A German MP is now facing the consequences of having accepted money from Azerbaijani lobbyists and failing to declare it to the German parliament, with a possible maximum fine of €60,000 amid calls for her resignation.
Karin Strenz, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, was one of the 13 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expelled for life in July 2018 for accepting bribes from the Azerbaijani government from a slush fund nicknamed the Azerbaijani Laundromat.
The story was broken in 2017 by a group of investigative journalists at the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and revealed the existence of a €2.9 billion slush fund that was being used to gloss over the troubling human rights record of the country, in multiple EU Member States, as well as the Council of Europe and UNESCO.
Through four shell companies registered in the UK, the Azerbaijani regime was found to be laundering money that was then used to pay off European politicians over a two-year period.
Malta was not immune to the Azerbaijani link as members of the Azeri ruling elite were also found to have held accounts at former Pilatus Bank in Malta whose owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad is now facing charges that carry a 125-year prison sentence in America.
Also, a 2018 Freedom Files report highlighted how Speaker Anġlu Farrugia had observed elections in Azerbaijan while always speaking positively about them, ignoring electoral fraud and gross human rights violations. It also described as “good timing”, the way Farrugia was monitoring 2013 elections a few days before the Electrogas consortium, which includes SOCAR, won a bid to supply Malta with natural gas.
German MP Strenz was found to have taken money from the slush fund during the same period that PACE voted down a key resolution on politically motivated imprisonment in Azerbaijan.
Human Rights Watch pointed out that Germany was the first country to take action against the MPs who were banned from PACE.
“Let’s hope politicians in Spain, Belgium, and other parliaments hit by the scandal will quickly follow the Bundestag’s (German parliament) lead. It’s about standing up for human rights in Azerbaijan, and in Europe as a whole,” Hugh Williamson of Human Rights Watch said.
The lack of action was highlighted in 2018 when Transparency International wrote to the European Parliament calling for an inquiry into possible bribery and influencing of members by the Azerbaijani government.