ANCA Called for Public Release of Congressional Ethics Report, Leading to Justice Department Investigation and Arrest of Kemal Oksuz; Sentencing Set for February 11, 2019
WASHINGTON—A grassroots campaign backed by the Armenian National Committee of America calling for the public release of an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation of an illegally funded Congressional junket to Azerbaijan contributed to pro-Azerbaijani lobbyist Kemal “Kevin” Oksuz pleading guilty on Monday to “devising a scheme to falsify, conceal and cover up material facts” from the U.S. Congress.
“We are particularly gratified that the ANCA’s early advocacy for the public release of the closely-held Congressional Ethics Office report helped bring this scandal to the public’s attention, contributing to today’s guilty plea,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “The more sunshine the better everyone can see the vast asymmetry between the ANCA’s civic advocacy and Aliyev’s foreign bribery.”
According to the Department of Justice, Oksuz, who chaired the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE), an organization affiliated with Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen, “admitted to, in truth, orchestrating a scheme to funnel money to fund the [2013 Congressional] trip from the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), the wholly state-owned national oil and gas company of Azerbaijan, and then concealed the true source of funding, which violated House travel regulations.”
The May/June, 2013, trip to Baku for the “USA-Azerbaijan: Vision for the Future,” reportedly had a guest list of 317 delegates from 42 states, including 11 sitting members of Congress and 75 state representatives, the former governors of New Mexico and Oklahoma as well as three ex-Obama White House insiders: political strategist David Plouffe, former press secretary Robert Gibbs and ex-deputy chief of staff Jim Messina.
A 2014 Houston Chronicle news account showed that all 11 members of Congress who attended the conference supported pro-Azerbaijani oil amendments in the U.S. House. This prompted the Office of Congressional Ethics to start a massive investigation into who actually funded the 2013 Baku conference and by 2015 it was clear that while Mr. Oksuz had personally signed all the paperwork stating that it was the Turquoise Council organizing and paying for the trips, it was actually the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) that had paid over $750,000 for the travel and accommodations alone.
Throughout that process, the ANCA called for transparency – that whatever the Office Congressional Ethics (OCE) found be made available to the public, to reveal the extent of Azerbaijani government manipulation and intervention in the U.S. political process. The ANCA led a grassroots campaign and joined civic groups calling for the release of the OCE report. By October, 2015, transparency triumphed, with the OCE’s 70-page report and some 1000-pages of investigative material turned over to the Department of Justice.
After the 2015 investigation, Oksuz fled the U.S. and reportedly took up residence in Armenia, where he set up a travel agency. In September, 2018, following an international warrant for his arrest, Armenian authorities remanded Oksuz to custody and eventually extradited him to the United States to face trial. It is unclear how a well-known pro-Azerbaijan lobbyist was allowed to set-up business in Armenia.
According to the Department of Justice, Oksuz will be sentenced on Feb. 11, 2019, before U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan for the District of Columbia.
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