The Guardian publishes an investigative report on the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” a $2.9 billion scheme to pay prominent Europeans in a secretive lobbying effort, as well as to buy luxury goods and launder money through British companies. Leaked documents show Azerbaijan’s ruling elite and their affiliates made more than 16,000 covert payments from 2012 to 2014, funneling the money through shady British firms to host of recipients, including politicians and journalists. The lobbying operation aimed to deflect criticism of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and promote a positive image of Azerbaijan.
One recipient of Azeri money funneled through British firms was Kalin Mitrev, the husband of UNESCO chief Irina Bokova and a man who was appointed last year to the board of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Mitrev received at least 425,000 euros for private consulting work from a UK-based Azeri company. Meanwhile, Bokova gave one of UNESCO’s highest honors, the Mozart Medal, to Mehriban Aliyeva, the first lady and vice president of Azerbaijan. Bokova also hosted a photo exhibition at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris that was called Azerbaijan — A Land of Tolerance. The event was organized by the Heydar Aliyev foundation.
Another player in the “Azerbaijani Laundromat” is the Russian government, which funneled $29.4 million into the scheme through the state agency Rosoboronexport. Several of the transactions were linked to the $20 billion Global Laundromat scheme, which operated out of Moscow between 2010 and 2014.
At a European level, the money laundering and lobbying scheme may have influenced at least one vote. Several former members of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly received payments, and in 2013, Council of Europe members voted against a report that was critical of Azerbaijan.