Beauty pageant led to encounter

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.PHOTO: NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA/ FACEBOOK

WASHINGTON • During the summer of 2013, Mr Donald Trump mused about whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet him at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow that autumn. "If so, will he become my new best friend?" Mr Trump posted on Twitter.

Mr Putin did not make it, but the beauty competition in Moscow brought the Trump family into partnership with Mr Emin Agalarov, a pop star in Russia, and his father, Aras. The father and son develop major real estate projects in Russia and appear friendly with the Kremlin.

Since then, Mr Emin Agalarov has repeatedly boasted of maintaining a warm relationship with Mr Trump. And a publicist for the younger Mr Agalarov said on Monday that it was his client who asked that Mr Donald Trump Jr speak with a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the presidential campaign, a meeting first reported by The New York Times.

Mr Trump Jr - who followed through with that meeting in June last year, along with Mr Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner - said the lawyer promised information damaging to Mrs Hillary Clinton, but failed to deliver.

The publicist, Mr Rob Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist and president of a marketing company called Oui 2 Entertainment, has worked with Mr Emin Agalarov, and was involved with the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Mr Goldstone said he helped to arrange and attended the meeting on June 9 last year at Trump Tower with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

The Agalarovs, who did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, are originally from Azerbaijan, but now run the Crocus Group, a large real estate development company in Russia.

Shortly before the Miss Universe pageant in November 2013, Mr Putin presented Mr Aras Agalarov with the Order of Honour, one of Russia's highest civilian awards. Several years earlier, the Crocus Group was selected to build the Far Eastern Federal University near Vladivostok.

Mr Trump, an owner of the Miss Universe pageant at the time, chose the Agalarovs to host the beauty competition in 2013 in Moscow, and discussed collaborating with them on a tower in Moscow. He also appeared in one of Mr Emin Agalarov's music videos, which featured pageant contestants.

NY TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline 'Beauty pageant led to encounter'. Print Edition | Subscribe