Mehman Huseynov, a prominent Azerbaijani blogger who is running for 9 February’s parliamentary elections, has claimed that his opponent, sitting MP Faraj Guliyev, offered him ₼15,000 ($9,000) to withdraw his candidacy.
In a recording released by Huseynov on Saturday, a man he identified as Guliyev is heard demanding he withdraw.
Guliyev currently holds the Surakhani District 2nd Constituency seat in Baku, where both men are currently running. He chairs the National Revival Movement Party.
‘Our electorate is the same electorate. To divide our votes would only serve the [ruling New Azerbaijan party]’, the man in the recording says.
‘You are respected and famous. If we both stand, we will split the vote and advantage a third candidate.’
‘I want to call on you to become my supporter, to be close to me, so that we could win together. If I am elected tomorrow, I will support you.’
‘I am confident that I will win. I’m not saying you are weak. You are strong — as a blogger.’
‘If you accept what I am offering you, I will protect you during the elections.’
‘I am not offering you a bribe. I am ready to pay your medical costs of ₼10,000-₼15,000 ($6,000-$9,000), or more’, he said.
Huseynov replies that he will discuss the issue with his team and that for the moment he will continue ‘their fight’ at the ballot box.
Guliyev is heard in the recording offering tumHuseynov future financial support to start a youth NGO if elected.
Possible criminal liability
Huseynov told the Turan news agency that Guliyev called him several times and insisted on the meeting, which took place at Guliyev’s office. Huseynov said he attended with a representative of his campaign and a journalist.
‘I rejected his offer and I refused to withdraw my candidacy in exchange for money or any position’, Huseynov said.
In a statement, Guliyev did not deny meeting with Huseynov, but claimed that he did not offer him a bribe. He said he had only offered to pay medical expenses for Huseynov because he had told him he may have a tumour.
‘He said he would withdraw from the election if his medical results were bad. I told him: “whatever the [laboratory] results are, medical treatment will cost around ₼10,000-₼15,000. I will support you”,’ Guliyev wrote.
He also accused Huseynov of cutting a 45-minute conversation down to 6 minutes.
Huseynov told OC Media that the reason he didn’t air the whole conversation was that the rest of it ‘was not connected to me’.
‘The part that was connected to me was about 10 minutes, which I made public. The other part of the conversation is not relevant to me or to Faraj Guliyev’, he said.
Huseynov said that he had appealed to the General Prosecutor’s Office to open a criminal case on corruption charges. ‘If he offered me a bribe, perhaps he also offered money to the polling station chairmen, commission members, school headteachers’, he said.
He also said he had appealed to the Central Election Commission (CEC) to cancel Guliyev’s candidacy.
‘I went to both governmental bodies and was told that my complaints have been accepted, and after being investigated they will be made public’, he said.
According to Huseynov, two other candidates in the constituency — Etibar Aliyev and Orhan Kengerli — also demanded an investigation into the alleged attempted bribery.
Akif Gurbanov, a lawyer and chair of the Institute for Democratic Initiatives, a local pro-democracy group, told OC Media that Guliyev could face criminal charges.
He said that from the section of the recording released by Huseynov, it would seem Guliyev may have violated both the country’s anti-bribery laws and electoral code.
‘Of course, in such a case it is also possible that [Guliyev’s] candidacy may be cancelled’, he added.
Gurbanov, a former member of the CEC, said he hoped Huseynov had the whole recording of the conversation and had presented it to the electoral committee and the General Prosecutor’s office.
Who is Mehman Huseynov
Huseynov, 26, is a prominent blogger in Azerbaijan who has written extensively about corruption.
In March 2017, Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of defamation after accusing the police of abducting and torturing him. In December 2018, two months before he was scheduled to be released, new charges of injuring a prison officer were brought against him.
The new charges, as well as a hunger strike by Huseynov, led to thousands of people protesting in Baku demanding his release. Local and international rights groups, as well as the European Parliament and others, also called for Huseynov to be released.
In January, the authorities dropped the new charges against him.