Photo: Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with Azerbaijan’s dictator Ilham Aliyev
Azerbaijani oligarchs consider Malta to be “one of its provinces”, according to an extensive report into how the South Caucasus nation uses “caviar diplomacy” to buy the influence of Western politicians.
“According to our sources in Baku, Malta is considered by Azerbaijani oligarchs as one of the ‘provinces’ of Azerbaijan,” the report by the Civic Solidarity Platform, published in March, states. “Malta is one of the key locations where corrupt Azerbaijani officials kept their money in offshore banks, along with Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Dubai, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.”
The report flags how Malta’s Speaker Anglu Farrugia had led several delegations to observe elections in Azerbaijan and how he always spoke positively of them, ignoring electoral fraud and gross human rights violations.
“In October 2013, Farrugia described the presidential elections in Azerbaijan as ‘fair, democratic and transparent’,” the report states. “His assessment sharply conflicted with that of ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) observers who said they had documented ‘widespread irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and what appeared to be fraudulent counting’.”
The report questions the timing of Farrugia’s 2013 visit to Azerbaijan, noting it came only a few days before the ElectroGas consortium, which includes Azerbaijani state-owned Socar Trading, won a bid to construct and operate a LNG power station in Delimara.
Farrugia, a former Labour deputy leader, visited Azerbaijan again in 2015 when the country held controversial parliamentary elections, and again the following year to observe a constitutional referendum, as head of a mission by the European Academy of Elections Observation.
The report also flags former Labour MP Joe Debono Grech’s close links with Azerbaijan, noting he was in 2009 appointed co-rapporteur on human rights in Azerbaijan by the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly PACE, getting the role ahead of a Norwegian MP “known for her human rights credentials”.
“Later, when Debono Grech left this position, during a PACE debate on Azerbaijan in 2015 he failed to make any mention of imprisoned human rights activist Annar Mammadli, after having himself flagged Mammadli’s politically motivated imprisonment in 2013,” the report reads. “In a debate on a new report on Azerbaijan’s ailing democratic institutions he complained that Azerbaijan was never absent from the Parliamentary Assembly’s agenda and warned that ‘the oil and gas-rich republic could head down the road of Libya or Iraq if president Ilham Aliyev is removed.’
It adds Debono Grech was part of a scheme developed by key Azerbaijani lobbyists in PACE to defeat a human rights report condemning the Aliyev regime’s treatment of political prisoners.
Simon Busuttil questions Malta links to Azerbaijan slush fund
Earlier today, outgoing PN leader Simon Busuttil questioned whether any Maltese politician has benefited from a secret $2.8 billion slush fund, which Azerbaijani’s elite had used to bribe European politicians as part of their “caviar diplomacy”.
— Simon Busuttil (@SimonBusuttil) September 5, 2017
Details of the scheme, nicknamed the Azerbaijani Laundromat, were leaked to Danish newspaper Berlingske and shared with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and other newspapers – including The Guardian.
The money was channelled through four UK-based opaque companies and sent to sympathetic journalists and politicians, including several former members of the Council of Europe’s PACE group, as part of a large-scale lobbying effort to deflect criticism against Aliyev’s regime. There is no suggestion all the recipients were aware of the original source of the money.