Large-scale corruption and economic crimes go hand in hand with human rights abuses in Azerbaijan

As we commemorate International Anti-Corruption Day and International Human Rights Day on 9-10 December, we are challenged by how little the international community has done to support Azerbaijani civil society and media in their pushback against corruption and control, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) said today.

“We are in shock after we have learned that top European officials intervened in European Investment Bank (EIB) deliberations over a public loan to a huge pipeline project that will carry natural gas from Azerbaijan. The three billion loan, provided to increasingly compromised regime soaked in corruption, would become the last nail in the coffin of civil society and media in Azerbaijan”, IRFS Director Emin Huseynov said.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) bank is considering loans in excess of €3 billion to two sections of the pipeline, from Azerbaijan to western Turkey and from Greece to southern Italy.

Earlier this year, a series of investigations across Europe, published on 4 September and led by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), has uncovered a complex money-laundering operation and a US$ 2.9 billion secret fund to buy political influence and launder Azerbaijan’s international image.

“Ironically, instead of demanding that Azerbaijani authorities launch an investigation into the unprecedented 3 billion money-laundering scheme, the EU is rushing to loan almost the same amount to the regime that allows corruption and money laundering to thrive”, Huseynov said.

Azerbaijan is risking expulsion from the Council of Europe for its failure to comply with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment to release opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov. The country is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index and sustained, mounting human rights crackdown has been well-documented in reports by international organisations and governments. The country’s president Ilham Aliyev is on RSF’s list of press freedom predators. His wife was appointed first vice-president in February, thereby becoming the country’s second highest official.

Azerbaijan’s government continues to wage a frantic crackdown on critics and dissenting voices. Right now, there are 16 journalists, human rights defenders, bloggers, writers and social media activists behind bars in Azerbaijan. The level of corruption has reached unprecedented heights.

“By providing the loan to Azerbaijan EU will only fuel repression and give Azerbaijani regime some good inspiration for further corruption and money laundering. We call on the European Union member states not to allow this to happen, and we call on people in the European Union to demand accountability from Brussels in the use of EU taxpayers’ money”, Huseynov said.

On the International Human Rights Day, IRFS urges more robust engagement by the EU and its member states on the Azerbaijani government’s despicable actions to silence independent media and civil society organisations in Azerbaijan.

On International Anti-Corruption Day, IRFS calls on International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to suspend all negotiations and agreements with Azerbaijan until its government conducts an open, transparent investigation into US$ 2.9 billion money-laundering scheme.

Finally, IRFS calls on Azerbaijan’s partners and donors to show solidarity with Azerbaijani independent media and civil society actors, and instead of fueling repressive machine with loans and contracts, ensure survival of remaining independent groups in Azerbaijan.

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