UK judge orders family of Azerbaijani MP to forfeit $7.6m

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A British judge this week ordered the family of an Azerbaijani lawmaker to confiscate some $7.6 million from the National Crime Agency on the grounds that the funds had been smuggled into Britain.

The judgment against the family of Javanshir Feyziyev, a member of the Azerbaijani parliament, relates to the so-called Azerbaijani laundromata complex money laundering scheme initially denounced by the Danish newspaper Berlingske and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in 2017.

Records say four UK-registered shell companies handled some $2.9 billion in transactions, which Azerbaijan’s ruling elite allegedly used to bribe European politicians, buy luxury goods and enrich themselves.

Azerbaijani government consistently ranks bottom Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index reflecting the country’s ongoing struggle to win democratic elections, judicial independence and freedom of the press.

“The current kleptocratic system owes its existence to corruption and bribery,” Azerbaijani human rights defender and former prosecutor Rufat Safarov told VOA.

Once imprisoned by Azerbaijani authorities on what international human rights organizations considered politically motivated charges, Safarov considers corruption to be almost the norm for governance in his country.

“State government structures – institutions dealing with the fight against corruption – not only fail to fulfill their functions, but in government structures the inclination towards corruption is ordinary,” Safarov said.

According to economist Gubad Ibadoglu, in Azerbaijan the fight against corruption is an imitation. According to him, endemic corruption has affected the judicial, police and even social security organs of the state.

“Corruption is closely linked to the political system and authoritarian governance,” Ibadoglu told VOA, adding that all branches of government are under the control of the executive.

Azerbaijani authorities, however, consistently reject such assessments of the country’s corruption record.

Gunay Selimzade, the attorney general’s press secretary, says her government is taking “intensive steps” to address corruption in the areas of legislation, criminal investigation and public awareness.

“The fight against corruption in Azerbaijan through institutional and criminal investigative measures has been highly appreciated by experts from influential international organizations,” she told VOA.

Kamran Aliyev, the country’s chief prosecutor, recently presented some statistics as evidence of the ongoing fight against corruption. According to him, the police have closed criminal corruption investigations involving nearly 500 people in 2021.

Independent observers see the figures more as an attempt to cover up the government’s poor record in fighting corruption. According to Ibadoglu, reducing corruption will depend on establishing the rule of law and an independent judiciary that can investigate corruption charges.

Nowadays, very few senior officials have been charged or prosecuted on charges stemming from financial scandals reported abroad, including the notorious Azerbaijani laundromat case.

This story originated in VOA’s Azerbaijan service.

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