The European Parliament hosted on Tuesday public hearings in connection with the “Azerbaijani Laundromat” investigation of the international journalist.
The hearings organized by PANA committee – a committee on combating money laundering and tax evasion – were attended by members of the European parliament, journalists involved in investigation and human rights defenders.
Speaking during the hearings, member of the European Parliament Anna Gomes said the Azerbaijani regime has been doing reputation laundering which also reached the European Parliament. The result was the notorious election observation report of the European Parliament.
Head of Transparency International Carl Dolan added that corruption is systematically exported by the Azerbaijani authorities and undermines democracy in Europe.
Journalist of the Danish Berlingske newspaper Eva Jung noted that they had presented a list of European politicians who had been receiving money from Azerbaijan. She said they would keep an eye on the Azerbaijani Laundromat and would try to find out more. There are still many politicians and renowned figures having ties to the Azerbaijani money laundering case, but they had not been identified yet. The journalists of the Danish newspaper said that what had been discovered in the case is only tip of the iceberg.
Germany’s CDU party has received donations from a state-run Azerbaijani company, a German media consortium reported. The affair again highlights links between conservative politicians and the Central Asian dictatorship.
A district chapter of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) received €28,000 ($33,114) from the state-run Azerbaijani oil and gas company Socar in contravention of German rules on party donations, a consortium of public broadcasters NDR, WDR and daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.
The case again calls into question connections between certain conservative politicians and the South Caucasian republic, whose leader, President Ilham Aliyev, has by human rights organizations.
According to the report, two payments, one of €3,000 and one of €25,000, were deposited by Socar’s Germany-based branch on the account of the CDU’s district association in Frankfurt at the end of February 2012.
No fine for the CDU
The affair had caused a four-year-long legal dispute with the parliamentary administration authority behind the scenes, the report said, since German law prohibits parties from receiving donations from non-EU countries.
Aliyev: a stranger to democracy
Although the district CDU branch accepted the donation without question, auditors at party headquarters in Berlin notified the Administration of the German Bundestag, which decided as early as autumn 2013 that the gift was not allowable under the law. The CDU then gave up the donation to be immediately impounded, the report said.
However, despite having broken the law, the party will not have to pay a fine, largely owing to a ruling made by an administrative court in April that self-denunciation in such cases can not only mitigate penalties, but even avert them altogether.
The affair has raised several questions about links between the conservative CDU/CSU bloc and Azerbaijan, and what objectives the country could be pursuing with its donations.
The German CEO of Socar, Anders Egen Mamedov, was quoted by the paper as saying that the company’s contacts with political officials was taking place “against the backbround of the geopolitical importance of Azerbaijan and Socar,” including with regard to the pipeline network through seven countries that is currently under construction.
The massive gas pipeline project was chosen over the Nabucco-West pipeline in 2013 with the support of the then EU commissioner for energy, the German CDU politician Günther Oettinger.
Mamedov said Socar also made donations to sports and cultural associations in Germany. He declined to give details or speak about possible donations to other German of European parties to the paper.
The Süddeutsche also pointed to CDU parliamentarian Karin Strenz, who according to the paper did not disclose her work for an Azerbaijan-financed lobbying firm within three months as asked. The company is owned by former CSU politician Eduard Lintner, who has been doing lobbying work for Azerbaijan since 2009.
In another possible indication of her sympathies with the authoritarian country, in June 2015 Strenz voted against a resolution by the Council of Europe to call on Azerbaijan to release its political prisoners — the only German MP to do so, according to an earlier report in the paper.
Azerbaijan was described in a resolution by the European Parliament in September 2015 as “having suffered the greatest decline in democratic governance in all of Eurasia over the past 10 years.”
Revelations over payments by Azerbaijan to European politicians have seeped into the German election as it emerged that a close ally of Angela Merkel allegedly received money from the authoritarian regime.
The revelations are embarrassing for the German chancellor who on Tuesday was due to campaign with Karin Strenz, a Christian Democrat member of parliament, in the Baltic port city of Wismar.
According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung , Strenz was paid between €7,000 and €15,000 sent to her via a firm set up by Eduard Lintner, a former German MP and lobbyist for Azerbaijan.
Strenz has refused to comment and did not respond to emails from the Guardian.
The scandal threatens to shake up what has so far been a sleepy election campaign, lacking any of the personal mudslinging or scandal-ridden offensives typical of the US or Britain, with Merkel’s CDU on course to secure victory. Latest polls show it to be on 36% – 14 points ahead of the party’s nearest rival, the Social Democrats.
Lintner was one of several prominent Europeans to have received large sums of money from a scheme nicknamed the Azerbaijani Laundromat, exposed this month by the Guardian and other media partners. Lintner admits the payments but says he did not personally benefit and he was unaware of the original source of the payments.
Azerbaijan’s ruling elite used the $2.9bn (£2.1bn) fund to silence criticism of the country’s dismal human rights record with a series of under-the-table payments made to leading European politicians.
Leaked banking data shows that Lintner received more than €800,000 through UK shell companies. Some of this money was paid to other parliamentarians in Germany and Belgium. The payments to Strenz in 2014 and 2015 were sent through Lintner’s company, Line M-Trade, based at the office of his Nuremberg lawyer.
She registered the money but the ultimate source of the funding was previously unknown. It is not known whether Strenz was aware of its origin.
Strenz has visited Azerbaijan on several occasions, including as an election monitor, and is chairwoman of the German-South Caucasian Friendship Group. She has posted a photograph on her website – slogan “Politics can be different” – with Azerbaijan’s authoritarian leader, Ilham Aliyev.
