Rus­sian oli­garch gave Trump warm wel­come from start

Busi­ness ties to real es­tate mag­nate based on trust

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By An­drew Roth

MOSCOW» In 2013, the Rus­sian oli­garch Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin, ar­ranged an ex­trav­a­gant party en­trance for their guest, Don­ald Trump: an ar­mored Mercedes stretch limo driv­ing off a freight el­e­va­tor right into a ball­room with 3,000 be­daz­zled Rus­sian guests.

They were wor­ried Trump’s se­cu­rity de­tail might spoil the sur­prise. Then Trump waved his team off.

“Don’t bother with them,” he said, Emin Agalarov, a pop singer, told The Wash­ing­ton Post last year in an in­ter­view. “I’m go­ing where I want to go be­cause I trust you.”

That trust has helped to draw Trump into the most pun­ish­ing scan­dal of his six-month-old pres­i­dency, as rev­e­la­tions of a meet­ing at Trump Tower in June 2016 bro­kered through the Agalarovs have raised alarms about deal­ings by Trump aides and fam­ily mem­bers with Rus­sian lob­by­ists, some with ties to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

Aras Agalarov, the real es­tate mag­nate and ami­able pur­veyor of high-end goods in all sizes and shapes, has emerged as a pos­si­ble con­duit from the Krem­lin to Trump. He is a man who rose through the Moscow lux­ury, real es­tate and en­ter­tain­ment worlds by play­ing the role of con­sum­mate fixer and re­li­able ex­ecu­tor, build­ing po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal in the Moscow re­gion, and in­creas­ingly in the Krem­lin it­self.

“Agalarov un­der­stands what ser­vice is. He un­der­stands that do­ing busi­ness is more than just send­ing the bill,” said Yves Gi­jrath, the found­ing di­rec­tor of the Am­s­ter­dam-based LXRY Me­dia Group, who had deal­ings with him go­ing back to 2005.

For years, Agalarov has built a rep­u­ta­tion as an ea­ger-to-please tycoon who helped bring bling to Rus­sia, from the lux­ury footwear bou­tique he opened in 1991 on Moscow’s pres­ti­gious Stolesh­nikov Lane, to the sub­ur­ban es­tates and pris­tine golf cour­ses he has built to sat­isfy the Madi­son Av­enue as­pi­ra­tions of Rus­sia’s hy­per-wealthy.

A se­ries of im­por­tant gov­ern­ment in­fra­struc­ture projects, in­clud­ing a $1.2 bil­lion univer­sity cam­pus in Rus­sia’s Far East and sta­di­ums for the up­com­ing World Cup, have made him a trusted ex­ecu­tor for the Krem­lin, if not a mem­ber of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s in­ner cir­cle.

Agalarov, 61, was born in Baku, the cap­i­tal of the then-soviet re­pub­lic of Azer­bai­jan, and stud­ied com­puter engi­neer­ing be­fore mov­ing to Moscow. He started his ca­reer by sell­ing boot­leg films and by 1990 had moved on to or­ga­niz­ing trade fairs. But if he had a vi­sion for Rus­sia, it was in the lux­ury mar­ket, which he said was im­mune to the eco­nomic down­drafts of the 1990s. As he once joked in a 2002 in­ter­view with the busi­ness news­pa­per Ve­do­mosti: “The worse the coun­try is do­ing, the bet­ter the lux­ury re­tail prof­its.”

Pri­mar­ily through real es­tate, his wealth has blos­somed to nearly $2 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Forbes, and his son Emin was mar­ried to the daugh­ter of the pres­i­dent of Azer­bai­jan in 2006. (They di­vorced in 2015).

Long be­fore Trump brought the Miss Uni­verse con­test to Moscow in 2013, Agalarov was adept at charm­ing for­eign clients.

Gi­jrath came to Moscow in 2005 to pitch a Mil­lion­aire Fair, which Agalarov hosted at his then brand­new Cro­cus City com­plex, a lux­ury shop­ping cen­ter play­ground for Moscow’s rich and fa­mous.

Gi­jrath gave an ex­am­ple of Agalarov’s hospi­tal­ity: the fair was ground zero for Rus­sia’s flour­ish­ing cul­ture of con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion, with di­a­mond-en­crusted cell­phones, yachts, Turk­men stal­lions and en­tire is­lands for sale.

But even for a blowout ded­i­cated to lux­ury, Gi­jrath found he had booked too much space. Over vodka shots at a posh Ital­ian res­tau­rant, Agalarov for­gave him a more than $1 mil­lion obli­ga­tion from the con­tract and of­fered to kick in on elec­tric­ity costs.

The fair went for­ward, at an expo cen­ter Agalarov had built at Cro­cus City. In 2009, he opened a con­cert hall and the coun­try’s only pri­vately owned metro sta­tion nearby.

The huge com­plex is lo­cated just out­side Moscow’s city lim­its.

“The mere pos­si­bil­ity of a huge con­struc­tion project in the Moscow re­gion; con­struc­tion of a pri­vate metro sta­tion — no one else has a pri­vate metro sta­tion — this all shows the level of his con­nec­tions,” said Ilya Shu­manov, the deputy di­rec­tor of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional’s Rus­sian of­fice.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.