BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Continuing the series of articles we published in the last two weeks about corruption in Azerbaijan, we wish now to reveal additional scandalous details about funds deposited in a Malta bank by family members of Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, has emerged at the center of Azerbaijan’s financial scandals. London’s The Guardian newspaper reported last week that Muscat’s wife, Michelle, had received large amounts of money from Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of Aliyev.
Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta revealed “a series of payments, in the form of loans, had been routed to Egrant [a Panama-registered shell company which belongs to the wife of Malta’s Prime Minister]. The largest, for $1.07 million, was allegedly made in March of last year. They are claimed to have come from an account at Pilatus bank belonging to Al Sahra FZCO. And the owner of Al Sahra was allegedly the daughter of Azerbaijan’s leader, Ilham Aliyev,” The Guardian reported. Muscat and his wife have denied receiving payments related to Egrant.
Significantly, Azerbaijan’s state oil company happens to be a shareholder of Malta’s new power station. One of the accounts at Pilatus bank is in the name of Konrad Mizzi, Energy minister of Malta. Another account is in the name of President Aliyev’s daughter, Leyla Aliyeva. Mizzi and Malta Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri, “had set up two Panama-registered companies four months after entering office in 2013. A third shell company, Egrant, was created at the same time by the same Maltese accountant.” Prime Minister Muscat and his wife hosted the Aliyevs during their visit to Malta in 2014.
In 2005, President Aliyev’s wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, recently appointed by her husband as Vice President of Azerbaijan as his possible successor, was named as one of two managers of the Panamanian UF Universe Foundation, according to “Panama Papers” documents published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). “The UF Universe Foundation would have ultimate control of AtaHolding, a major Azeri conglomerate. The 2005 proposal named President Aliyev’s three children in addition to other senior members of the Azerbaijan’s tax office as beneficiaries…. In addition, Aliyev’s daughters controlled a Panama-incorporated company and two others in the British Virgin Islands. The Panamanian company held a significant stake in a consortium of companies exploring gold fields in Azerbaijan. Aliyev’s sister was the sole shareholder and owner of a BVI [British Virgin Islands] company registered in December 2005. Registration records list her at an address in a West London neighborhood where average home prices touch $9 million.”
In an article published on May 9, 2017, The Guardian further reported that members of the European Parliament “are openly calling for [Prime Minister Muscat’s] departure amid a growing corruption scandal involving his wife, a Panamanian shell company, and alleged payments from the President of Azerbaijan’s daughter. The European Parliament’s inquiry committee invited Muscat to its headquarters in Strasbourg to give evidence on the accusations against him. Muscat declined the invitation.
Investigative journalist Galizia reported that a woman who had worked as executive assistant to the owner of Pilatus bank, Syed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, found in a safe and scanned bank account paperwork naming Michelle Muscat. The executive assistant told the reporter that “she was given a list of companies, maybe eight or 10 names, and told that these were to be given special attention for payment transactions. The companies included Willerby Inc., Tillgate Inc., Hearnville Inc., Egrant Inc., and Al Sahra FZCO,” a company owned by Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of President Aliyev, according to the Times of Malta. The executive assistant was quoted as stating that she had seen the forms for the opening of the bank account. “Payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Al Sahra FZCO, always marked as loan payments, were not made to their accounts at Pilatus bank, but to accounts they had at a bank in Dubai…. Once, she said, the bank’s CEO, Mr. Ghanbari, received instructions from Mr. Hasheminejad for the transfer of some $400,000 to a Maltese woman who lives in New York and has a jewelry business. It had to be marked as loan payment.”
The executive assistant confessed that she turned over the documents she had copied from the bank to the authorities in Malta because “I could not stand to read any more of the lies, denials and half-truths. It was too much!”