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UK Judge Orders Family of Azerbaijani MP to Forfeit $7.6 Million


Javanshir Feyziyev, a member of Azerbaijan's parliament, is seen in an undated photo from his personal website. (javanshir.feyziyev.com)

A British judge this week ordered the family of an Azerbaijani lawmaker to forfeit some $7.6 million to the National Crime Agency on the grounds that the funds were illegally brought into Britain.

The judgment against the family of Javanshir Feyziyev, a member of Azerbaijan's parliament, relates to the so-called Azerbaijani Laundromat, a complex money-laundering scheme that was initially exposed by Danish newspaper Berlingske and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in 2017.

Records indicate that four United Kingdom-registered shell companies processed some $2.9 billion in transactions, which Azerbaijan's ruling elite were allegedly using to bribe European politicians, buy luxury goods and enrich themselves.

Azerbaijan's government routinely ranks low on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index reflecting the country's continuing struggle to make gains in democratic elections, judicial independence and free press.

"The current kleptocratic system owes its existence to corruption and bribery," Azerbaijani human rights defender and former prosecutor Rufat Safarov told VOA.

Once imprisoned by Azerbaijan authorities on what international human rights organizations deemed politically motivated charges, Safarov considers graft to be almost standard for governance in his country.

"The state governing structures — institutions tasked with the fight against corruption — not only fail to fulfill their functions, but in government structures, inclination toward bribery is ordinary," Safarov said.

According to economist Gubad Ibadoglu, in Azerbaijan, the fight against corruption is an imitation. In his view, the endemic corruption has affected judiciary, police and even social security organs of the state.

"Corruption is intertwined with political system and authoritarian governance," Ibadoglu told VOA, adding that all branches of the government are under the thumb of the executive branch.

Azerbaijani authorities, however, persistently reject such assessments of the country's record on corruption.

Gunay Selimzade, press officer for the prosecutor general, states that her government takes "intensive measures" to remedy corruption in the spheres of legislation, criminal investigation and raising public awareness.

"The fight against corruption in Azerbaijan via institutional and criminal investigative measures has been highly assessed by experts of the influential international organizations," she told VOA.

Kamran Aliyev, the country's chief prosecutor, recently touted some statistics as evidence of the ongoing struggle against corruption. According to him, police have closed criminal corruption investigations involving nearly 500 individuals in 2021.

Independent observers view such numbers more as an attempt to cover up the government's poor record of combating corruption. According to Ibadoglu, reducing corruption will depend on the establishment of rule of law and an independent judiciary that can investigate charges of corruption.

To date, very few top officials have been charged or prosecuted on charges stemming from financial scandals reported abroad, including the notorious Azerbaijani Laundromat case.

This story originated in VOA's Azerbaijan Service.

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