Emin Agalarov and the Political Side to Pop
Azerbaijani-Russian pop star Emin Agalarov has landed on the American political stage pretty much the same way that he descended from the sky during his 2012 Eurovision Song Contest performance -- out of nowhere. Still, perhaps it's only fitting that the continued controversy over the Donald Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia has post-Soviet pop music playing in the background.
A Baku-born singer with an Enrique-Iglesias-style image -- a heartthrob, followed around by a complement of beautiful women -- the 37-year-old Agalarov (known as “Emin”) might, at first glance, seem unlikely to feature in a scandal over the Kremlin allegedly giving Trump’s bid for the White House a leg up.
The scandal over the meeting he allegedly brokered between Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer with reported ties to the Russian government, however, means that the swashbuckling Emin now, indeed, finds himself center-stage.
In a July 12 interview, Forbes did not question Emin about his alleged message, relayed by his publicist, Rob Goldstone, to Donald Trump, Jr. that Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika had offered his father, former Trump business partner Aras Alagarov, and him “official documents and information” about Hillary Clinton that would help the elder Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The singer simply attributed President Trump’s interest in warmer ties with Russia to “the business origins in his blood . . .” Both of the Alagarovs remain in contact with the president’s two sons, Donald, Jr. and Eric, who are running The Trump Organization, he told Forbes, but realize that, business-wise, “There is no point to pursue anything at this stage.”
In his own, longer interview on Fox News Tuesday night, Donald Trump, Jr had struck a slightly more restrained note. He told Sean Hannity that he knows Emin Agalarov via a Trump-resort-hosted World Golf Championship in Miami at which the singer performed. He said he’s met him “once or twice” and that the two have a “casual relationship.”
But the two men have more in common than that. They are both sons of real-estate moguls. Their daddies know each other well and, aside from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, tried unsuccessfully to build a Trump Tower in Moscow next to an Agalarov-owned structure.
They both hold senior positions in their fathers’ companies – Emin Agalarov as first vice-president of Crocus Group, his father’s massive, Trump-sized business holding, with $265 million in rental income for 2016, according to Forbes.ru.
They also both have presidential ties -- Emin is the former son-in-law of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and is believed to be on friendly terms with his ex-wife, Leyla Aliyeva.
But Agalarov père seems to want to establish a distance from Donald Trump, Jr.
In an interview published on July 12 by BFM.ru, a Russian business-news site, he stated that he had never met Trump, Jr., 39, and is not aware of the nature of his relationship with his son. “They are about the same age, but how would I know what kind of communication they had?”
He dismissed as an elaborate canard the alleged attempt by his son to arrange for the Trump campaign to scoop up some dirt on its then rival, Hillary Clinton. “I think these are some made-up stories. I don’t know who makes them up.”
BFM.ru also did not cross-check Goldstone’s claim about the Agalarovs’ alleged conversation with the Russian prosecutor general.
It is safe to say, though, that Agalarov, like other billionaire businessmen in Russia, is dependent on friendly ties with the Kremlin for his success.
As Forbes reported elsewhere, the Crocus Group “has received multiple contracts from state-affiliated agencies and was named general contractor of stadiums that will be used at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.”
In the past, Aras Agalarov has claimed that he doesn't use his government ties to receive any “benefits” for his businesses.
For now, media in both Azerbaijan and Russia – neither a mecca for independent, investigative journalism -- have generally steered clear of digging into the questions about the Agalarovs’ alleged communications with the Russian government and Donald Trump, Jr.
The consequences for embarrassing the Azerbaijani presidential family or annoying the Kremlin are well established.
But, still, the questions remain: Did the Kremlin choose to call in a favor with the Agalarovs? Or did the entrepreneurial pair simply opt to advance their own interests by trying to help out a highly influential former business partner who might just become president of the US?
Or none of the above?
To borrow from Emin's Eurovision number, when it comes to answers on the Trump scandal, there are "never enough."
-- Elizabeth Owen added reporting to this post.