Strenz, a former teacher, has been a member of parliament since 2009. She is now under pressure to explain whether the payments may have influenced her voting record in Berlin and in the Council of Europe, where she is a member of the parliamentary assembly.
In June 2015, Strenz voted against a parliamentary assembly motion calling on Azerbaijan to release its political prisoners, who include several journalists. She was the only German representative who voted no. Strenz has given an approving verdict on Azerbaijan’s elections, in contrast to other observers who have been critical.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) sent a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform and House Select Committees on Intelligence expressing concern regarding the undue influence of Azerbaijan’s caviar diplomacy, especially given a recent report revealing the “Azerbaijani Laundromat.”
In their letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings alongside House Intelligence Chairman David Nunes (R-CA) and Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA), Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian stated: “We are writing to bring to your attention our serious concerns regarding Azerbaijan’s attempts to undermine western democratic values and institutions, and the most recent revelations that it ‘operated [a] secret $3bn slush fund,’ in Europe,” as reported in a September 5, 2017 BBC article.
The scheme has been labeled the “Azerbaijani Laundromat” because of the vast sums that passed through it were funds laundered by a series of shell companies. According to an investigation of the Azerbaijani Laundromat published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), “from 2012 to 2014, even as the Azerbaijani government arrested activists and journalists wholesale, members of the country’s ruling elite were using a secret slush fund to pay off European politicians, buy luxury goods, launder money, and otherwise benefit themselves.”
“We should not turn a blind eye to Azerbaijan’s out of bounds and corrupt influence on American democracy. Congress is familiar with the reasons why the Aliyev autocracy is trying to whitewash its human rights record, resolve the Nagorno Karabkah conflict by wiping out the Christian Armenian population, and ally itself against United States values. Azerbaijan’s unprecedented April 2016 attacks against Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia, where its ISIS-style mutilations and beheadings of Armenians have gone without consequence, speak for themselves. The recent revelations only confirm the vast amounts being spent to corrupt officials from doing what their electorates expect,” Assembly Co-Chairs Barsamian and Krikorian said.
The Assembly Co-Chairs concluded: “On Wednesday, the European Parliament – voting 578 to 19 with 68 abstentions – condemned Azerbaijan’s attempts to influence decision makers through illicit means and authorized a deeper investigation of its behavior. We urge your respective committees to do no less in factoring these new revelations in your ongoing investigations.”
In prior letters written to the House and Senate this year, the Assembly emphasized that: “we must ensure that Azerbaijan’s rampant corrupt practices do not compromise U.S. policies and objectives.”
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.
rbaijan, launAdditional revelations over Azerbaijan’s corruption scheme that have come about in the last couple of days have exposed a former CNN employee’s role in the scandal.
The report called “Azerbaijani Laundromat” by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) revealed that former CNN producer Eckart Sager received nearly $2.6 million from British companies including Hilux Services. The money was transferred to Sager’s account in the UAE.
The revelation notes that Sager, receiving money from Azerbaijan, published articles propagating the Azerbaijani visions on various issues or defended pro-Azerbaijani figures, Asbarez reports.
“One of the articles defends Italian parliamentarian Luca Volontè accused of receiving money from Azerbaijan and reviewing the report by the PACE on human rights violations in Azerbaijan,” reads the article that exposes Azerbaijani corruption deals.
Banking records revealing some 2.5 billion euro (US$ 2.9 billion) in transactions were leaked to the Danish newspaper Berlingske, which shared them with OCCRP. The two outlets then organized a collaborative investigation to track down where the money went. According to the Project, the money was spent on bribing European politicians, decision-makers, journalists and other figures to make pro-Azerbaijani decisions or depict Azerbaijan under favorable light.
In addition on September 14, former Azerbaijan Ambassador to the EU, Arif Mammadov announced another recent update on his Facebook page regarding the “Azerbaijan Laundromat.”
The former ambassador wrote that the next revelation linked to this corruption scheme is involving a sex-scandal with the participation of Azerbaijan authorities and MEPs.
“I have already written that the key lobbyist of Azerbaijan in France, the President of the Association of Friends of Azerbaijan in France Jean-Francois Mancel and his wife are perverted and, sorry for giving so many details, they are fond of orgies. Almost all of the lobbyists have sexual deviations and strange sexual preferences. Baku was one of the beloved places for fun of different senators and MEPs. They come to Azerbaijan under the pretext of a working visit, but in reality they come to Baku for intimate relations and of course, it’s Azerbaijan who pays for all these. The hotel rooms where those meetings took place were equipped with cameras in advance and the authorities have videotaped everything.
I think our authorities, reading all these, will understand that I know much more,” reads Mammadov’s post on Facebook.
The former ambassador believes that footage might come to surface now there everything is out in the open.
The European parliament has called for an investigation into revelations by the Guardian and media partners that Azerbaijan ran a secret $2.9bn (£2.2bn) slush fund to pay influential Europeans to paint a positive image of the authoritarian regime.
MEPs have demanded a “comprehensive” investigation into “attempts by Azerbaijan and other autocratic regimes … to influence European decision-makers through illicit means.”
Bulgarian Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov has ordered an investigation into Kalin Mitrev, a Bulgarian politician who is linked to Azerbaijani Laundromat scheme.
The prosecutor’s office said they had ordered an investigation that would have find out any information regarding tax evasion or money laundering, Sofia Globe reported.
The case of Mitrev – country’s representative on the board of directors of the EBRD, was also discussed during Bulgaria’s cabinet meeting on Thursday. The Cabinet decided to ask EBRD for its position on Kalin Mitrev.
According to Azerbaijani Laundromat investigation, Bulgarian politician, who is also husband of UNESCO director Irina Bokova, received 425 thousand euros from opaque British company that was engaged in Azerbaijani money laundering scheme.