Report reveals ‘strong suspicion’ of corruption between Council of Europe, Azerbaijan

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By Sallyann Nicholls
Report reveals ‘strong suspicion’ of corruption between Council of Europe, Azerbaijan
Copyright  REUTERS

An investigation into alleged corruption in the Council of Europe has revealed there is “strong suspicion” that current and former members have flouted codes of conduct and “engaged in activity of a corruptive nature” amid efforts by Azerbaijan to whitewash its human rights record.

The 198-page report, published on Sunday, said individuals had accepted bribes in the form of hotel stays, luxury goods and prostitutes by Azerbaijan’s lobbyists.

Referring to a prior investigation in 2016, it read: “Expensive carpets worth thousands of euros had been given as gifts; so many that one Azerbaijani embassy had had its own room for them.”

The paper also noted an apparent “lack of transparency and sufficient regulation” of appointments to the Monitoring and Rules committees and voting processes which might have opened the door to the “exertion of improper influence, including that of a financial nature”.

The inquiry was sparked by the “Caviargate” scandal of 2013, which suggested members of the human rights body had accepted bribes to vote down a report asserting the existence of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

Michele Nicoletti, who was elected president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in January, told reporters Sunday: “The parliamentarians involved are invited to suspend their activity while a (PACE) committee examines their situation on a case-by-case basis.”

The Council aims to uphold human rights and the rule of law on the continent. It is comprised of 324 parliamentarians from 47 member states, 28 of which are from the European Union.

Global anti-corruption body Transparency International welcomed their investigation's findings, in which former president Pedro Agramunt and his links to Azerbaijan and its state oil company SOCAR were cited.

Advocacy advisor Adam Foldes told Euronews: "The investigators behind this report could not seize evidence or compel witness statements. However, based on the strength of the evidence for suspected corruption in this report, the national authorities of any countries that see the jurisdiction to open an investigation should do so."

The report comes six months after Council members agreed to tighten rules of conduct within the organisation. Under new measures, members must pledge not to “promise, give, request or accept” compensation in the course of their duties and submit a declaration of interest at the start of each annual session, which will be published online. Election observers and rapporteurs, who are tasked by the body to investigate and report issues, must also declare conflicts of interests under the new code.

The rules would further limit third-parties’ access to the Council’s premises in Strasbourg and ensure former PACE members involved in paid consultancy do not benefit from specific advantages.