In Emin Agalarov’s music video for “In Another Life”, the Azeri singer and real estate scion parties at his estate outside Moscow with Miss Universe contestants — only to wake, realise it was all a dream and have Donald Trump tell him, “You’re fired!”
Mr Agalarov could hardly have dreamt that four years after Mr Trump’s Miss Universe pageant, he would be at the centre of a sprawling scandal about alleged Russian government interference to tip the US presidential election campaign in favour of Mr Trump.
It was 37-year-old Mr Agalarov and his oligarch father Aras Agalarov who lobbied for a meeting in Trump Tower, New York, in June 2016 between Mr Trump’s eldest son Donald Jr and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer for small-time Russian officials implicated in a tax fraud case, according to Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who organised it. The details emerged in emails released by Mr Trump Jr on Tuesday.
Mr Trump Jr agreed to the meeting after Mr Goldstone told him he was being offered “information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and dealings with Russia” provided by a Russian prosecutor, Yuri Chaika. The information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”, Mr Goldstone added.
According to the emails, Ms Veselnitskaya was intended to be the messenger for the damaging information. She told NBC on Tuesday that she had been invited to the meeting by a man she did not know.
Both Ms Veselnitskaya and Mr Trump Jr say she provided no information about Mrs Clinton. “They wanted it so badly,” she said.
Instead, she raised the issue of US sanctions on Russian officials implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower who exposed an alleged $230m tax fraud before dying in mysterious circumstances in jail. Ms Veselnitskaya had been engaged in a lobbying campaign to have the US sanctions lifted.
It is unclear whether Mr Chaika, the Russian prosecutor, ever intended to pass dirt on Mrs Clinton to the Trump campaign, or indeed whether he had any such dirt at all. But he did have an interest in the Magnitsky sanctions.
Bill Browder, the US financier who employed Magnitsky and inspired the sanctions on Russian officials, has accused Mr Chaika of covering up the real causes of Magnitsky’s death in prison and of closing down the investigation into the $230m tax fraud. Some of Mr Chaika’s fellow prosecutors are on the Magnitsky list of sanctioned officials.
Ms Veselnitskaya, a former prosecutor, is a formidable presence in the murky courtrooms of suburban Moscow, where the Agalarovs’ company Crocus Group built the concert hall that hosted the Miss Universe pageant in 2013.
The Agalarovs’ social circle is, nonetheless, more rarefied than hers; they mix with oligarchs and Russia’s top pop stars.
The Agalarovs’ ties to Mr Trump are more obvious: the family organised the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which Mr Trump owned, in Moscow. Mr Trump appeared in Emin’s music video, partied with the Agalarovs during the pageant and announced a deal with them to build a Trump Tower in Moscow that never got off the ground.
“He’s a very caring person,” Mr Agalarov said. “He will give you extra attention if he likes you.”
Mr Agalarov and a Crocus spokeswoman did not return requests for comment on Tuesday.
Mr Trump spent less than 24 hours in Moscow, according to a person involved in the pageant.
He attended a dinner with Herman Gref, chief executive of Sberbank, Russia’s largest state bank and Mr Agalarov’s biggest creditor. Russian president Vladimir Putin declined to meet Mr Trump but sent him a note and a lacquered gift box, according to the Agalarovs.
Aras Agalarov implied in an interview with Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda last month that Mr Trump was not then considered important enough to meet Mr Putin. “It’s one thing if he talks to me. That’s one level, probably. It’s another thing if he’s going to talk to the president of the Russian Federation,” he said.
In March, Emin Agalarov told Forbes that his family was still in touch with Mr Trump.
The Agalarovs’ real interest, however, appeared to be staging the pageant as a vehicle to promote Emin’s music career internationally, according to Olivia Wells, who competed as Miss Australia.
Instead of taking part in the usual events to promote tourism in the host city, contestants spent several days socialising with the Agalarov family at their estate outside Moscow.
“We were all laughing about how easy life would be if you had a dad who could just buy you [a] TV event to try and make you famous,” Ms Wells said.
The pageant itself was a family affair. Aras Agalarov’s wife Irina was on the preliminary judging panel. Emin Agalarov performed during the ceremony — much to the horror of attending executives from NBC, who believed his schmaltzy pop was not up to standard, according to a person involved in the organisation.
“Us girls all knew he had zero talent,” Ms Wells said. “That was the joke, that Miss Universe was in Russia because Agalarov wanted to buy his son a big break even though he was shockingly bad.”
Additional reporting by Courtney Weaver in Washington