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US congressperson accused of accepting $360,000 in Azerbaijani bribes

10 May 2024
Azerbaijani Ambassador Elin Suleymanov (left) and US Congressperson Henry Cuellar (right). ABC via Cuellar’s website.

US Congressperson Henry Cuellar was indicted for accepting around $360,000 in bribes from SOCAR in exchange for lobbying for Baku in Washington.

Henry Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, were indicted on money laundering, conspiracy, and bribery charges by a Texas court on 3 May, and were released after posting a $100,000 bond.

They were accused of accepting a total of $600,000 in bribes from a Mexican bank and an unidentified state-owned Azerbaijani petrol company, verified by OC Media to have been SOCAR.

Their indictment came after a two-year FBI probe into Congressperson Cuellar’s ties to Azerbaijan.

The couple were found to have received bribes that were laundered through shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar, with the indictment indicating that the congressperson had ‘promised to use the power and prestige of his office to advance Azerbaijan’s […] interests in the United States’.

‘Henry Cuellar agreed, among other things, to influence a series of legislative measures relating to Azerbaijan’s conflict with neighbouring Armenia; to insert language favoured by Azerbaijan into legislation and committee reports governing certain security and economic aid programs; to deliver a pro-Azerbaijan speech on the floor of the House of Representatives; and to consult with representatives of Azerbaijan regarding their efforts to lobby the United States government’.

The Cuellars’ 54-page indictment detailed extensive communications between the couple and Azerbaijani handlers — listed in the report as Diplomat-1, Individual-1, and Individual-3. The indictment indicated that Diplomat-1 was Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the US at the time he established communications with Cuellar.


Elin Suleymanov was Azerbaijan’s ambassador in Washington between 2011 and 2021.

It said that Congressperson Cuellar first developed ties with Azerbaijan in early January 2013, after a Turkish businessman based in Houston, Texas sponsored his visit to Turkey and Azerbaijan, where he met with high-ranking Azerbaijani officials and figures from a state-owned petrol company.

While the indictment did not specify which company Cuellar had dealings with, SOCAR is the only petrol company owned by the Azerbaijani state. This matches up with the indictment report, which indicated that the foreign petrol company the Cuellars were in touch with had an office in Washington DC between 2012 and 2015.

Azerbaijani pro-government media reported that SOCAR bought a building in DC in 2012 for around $12 million.

In 2015, SOCAR was found by The Washington Post to have secretly funded an all-expenses-paid trip for 10 lawmakers and 32 staffers to Baku in 2013. They reported that the US lawmakers and their staff received ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of travel expenses, silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000’.

‘You are the best El Jefe!’

Correspondences between Cuellar and former Azerbaijani Ambassador Elin Suleymanov show the ambassador reviewing Azerbaijan-related resolutions and speeches penned by Cuellar.

In one quoted exchange, Cuellar shared a draft of a letter he had penned to a high-ranking US official with Suleymanov, in which he accused Armenia of being a proxy for Russia.

Suleymanov praised Cuellar’s work, saying ‘you are the best El Jefe!’, to which Cuellar replied ‘yes sir’.

The indictment also notes that Suleymanov discussed having Cuellar push against another congressperson’s resolution for funding demining efforts in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2018.

The former ambassador lobbied Cuellar to block additional resolutions supporting Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh.

A staff member working for Cuellar also sent multiple emails to US State Department officials ‘advising and pressuring them to renew the U.S. passport of [Suleymanov’s] daughter’.

The indictment was met with little reaction from Baku. However, on Tuesday, Zahid Oruj, the head of the Azerbaijani Parliament’s Human Rights Committee stated that the US authorities had ‘accused congressman Henry Cuellar of taking bribes from Azerbaijan and lynched our country’s friends’.

Read in Russian on SOVA.News.