedented step of designating the IRGC - part of Iran's military - a terrorist organisation in April 2019, it had been a sanctioned entity for years as part of the massive sanctions regime the US and other entities have imposed on Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Some of those sanctions were in place since at least 2015, when the Republican-controlled Congress enshrined sanctions on the IRGC into law to prevent then-president Barack Obama from lifting them pursuant to the nuclear nonproliferation agreement Iran had signed that year.
A Trump Organisation lawyer, Alan Garten, told the New Yorker that the company had learned of the Baku project's possible ties to the IRGC through the Mammadovs in 2015, but didn't pull out of the project until December the next year.
Garten said the company didn't immediately exit the project upon learning of ties to sanctioned entities because of contractual obligations, even though Mr Trump had for years routinely failed to abide by numerous contracts with vendors who he'd hired to supply parts or labour for his buildings.