WASHINGTON (AP) — Six months before he launched his presidential campaign, Donald Trump announced a new real estate project in Baku, Azerbaijan. The partner was Anar Mammadov, the son of a government minister suspected by U.S. diplomats of laundering money for Iran's military and described as "notoriously corrupt."
Eighteen months later, and only weeks after daughter Ivanka Trump released a publicity video of the nearly finished project, references to the Baku project have disappeared from Trump's website. Trump's general counsel, Alan Garten, told The Associated Press that it was on hold for economic reasons.
Trump often talks of hiring the best people and surrounding himself with people he can trust. In practice, however, he and his executives have at times appeared to overlook details about the background of people he has chosen as business partners, such as whether they had dubious associations, had been convicted of crimes, faced extradition or inflated their resumes.
The Trump camp's vetting skills are important as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee turns to selecting a running mate. They would become even more crucial if he won the White House. As president, Trump would have to name more than 3,600 political appointees to senior government jobs, including critical positions overseeing the national security and the economy.
In the Azerbaijani case, Garten said the Trump Organization had performed meticulous due diligence on the company's partners, and had hired a third-party firm that specializes in background intelligence and searching global sanctions, warrant and watch lists at home and abroad.
But Trump had not researched the allegations against the Baku partner's father because the father was not a party to the deal, Garten said.
Experts on Azerbaijan were baffled by that conclusion.
"Whatever the Trump people thought they were doing, that wasn't reality," said Richard Kauzlarich, a U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s who went on to work under the director of national intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.
A leaked State Department diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks in 2010 described Anar's father, Ziya Mammadov, as renowned for corruption and presumed to be a silent partner to a former senior Iranian general and reputed money launderer, Kamal Darvishi.
Ziya Mammadov did not respond to a telephone message the AP left with his ministry in Baku or to emails to the Azerbaijan Embassy in Washington. Anar Mammadov did not respond to AP's emails or messages sent to his social media accounts or messages left with his company.
In a separate case, Trump was asked in a 2013 deposition about why he had not performed better checks on a business partner — a man Trump later deemed "a dud" after the failure of a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hotel project. Trump said he considered word-of-mouth inquiries to be adequate.
"We heard good things about him from a couple of different people," he said about his partner, during the deposition. "That's true with the president of the United States. You get references and sometimes it's good and sometimes it's not so good."
Trump's lawyer, Garten, who was in the room at the time of Trump's statement, told the AP that it was unreasonable to expect Trump to know the company's full diligence efforts.
Other instances of questionable diligence identified by the AP include:
—A 2001 Toronto condo deal that fell apart after Trump's developer partner was revealed to be facing extradition after pleading guilty to bankruptcy fraud.
—Trump's partnership with a real estate entity whose executives included a former Mafia stock fraud scheme informant operating under an altered name.
—Trump's hiring of an executive with an inflated resume to run his ill-fated home lending firm, Trump Mortgage.
—The hiring of instructors at Trump University, Trump's real estate seminar business.
In a deposition from the Trump University lawsuit, Trump was philosophical about instructors who turned out to be unqualified.
"In every business, people slip through the cracks," he said. "No matter how well-run a business, people come in and they're not good, and you wonder, you know, how did they get there, et cetera."
Associated Press writer Desmond Butler contributed to this report.