BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The government of Azerbaijan allocates its multi-billion dollar oil and gas revenue in four ways: 1) Bribery; 2) Theft by President Ilham Aliyev’s family and his cronies; 3) Military purchases; and 4) Other budgetary matters. No wonder the majority of the people in Azerbaijan live in abject poverty, despite the billions of petrodollars earned by Aliyev’s autocracy.
Last week, we covered Azerbaijan’s bribery at the Council of Europe and throughout the world. This week, we present examples of how large amounts of Azerbaijan’s wealth are stolen by the Aliyev family and members of the ruling clan. A U.S. State Department report on human rights referred to the “pervasive corruption” of Azerbaijan’s increasingly authoritarian regime. Transparency International, in its 2016 global survey of corruption, ranked Azerbaijan among the most corrupt nations — 123rd out of 176 countries.
Last month, reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia revealed in her website that the three largest clients of Pilatus Bank in Malta are from Azerbaijan: Kamaladdin Heydarov, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Emergency Situations, followed by the young son and daughter of Aliyev, whose names are Heydar Aliyev and Leyla Aliyeva.
Galizia reported: “Heydar Aliyev [President’s son] had first tried to open an account at the Bank of Valetta [in Malta], but was refused on the grounds that he is a major politically exposed person from one of the most corrupt countries, and a serious money-laundering risk.” She further revealed: “60% of Pilatus Bank’s deposits belong to Azerbaijani politically exposed persons.” We can therefore safely assume that the amount of money deposited by these three Azeris is in the millions of dollars!
Interestingly, the owner of Pilatus Bank is an Iranian by the name of Seyed Ali Sadr Hashemenijad who “was caught on camera removing bags of documents from his bank’s premises last Thursday night [April 20, 2017], accompanied by the bank’s risk manager, Antoniella Gauci.”
Unfortunately, the Maltese bank is not the only one where the Aliyevs and their clan have stashed tons of money. There are scores of off-shore companies set up by the Aliyevs and their intermediaries to launder large amounts of cash difficult to trace back to the leaders of Azerbaijan.
There are so many financial scandals involving the Aliyevs that it is hard to pinpoint a specific one; but one of their biggest scandals involves the purchase of luxury real estate in Dubai for $75 million by the three Aliyev children, according to the Washington Post. Heydar Aliyev, the then 11-year-old son of Aliyev, bought nine waterfront mansions for $44 million in 2009! His two sisters, Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva, bought several more mansions for an additional $31 million. These properties were paid for “upfront.” Where do children of their young age get $75 million given that they have no income and their father Aliyev’s annual salary is only $228,000!
The Washington Post article exposing these scandalous details explained that the “rush to move assets overseas, often with scant regard for returns, is a common feature of many oil-producing nations, where corrupt elites seek to ensure that their wealth is safe just in case political winds at home change.”
OCCRP’s website (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) includes dozens of articles about examples of major corruption in Azerbaijan. In 2012, OCCRP named Ilham Aliyev its “Person of the Year” for his “links to crimes and corruption.” OCCRP reported that Mehriban Aliyeva, Aliyev’s wife, is “owner, director or shareholder of a web of offshore companies that were reportedly used by the family to conduct lucrative business dealings worth many millions of dollars.”
Indeed, Aliyev and his family own a multitude of expensive properties around the world. OCCRP reported that a building in Bucharest, Romania, purchased for $7.3 million, became the headquarters of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, named after Ilham Aliyev’s father who ruled Azerbaijan from 1993 to 2003. The Foundation is run by the family of Aliyev. According to OCCRP, the purchase of this building involved “offshore transactions, links to corrupt officials and organized crime, insider deals and a peculiar cult of personality for a dead leader.” The Aliyevs also own expensive buildings and houses in London (worth at least $25 million), Moscow (worth tens of millions of dollars), Dubai, and the Czech Republic.
Finally, Aliyev’s daughters Leyla and Arzu own some of the most luxurious hotels in Baku, according to OCCRP, including the Four Seasons, Sheraton, and the Marriott, among others. An Azerbaijani real estate expert told OCCRP that “the high-end Baku hotels owned or closely connected to the family are valued at $10 billion.”
OCCRP concluded that the Aliyev dynasty has been involved in “numerous secretive business operations across several continents in recent years! Using offshore companies and middlemen, the First Family took over considerable chunks of the Azerbaijani economy — including gold mines, tourism, telecom companies and banks — while buying up luxury properties in various European and Gulf states.”