Jailed Businessman Testifies in Akif Chovdarov’s Trial

> Housing Construction Cooperative (HCC) chairman Ilham Gasimov: The black masked men of the Ministry of National Security (MNS) entered the restaurant hall on the wedding day;

> The businessman noted that he had filed a civil claim of more than AZN 1 million against the defendants for being forced to pay money at the MNS on several occasions and various pretexts.

On 5 April, Baku Military Court chairman Habib Hasanov presided over a hearing hosted by Sabunchu District Court in the criminal case of former head of the General Directorate for Energy and Transport Security of the dissolved Ministry of National Security (MNS) Major General Akif Chovdarov, former head of the 1st department Salim Mammadov, former head of the 2nd department Akif Aliyev and former deputy head of the 1st division of the 3rd department Orkhan Osmanov. Journalists were denied access to the courtroom.

Speaking to journalists after the hearing, Akif Chovdarov’s lawyer Sadig Rasulov said Real HCC’s currently jailed chairman, the victim in the case Ilham Gasimov had been brought to the hearing.

Note that, Ilham Gasimov has been sentenced to 15 years in jail by Baku Grave Crimes Court, which found him guilty of defrauding prominent poet and businessman Gulaga Tanha (Gambarov) of his AZN 13.5 million. Later, the Court of Appeal reduced his jail term by 2 years.

Ilham Gasimov confirmed his investigation statement while being questioned in court. He testified that children and women were frightened during the operation in the restaurant. “The black masked men entered the hall. Women and children were scared,” he said.

While answering the lawyers’ questions at the hearing, Ilham Gasimov could not answer the question on whether there were videotapes from that wedding. According to him, the MNS officers took and destroyed the videotapes afterwards.

According to the lawyer, there were contradictions in Ilham Gasimov’s testimony. Therefore, his investigation statement was read out.

Ilham Gasimov’s investigation statement read that a person, whom he did not know, called him in 2007 and said ‘your brother Islam and Tahir are at the MNS, Akif Chovdarov wants to see you’. He quoted Chovdarov as telling him that his brother was making apartment sales in USD and would be arrested because of that. Chovdarov demanded USD 500,000 of him in return for his brother’s release.

Gasimov’s statement further read that next time the MNS officers came to his HCC’s office on Khan Shushinski Street in the winter of 2009 and took him to the MNS along with the documents of his company. At the MNS, Chovdarov angrily told him that he had swindled a man by name Rauf of USD 150,000. Chovdarov told him that Rauf was a close friend of Eldar Mahmudov. Gasimov’s assertion that he did not know the person by name Rauf was of no use. According to Gasimov, he was made to pay another 250,000 on this pretext.

According to Gasimov’s statement, his son was abducted in September of 2015. The businessman claims that Chovdarov told him that his son was using drugs and demanded 300,000 of him, and they eventually wrested 50,000 from him.

On 14 September 2015, Gasimov’s friends Tofig Ibrahimov and Namig Orujov were participating in a wedding ceremony in Sofia restaurant. According to Gasimov, Tofig Ibrahimov has a business in Moscow and is a Russian national. He had further stated that a number of armed MNS officers twisted

Namig’s arms and pinned him to the floor on the wedding day: “They beat and handcuffed him. They also took Tofig’s car parked outside the restaurant and his driver Gulaga to the MNS. Later, Tofig called his friend Akif Mustafayev (known for his nickname ‘Shark’ and as one of the most loyal men of former minister of national security Eldar Mahmudov).”

According to Gasimov, at the MNS, they demanded USD 1 million of Tofig. Eventually, Chovdarov wrung USD 300,000 from Tofig and USD 100,000 from Namig Orujov.

Chovdarov’s lawyers said Gasimov’s testimony was inconsistent with his statement and asked him questions in that regard. He responded to questions by saying ‘I do not remember’.

Sadig Rasulov further stated that Ilham Gasimov claimed to have personally spoken to Chovdarov on the phone. “He says they had talked, but the materials of the criminal case show no phone talk with the numbers in Ilham Gasimov’s use until 2015,” Rasulov said.

Afterwards, Ilham Gasimov’s former bodyguard Agil Aliyev was questioned. According to the lawyer, Aliyev’s testimony also contradicted his investigation statement. The former bodyguard noted that he had accompanied Ilham Gasimov to the MNS twice.

The lawyer also underlined that the testimony of Ilham Gasimov’s former driver Elshan also had contradictions. “I twice went to the MNS together with Mr Ilham Gasimov in 2009 and 2010. At the time, the money was ready in the car beforehand. Mr Gasimov took the money to the administrative building of the MNS,” the lawyer quoted the witness saying.

According to the lawyer, however, Ilham Gasimov had testified that he had not taken the money to the MNS himself, but his business partner Murshid had brought it after him. “Both the bodyguard and the driver exposed the mistakes in Ilham Gasimov’s testimony. Both of them denied having seen Murshid at the MNS and noted that Ilham Gasimov had taken the money himself,” the lawyer said.

It was also announced at the hearing that Ilham Gasimov had filed a civil claim of more than AZN 1 million against Akif Chovdarov and others.

The proceedings will continue on 10 April.

Background: Akif Chovdarov and others are charged with illegal imprisonment resulting by inadvertence in the death of the victim or other serious consequences; misappropriation or squandering committed by an organised group in a large amount; banditry; extortion; illegal possession of a weapon; infringement of the legislation on operative search activity, committed with use of technical means designed to secretly obtain information; receiving a bribe; service forgery; and, abuse and excess of authority, committed by a group of people with use of a weapon.

In order to ensure the payment of the damages caused to the victims, a total of 33 million 466 thousand AZN worth of property and money belonging to defendants Akif Chovdarov, Salim Mammadov, Akif Aliyev and Orkhan Osmanov, including 8 million 967 thousand AZN worth of trade and service facilities, greenhouses, fishing farms and other property complexes and land plots, 24 million 445 thousand AZN worth of detached houses, apartments and vehicles, and 37 thousand AZN worth of jewellery products have been attached to court decisions.

The Ministry of National Security was dissolved under a Presidential decree in December 2015 and was replaced by two new agencies, the State Security Service and the Foreign Security Service.

While in office, Akif Chovdarov’s name was repeatedly mentioned in connection with pressures against journalists. In February 2008, Azadliq newspaper reporter Agil Khalil was attacked by Chief of MNS General Directorate, Colonel Akif Chovdarov and Directorate employee Daghbayi Allahverdiyev while filming the felling of trees in olive gardens in Baku. The journalist was beaten up and sustained injuries to his face, hand, chest and head and a broken finger. The attack was filmed by accidental passers-by and uploaded on the internet. After that, the journalist was persecuted by Chovdarov, repeatedly threatened and illegally prevented from leaving the country. Ultimately, the journalist managed to leave the country.

Former political prisoner Eynulla Fatullayev also made intriguing revelations about Chovdarov. He noted that Chovdarov had visited him at the MNS detention centre and threatened that they would do to him what they had once done to Elmar Huseynov.

It should also be noted that MNS General Akif Chovdarov has filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population. In his lawsuit, he sought to be sent a fact sheet from the Department for Work with Military Personnel and Persons with Special Ranks of the State Social Protection Fund under the Ministry and to be granted pension. The case was considered by Baku Administrative Economic Court #1 and the proceedings in the case were suspended.

Chovdarov has appealed this decision to a higher court. The appeal will be heard under the chairmanship of Judge Mirza Tagizade of Baku Court of Appeal on 5 April.

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