BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
This sensational information was exposed by the international press on October 3. While this is not the first time it has been revealed that the family of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has purchased hundreds of millions of dollars of properties in foreign countries through offshore companies, it is the latest and most detailed such scandalous news.
The report about Aliyev’s 11-year-old son Heydar Aliyev was exposed by the Pandora Papers — the largest collection of leaks of concealed financial documents. These secret files were organized by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with the participation of over 650 reporters worldwide. The records contain “nearly 12 million documents and files from 14 financial service companies in several countries, the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Switzerland,” according to the BBC.
While many of “the revealed transactions involve no legal wrongdoing,” there are serious “concerns that some property buyers could be hiding money-laundering activities,” the BBC stated. “Offshore companies can offer to help people hide dodgy cash or avoid tax. They are using those offshore accounts, those offshore trusts, to buy hundreds of millions of dollars of property in other countries, and to enrich their own families, at the expense of their citizens,” added Fergus Shiel from ICIJ.
The BBC went on to report that “The Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family, who have been accused of looting their own country, are one example. The investigation found the Aliyevs and their close associates have secretly been involved in property deals in the UK worth more than £400 million [$540 million]. Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family, long accused of corruption, have built a vast offshore network to hide their money.” Pres. Aliyev’s annual salary is $228,000.
BBC also revealed that the Aliyevs bought 17 buildings in the UK, including an entire block of office buildings in the posh Mayfair area of London for $45 million in 2009 for the president’s 11-year-old son, Heydar Aliyev, who was then in grade school.
The Aliyevs bought another building in London for $47 million in 2008 and sold it in 2018 for $89 million, making a profit of $42 million. The Aliyevs sold that property “to the Crown Estate — the Queen’s property empire that is managed by The [UK] Treasury and raises cash for the nation.” BBC reported that “The Crown Estate said it carried out the checks required in law at the time of purchase but is now looking into the matter.”
A separate article on the ICIJ website, under the title of “The Power Players,” highlighted the incredible wealth of Azerbaijan President’s three children: Arzu Aliyeva, Heydar Aliyev, and Leyla Aliyeva.
The ICIJ article explained that “Ilham Aliyev became president of Azerbaijan in a 2003 election widely regarded as manipulated…. He has de facto control over the state oil fund, which generates annual revenue of $9 billion. His presidency has been marked by brutal political crackdowns and human rights violations, including the imprisonment and torture of journalists and dissidents. Despite accusations of running a kleptocracy, Aliyev maintains close relationships with European leaders through what has come to be known as ‘caviar diplomacy.’ The 2017 Azerbaijani Laundromat investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed how almost $3 billion linked to Aliyev was laundered through shell companies, with much of the proceeds spent on gifts for European politicians. Other media investigations, including ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks and Panama Papers, have shown that the Aliyev family controls significant wealth in Azerbaijan and that the president’s three children also own properties in the U.K. and Dubai.”
ICIJ further revealed that “The Pandora Papers provide a view of the startling scale of the Aliyev children’s luxury property investments. They were shareholders of 44 companies registered in the British Virgin Islands between 2006 and 2018. The records show the children owned five companies used to buy more than $120 million worth of high-end London properties between 2006 and 2009, many of which were later sold for vast profits.”
Besides the $45 million London office building owned by then 11-year-old Heydar Aliyev, his sister Arzu purchased anther office building one block away through an offshore company for $47 million. “In 2009, a company owned by the eldest child, Leyla Aliyeva, bought a $13.5 million corner building behind London’s Oxford Circus, which has housed a string of businesses run by Aliyev family friends,” according to ICIJ.
In an effort to obscure the ownership of these properties, “starting in 2013, the children transferred shares in their offshore companies to their maternal grandfather, Arif Pashayev. The holdings were later transferred to a series of trusts based in the Isle of Man, a British dependency and secrecy haven. Pashayev and two close associates bought further properties in and around London worth more than $500 million between 2006 and 2017,” ICIJ revealed. Not surprisingly, none of the Aliyev family members responded to ICIJ’s repeated requests for comment.
While it is disgraceful that funds belonging to the citizens of Azerbaijan were misused, the good news for Armenians is that Azerbaijan did not use these large sums to purchase more arms, to inflict further damage on the people of Armenia and Artsakh!