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An independent external investigatory body of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is to look into allegations of corruption made against a number of current and former members of the Assembly. The investigation follows an article by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) detailing a $2.9 billion laundering scheme operated by the Azerbaijani authorities, which was allegedly used to bribe high level EU and UN figures.
The body will identify any practices contrary to the Assembly’s ethical standards, PACE states, and establish whether there is sufficient proof to take action against members or former members of the Assembly.
The Council of Europe’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has urged Azerbaijan to cooperate fully with the investigation, and to start their own independent and impartial inquiry into the allegations.
Following the revelations, the OCCRP’s website was blocked in Azerbaijan. The government issued a statement denouncing the allegations as ‘groundless, biased, and provocative’.
‘We know that behind this are George Soros and his henchmen who have gained a global image of swindlers, frauds, and liars against Azerbaijan and its leadership. Dirty acts of George Soros need to be seriously investigated’, says a statement issued by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev.
A UK-based slush fund
The Azerbaijani Laundromat, as the investigation calls it, was a complex money-laundering scheme which channeled $2.9 billion between 2012–2014 with the help of four UK-registered shell companies. This means that an average of $3 million was channelled from Azerbaijan every day, the Guardian explains.
The scheme spent money to gain influence by paying lobbyists and prominent European politicians, the investigation by the OCCRP, Denmark’s Berlingske, and the Guardian and several others has revealed.
According to the OCCRP, money was used to buy silence, with the transactions completed before Azerbaijani authorities jailed roughly 90 journalists, opposition politicians, and activists after 2014.
For example, one of the beneficiaries of the scheme was Luca Volontè, a senior Italian delegate at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe — which includes Azerbaijan. Volontè voted down a report in 2013 criticising Azerbaijan for its human rights record.
[Read more on OC Media: Investigation reveals secret $3 billion UK-based Azerbaijani slush fund]