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Meet Aras Agalarov, The Missing Link Between Trump And Putin

UPDATE, July 12, 10:33 A.M. ET: This story has been updated to include the Kremlin’s response to the meeting brokered by Emin Agalarov’s publicist between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer.

The question of what Donald Trump Jr.'s intentions were when taking a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign last summer hangs over the U.S. While political pundits and federal officials parse through the allegations, one thing has become clear — yet again, commercial real estate stands firmly at the intersection of politics. And a little-known figure has emerged: Azerbaijani-Russian real estate developer Aras Agalarov.

Aras Agalarov with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev

Who is Aras Agalarov? 

Agalarov is sometimes referred to as the “Trump of Russia” due to his penchant for self-branding his buildings. In 1989, he founded Crocus Group, one of Russia’s leading development firms. The company has developed over 43M SF of property, according to the Crocus website. Agalarov has an estimated net worth of $1.7B and was awarded “Order of Honor of the Russian Federation” shortly after hosting the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant (owned by Trump) in Moscow.

A publicist for his son and business partner, singer/businessman Emin Agalarov, set up the meeting between Donald Jr. and the Russian lawyer who allegedly had damning information on Hillary Clinton. 

The Agalarovs have amassed a fortune partially from contracts for state-funded construction projects, including one for the construction of a stadium for the F.I.F.A. World Cup Championship in 2018 in Kaliningrad.

How did the developer and his son connect with the Trumps?

Emin told Forbes in March he and his father first met Trump roughly five years ago when they traveled to Las Vegas with interest in bringing the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to Moscow. They eventually paid about $7M in fees to host the event at one of their developments. 

Trump even appeared in one of Emin’s music videos along with contestants from his Miss Universe pageant. 

Father and son viewed it as a first step toward something greater: a licensing deal for potential Trump-branded properties in Russia. Such a partnership would be a boon for the Agalarovs’ already extensive Russia-based portfolio of restaurant and retail developments, including Moscow’s high-end Crocus City Mall.

Emin Agalarov performing at the 2012 Eurovision singing competition.

How could Trump benefit from a relationship with the Agalarovs?

Before setting his sights on the White House, Trump wanted to open a property in the Russian capital. Trump went to Moscow in 1987, just as the Cold War was ending, to look at sites for a potential hotel, which he documented in his memoir, “The Art of the Deal.” 

A deal never emerged, but the goal did not wane. Donald Trump Jr. delivered a 2008 speech saying he had visited Russia six times in 18 months looking for an opportunity, but the country proved difficult, the Washington Post reported. The Agalarovs, with their warm relations with the Putin-led government, could be a good partner to have.

Emin said plans for Trump Tower Moscow were put on hold when Trump announced his candidacy for president, but said he has exchanged messages with Trump Jr. as recently as January

Do the Agalarovs have any other U.S. ties?

Aras owns two multimillion-dollar condos on Florida’s Fisher Island near Miami, the Miami New Times reports. He purchased a $10.7M condo in April 2016 and bought (through his company Saffron Management) a unit nearby for $3.6M in 2012. 

Do the Agalarovs link Trump to Putin?

It certainly is one step closer. Aras has acted as a liaison between the heads of state, even delivering a gift to Trump from Russian President Vladimir Putin after the latter canceled a planned meeting before the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Crocus’s Russian state contracts coupled with Aras’ Order of Honor of the Russian Federation show close ties and allegiances to the Kremlin. Trump mused on Twitter whether he would become friends with Putin ahead of the planned meeting before the 2013 pageant in Moscow. 

Emin implied to reporters in March Trump politically pays back those who are loyal. 

“Now that he ran and was elected, he does not forget his friends,” he told Forbes.

How has the Kremlin responded?

The Russian government refuted claims it was involved with Aras and Emin. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Wednesday the leader had not spoken to Agalarov and had no connection with the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr. last summer.