Authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested the country’s former head of counterintelligence and another former security official for extortion and abuse of office.
Nizami Shirinov, who previously headed the counterintelligence department at the now-defunct Ministry of National Security and Movlam Shikhaliyev, who headed the ministry’s Main Investigation Department were taken into custody on Tuesday.
The Ministry of National Security was disbanded in 2015 with several senior officials jailed at the time.
According to the Prosecutor’s General office, an investigation was launched after appeals by members of the public regarding illegal actions committed by the pair.
Shikhaliyev and Shirinov were charged with aggravated extortion, falsification of evidence, soliciting a bribe in aggravating circumstances, abuse of power in aggravating circumstances, and abuse of office. They were remanded into four months of pre-trial detention by the Baku Military Court.
According to prosecutors, Shirinov demanded large bribes in three cases and seized property and money from individuals through threats and abuse of power.
Charges against Shikhaliyev include falsifying evidence in nine cases together with his subordinates and demanding large bribes in four others.
Shortly after their arrest, one of their alleged victims, businessperson Namil Rzayev, publicly accused them of extorting money from him.
‘They sold my house. I was in Movlam Shikhaliyev’s room. He told me: “The chief has an order, either you should be arrested or you should pay”. I gave $300,000 to Movlam and $300,000 to Vusal Alakbarov’.
The arrests come just two weeks after authorities charged Lieutenant General Rovshan Akbarov, the former commander of the Baku Army Corps, over a 2001 murder.
The dissolution of the Ministry of National Security
Local media have claimed that both Shikhaliyev and Shirinov were close to the former Minister of National Security, Eldar Mahmudov, and that their arrest on Tuesday could be a part of a campaign against him.
The Ministry was abolished suddenly in December 2015, with Mahmudov, dismissed. It was replaced by two agencies, the State Security Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service, whose heads are appointed by the President.
Twenty-one of the ministry’s employees were arrested and convicted on charges including extortion, abuse of office, and illegal wiretapping, with several sentenced to long prison terms. Only two of the generals convicted, Elchin Guliyev and Teymur Guliyev, remain in custody, after others were granted early release.
Shirinov was dismissed at the time, however, neither Shikhaliyev, Shirinov, nor the minister, Eldar Mahmudov, were arrested.
Several people close to Mahmudov have been arrested previously. In December 2015, Mahmudov’s brother-in-law, Jahangir Hajiyev, who headed the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan, was arrested. He was sentenced to a total of 16.5 years in prison on charges including extortion and abuse of power.
In November 2017, Mahmudov’s cousin and assistant, Vugar Mahmudov, was arrested and is currently on trial.
When Mahmudov was dismissed and the ministry abolished in 2015, local media offered several theories as to why the authorities had moved against him. These included that Mahmudov had misappropriated large amounts of state funds along with his brother-in-law, that the ministry had been listening in on the head of state, or that Mahmudov had connections with Israeli intelligence which Russia objected to.
Some have also connected it with a speech by President Aliyev at a cabinet meeting in October 2015 in which he criticised local authorities and law enforcement agencies for ‘creating problems’ for entrepreneurs. ‘Entrepreneurs do not owe anyone but must pay state taxes. Entrepreneurs are strangled, robbed, and offended. This is intolerable,’ he said.