Azerbaijan’s ruling elite operated a secret $2.8bn (£2.2bn) slush fund for two years to pay off European politicians and make luxury purchases, the BBC reports:
The money was allegedly channelled through four UK-based opaque companies. People said to have been paid include European politicians who adopted a favourable attitude to the government. There is no suggestion that all the recipients were aware of the original source of the money, the report said.
From 2012 to 2014, even as the Azerbaijani government arrested civil society activists and journalists wholesale, members of the country’s ruling elite were using a secret slush fund to pay off European politicians, buy luxury goods, launder money, and otherwise benefit themselves, according to the report from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:
Banking records revealing some 2.5 billion euro (US$ 2.9 billion) in transactions were leaked to the Danish newspaper Berlingske, which shared them with OCCRP. The two outlets then organized a collaborative investigation to track down where the money went.
The result is the Azerbaijani Laundromat — so called because the vast sums that passed through it were laundered through a series of shell companies to disguise their origin. The project reveals the many uses to which the country’s kleptocratic ruling clique puts some of its billions.
Among other things, the money bought silence. During this period, the Azerbaijani government threw more than 90 human rights activists, opposition politicians, and journalists (such as OCCRP journalist Khadija Ismayilova – above right) into prison on politically motivated charges.