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Aliyev Family Owns Some of the Best Hotels in Baku


Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has spent billions on capturing the world’s attention to the European Games in his Caspian seaside capital of Baku. He has spared no expense, including slapping plastic facades on tired buildings, building new roads and booking megastar Lady Gaga for the Opening Ceremonies. The best hotels are booked solid.

In its two-week run, the first-ever competition played host to and showcased 6,000 athletes and 3,000 officials and support staff from 50 countries.

While taxpayers ultimately foot the bill for this, two privileged citizens have been massively enriched by the games: the president’s daughters.

That’s because they control an enormous chunk of the luxury hotel business in Baku. Their hotels, sporting such well-known Western brands as the Four Seasons, Sheraton and the Marriott, sit at key points in the city.

Reporters for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found that Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva directly own or are closely connected with six five-star hotels in Baku. One more hotel is under construction. They also own two exclusive mountain resorts, and likely have a role in a 10th hotel.

Reminiscent of the palaces of Arab princes, these hotels are known to most Azerbaijanis only through TV. They’re so expensive it would cost the average Azerbaijani a month’s salary to check in for a night or two.

As the games got underway, OCCRP checked on room availability. “Due to (the) European Games, our hotel is fully occupied,” said the receptionist at the Fairmont hotel, which stands like a gateway to Baku, overlooking the waters of the Caspian. Follow up calls to all Baku hotels connected to the daughters showed they too were booked solid through the closing ceremony.

Other First Family-connected or owned hotels, in addition to the Fairmont, are the JW Marriott Hotel Absheron Baku, a centerpiece of the futuristic skyline of the city center; the Four Seasons, a Beaux-Arts-style luxury hotel; and the Sheraton at Baku International Airport. The daughters also have holdings in Intourist, a boutique hotel described as the cradle of sophistication overlooking the waterfront boulevard; the Boulevard, the largest conference hotel on the Caspian; and two mountain resorts, the Pik Palace Shahdagh and the Park Chalet Shahdagh, surrounded by stunning mountain views of the Shahdagh, Azerbaijan’s most famous mountain. Another hotel under construction – the Dinamo – is described as a “heritage boutique” in the heart of Baku. It will open in 2016.

A 10th, the Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel, one of Baku's most exclusive resorts, is connected to the daughters through related companies.

The nine working hotels are among the largest, best-situated and most popular hotels in Azerbaijan. According to a 2014 statement by the State Statistics Committee, Azerbaijan has 30 five-star hotels. Other major hotels in Baku are owned by business partners of the Aliyevs or government officials.

Six five-star resort hotels are owned by Ashaf Kamilov, chairman of the supervisory board of a conglomerate the First Family owns and a former tax ministry official. He is also a business partner owning one third of the family-owned ATA Bank. The Emergency Minister, owns six hotels.

The name-brand hotels all are less than 4 years old. The Four Seasons opened in 2012 just before the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in Baku; and the Marriott just before the Eurovision song contest in 2012. Intourist and Boulevard were opened just in time for the European Games.

President Aliyev attended almost all gala openings for these hotels. “Opening a new hotel always makes me happy because these are investments in our city and our country. It is the development of our city and (the) beautification of Baku,” he said at the 2013 opening of the Fairmont.

Prices for standard rooms in the family’s hotels start at an average 300 AZN (US$ 286). Some rooms cost as much as 1,500 AZN (US$ 1,430) per night. In contrast, the average monthly salary for most Azerbaijanis is 452 AZN (US$ 430). The First Family has 2,400 rooms and suites under its control. If they are fully booked during the European Games, the hotels could be bringing in more than US$ 10 million.

Comments (1)

Most Axeri criminals, drug cartels, mafia bosses, Aliyev's thugs and axe wielders, occupied these beautiful hotel rooms. I wonder if an ordinary tourist will dare to occupy a room at night, where the land of fire can be burst into a fireball without a warning!

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