Mehriban Arif Gyzy Aliyeva, new vice president of Azerbaijan

 Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday appointed his wife, Mehriban Arif Gyzy Aliyeva, as first vice president.

The implication for the Trump regime and Mr. Trump’s lies about his ties to the Putin kleptocracy are all too real.  Like Melania Trump, Mehriban is a trophy wife, the beautiful partner to a man who has conflated wealth with power,  A  US diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks. describes her: “First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva appears to have had substantial cosmetic surgery, presumably overseas, and wears dresses that would be considered provocative even in the Western world.”

While Trump has lied about his relations with the Putin thugocracy, there is no question about the relationship of the Donald to to the regime in Azerbaijan.  A Trump Tower  graces Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan.  Trump’s partner in the venture is Anar Mammadov, a 34-year-old billionaire playboy whose father serves as Azerbaijan’s transportation minister.  Like

The Trump Tower, is  33-floors in  the shape of a sail,described by Trump  as “The unwavering standard of excellence of The Trump Organization and our involvement in only the best global development projects,”

members of Trumps’s new billionaire cabinet, Daddy Mammadov does not live off his government salary.   According to media reports, Mammadov gets his money from  corrupt connections to the regime.  Young  Mammadov has mounted a campaign including a well funded lobbying effort,  to rehabilitate Azerbaijan’s kleptocratic image.

Good government and humanitarian groups consider Azerbaijan one of the world’s most repressive and corrupt countries due to the regime’s intolerance for dissent and the high degree of concentration of wealth among the politically powerful and their families. Human Rights Watch had the following grim assessment of the country:

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.

The pro-Democracy watchdog group Freedom House reported in 2014 that “the state’s control over oil resources and the oligarchic structure of the economy contribute to widespread corruption in Azerbaijan.” The group noted that “the Aliyev family, state officials, and their relatives continued to amass significant personal wealth,” thanks to their control of state resources.

Last year, in an article titled “The Corleones of the Caspian,” Foreign Policy reported that the “profit margins” of Mammadov’s Garant “appear inextricably linked to a number of sweetheart contracts signed with his father’s Transport Ministry.” One of Mammadov’s other companies has received over $1 billion in highway construction contracts, and the firm owns many of Baku’s buses and taxis. Until 2013, Mammadov owned a majority stake in the bank that processed all of the taxi cab fares and the company that provided insurance to all the cabs. According to Foreign Policy, the company that Trump is working with also secured the contract to construct the Baku bus station, which Mammadov’s uncle owns. A leaked diplomatic cable on Azerbaijan’s “most powerful families,” drafted in 2010 by the charge d’affairs at the US embassy in Baku, noted: “With so much of the nation’s oil wealth being poured into road construction, the Mammadovs also control a significant source of rent-seeking.”

Mammadov has demonstrated a keen interest in American politics. He heads the Azerbaijan American Alliance, a group that at one point was registered with the US Department of Justice as a foreign lobbyist. Last year, Buzzfeed reported that the alliance was one of the three main conduits by which the country sought to lobby the US government in order to burnish its image in the West:

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.”

Last year, the alliance spent more than $2.8 million lobbying Congress and State Department to improve US-Azerbaijan relations. So far this year, the group has spent at least $500,000 trying to influence US lawmakers and officials.

In 2011, Mammadov himself registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act in connection with his work with the alliance. Though he is still featured prominently on the organization’s website, Mammadov is no longer listed as a foreign lobbyist. But he still seems to be very keen on courting powerful American politicians. Mammadov’s personal website features a gushing recap of the group’s Washington gala last November, which he hosted. The event was attended by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Burr (R-Ala.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) and a bipartisan slew of House members. (Pryor lost his reelection campaign last fall.) Mammadov’s Facebook page is full of photos of the businessman posing with other politicians, including [former] House Speaker John Boehner.

Like Trump, Mammadov is a colorful figure. Educated in London, he serves as the head of his country’s golf federation and claims on his website to have a wide range of experience in “leadership, decision-making, strategy, international affairs, politics, communication, human rights, environmental protection, fundraising, public relations, sponsor relations and public speaking.” Mammadov’s personal life has been a heavily covered topic in Azerbaijani opposition newspapers, which in 2010 published reports that Mammadov had been expelled from Dubai following a raucous dinner party with friends. Azeri media outlets also reported that Mammadov had paid a local restaurant more than $1 million to slaughter a bear kept there and serve kebabs from the meat. Mammadov has denied these stories repeatedly.

In recent years, he successfully sued Azerbaijan’s two major opposition papers for libel over these stories and others about his personal life. International press monitoring organization Reporters Without Borders condemned the suits, which financially crippled the papers, and described the legal action as part of a campaign to harass and suppress the free press. In 2010, the group reported that journalists for Azeri papers Yeni Musavat and Milli Yol were attacked and beaten while trying to take photos of luxury villas owned by members of the Mammadov clan: “Several men emerged from cars, pushed them to the ground, grabbed their camera and deleted the photographs they had taken of the houses. Their unidentified assailants held them for more than three hours, interrogated them, threatened to have them put under surveillance for six months and finally warned them not [to] file any complaint.” It’s unclear to whom the men were connected.

Mammadov did not respond to interview requests or questions directed to the Azerbaijan American Alliance.

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