An investigation conducted by a group of European newspapers has revealed that Azerbaijan’s ruling elite ran a secret €2.5 billion slush fund to pay bribes to politicians and make luxury purchases.
Papers including France’s Le Monde and the UK’s Guardian claim to have uncovered evidence that the country’s leadership used an opaque network of companies based in Britain to funnel money to European politicians who had adopted a favourable stance towards the former Soviet republic.
There is no suggestion that any of the recipients of the funds are guilty of any wrongdoing, the papers said.
Azerbaijan’s leadership, which has been accused of multiple human rights abuses, the rigging of elections and widespread corruption, is said to have used the companies to disguise the source of thousands of payments made to officials and journalists in other countries who have portrayed the oil-rich nation in a positive light.
The Guardian claims the revelations have again highlighted how loose regulation in the UK makes the country an attractive destination for those who wish to move large sums of money around the world without coming to the attention of tax authorities and regulators.
Although it remains unclear where the money that passed through these companies came from, the papers claim there is clear evidence of its connection to the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which published the results an investigation dubbed the Azerbaijani Laundromat, funds which passed through the companies made their way to various countries including Germany, France, Turkey, Iran and Kazakhstan.
British Prime Minister Theresa May this morning faced calls for an official investigation into how the UK firms could be used in the money laundering scheme.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told 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.”
Global anti-corruption organisation Transparency International also called for an investigation into the allegations.
“It is now apparent that some members of the Council of Europe were paid to vote down a highly critical report on Azerbaijan’s human rights record and election process,” the group said in a statement.
“In addition, the investigations show how money was funnelled through secret companies in the UK and the Estonian branch of Denmark’s Danske Bank from an Azeri slush fund…
“Transparency International is asking people to sign and send a letter to political representatives from their countries at the Council of Europe calling for a full investigation into the allegations and for sanctions of any wrongdoing.”