BAKU—Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday blamed the “Armenian Lobby” for a new investigative report detailing how Azerbaijani elite used an estimated $2.8 billion slush fund to influence and lobby lawmakers in Europe and pay for extravagant purchases.
Aliyev, through his press secretary, said that American philanthropist George Soros and his henchmen—the “Armenian Lobby”—concocted the report released by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project on Monday to smear Azerbaijan.
The report details how thousands of payments from Azerbaijan were channeled through four shell companies in the United Kingdom between 2012 and 2014 to buy the “silence” of politicians and officials.
“Neither the president, nor members of his family have any relation to the charges contained in the report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project,” said Aliyev’s press office statement. “The dirty deeds of George Soros need to be investigated,” it said. “The Armenian lobby working in concert with him has been waging a smear campaign against the president of Azerbaijan and members of his family.”
The OCCRP and several press outlets in Europe, Russia and the United States collaborated on the report, entitled “The Azerbaijani Laundromat,” which states that “there is ample evidence of its [the sluch fund’s] connection to the family of President Ilham Aliyev.”
The report that has created shockwaves across Great Britain has prompted some members of parliament to call Prime Minister Theresa May to order an investigation into how companies registered there were able to operate such a huge money laundering scheme on behalf of Azerbaijan’s ruling elite.
Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader, led calls for an inquiry, saying this was what happens “when the corporate landscape is too lightly regulated,” reported the Guardian.
“We need a full investigation to see that dirty money has not been used to buy influence in the UK. The Azerbaijani government is guilty of systematic human rights abuses and it would appear the regime has been making payments on an industrial scale,” Farron was quoted by The Guardian as saying.
The OCCRP collaborated with the Danish newspaper Berlingske, which received a trove of leaked bank records that revealed the $2.8 billion slush fund, through which vast sums of money were laundered through a series of shell companies.
From 2012 to 2014, when the Azerbaijani government was rounding up opposition activists and journalists, members of the country’s ruling part were using the secret slush fund to pay off European politicians, buy luxury items, launder money and pay for high-end private schools in the United States.
“Meanwhile, at least three European politicians, a journalist who wrote stories friendly to the regime, and businessmen who praised the government were among the recipients of Azerbaijani Laundromat money. In some cases, these prominent individuals were able to mobilize important international organizations, such as UNESCO and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, to score PR victories for the regime,” said the OCCRP.
The report also details more than 16,000 transactions were carried out by the four shell companies registered in the UK and pits Danske Bank, a major European financial institution and the largest bank in Denmark, at the center of the scandal.
The OCCRP said that Danske Bank “turned a blind eye to transactions that should have raised red flags. The bank’s Estonian branch handled the accounts of all four Azerbaijani Laundromat companies, allowing the billions to pass through it without investigating their propriety.”
“A majority of the payments went to other secretive shell companies similarly registered in the UK, indicating that the full extent of the scheme may be much larger than is currently known. Large amounts also went to companies in the UAE and Turkey,” added OCCRP.