Who is the Russian World Cup magnate central to Trump email scandal?

Who is the Russian magnate in Trump Jr email scandal central to World Cup 2018 plans?

Aras Agalarov has been a friend of Donald Trump and is highly influential (pictured right)

Friday, July 14, 2017

In the days following the Donald Trump Jr email scandal, attention has focused on the direct protagonists. Trump Jr and British publicist Rob Goldstone, who exchanged the emails; the mysterious Russian lawyer who attended the meeting; and, of course, the President of the United States, whose role in the meeting remains a source of fevered speculation.

In addition to these primary characters, people have also gossiped about Emin Agalarov, who has an interesting backstory given he is a popular pop star in Russia. Yet this is only a tangential story, a side dish of celebrity titillation to accompany the feast of intrigue and innuendo.

Yet there is one person who seems to have been almost entirely overlooked. A person who could be as powerful, and as beguiling, as anyone else in this complex plot.

Aras Agalarov is mentioned in Goldstone's first email, referred to simply as Emin's father. Yet Goldstone mentions that Aras has been speaking to Russia's crown prosecutor, which demonstrates his connections in the country - and explains why Trump once described him as the “most powerful man in Russia”.

Indeed there are clear parallels between Trump and Agalarov; the latter has even been dubbed 'the Donald Trump of Moscow' due to his wealth and connections, predicated on glamorous and often gauche consumer projects.

Like Trump, Agalarov is a property developer and real estate magnate whose company, Crocus, has made its name in the leisure industry. After starting out on trade fairs, the company pivoted to focus on shopping malls shopping malls and retail space in the 1990s, offering the intoxicating allure of Western commerce to a ravenous public which was only just emerging from Communism. 

Western culture, and Americana, underpins Agalarov's business empire. He has extensive investments in the US, and his Russian portfolio is predicated on Crocus City, a brand-new satellite town which resembles a giant shopping mall. He even runs called Vegas - a name of which Trump would surely approve.

Given this Western-facing approach, it was inevitable that Agalarov would align himself with Trump. In 2013 he and his son, who is also his business partner, spent $20 billion to bring Miss Universe to Russia, teaming up with the Trump clan for the project. Trump has also helped Emin Agalarov's pop career by appearing in one of his videos.

This cheesy brand of capitalism, allied with a quintessentially Russian dogedness, have proved extremely successful for the Agalarovs. Aras's fortune currently stands at an estimated $1.9bn, around half of Trump's, but not bad for someone whose upbringing in Azerbaijan was light years from his American counterpart's pampered youth in New York. 

Now the company is branching out into soccer stadia, having been named general contractor for the construction of two key World Cup stadia, in the outposts of Kaliningrad and Rostov-on-Don. Both projects presented challenges: Kaliningrad (once known as Konigsberg) is an enclave on the Baltic Sea, cut off from the rest of Russia; Rostov borders Ukraine. It is claimed that Putin personally awarded the contracts to Agalarov, without tender, because he trusted him to get the jobs done.

The projects have been turbulent, to say the least. Scores of workers across the two sites have gone on strike over unpaid wages, according to the Financial Times. Campaign website Crime Russia alleges that a local minister was arrested on suspicion of embezzling funds intended for the Kaliningrad project, and there have been reports of deaths at the Rostov site. Yet there has been no public reprimand from Putin. Not yet, anyway.

Despite his willingness to embrace Western excess, it appears Agalarov doesn’t flaunt his wealth over-much. He has an account on Instagram, and for the most part, he shares pictures of his family, with Emin and the latter’s twin sons Ali and Mikail featuring heavily.

But now, following the Trump email dump, Agalarov may finally be forced into the spotlight. His story, as it unfolds, is sure to prove riveting. 

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