Azerbaijan’s Administration Calls OCCRP Story 'Black PR'

A representative of Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev has responded to OCCRP’s latest investigation, calling it a part of a “black public relations” campaign against the oil-rich Caucasus nation.

President Ilham AliyevOn Wednesday, OCCRP in conjunction with Joachim Dyfvermark of Swedish Television and Ola Westerberg of the Swedish News Agency released a report describing how Swedish-Finnish telecoms giant TeliaSonera abetted a massive business deal that may have drained as much as US$ 1 billion from Azerbaijan’s treasury.

The money tied up the deal then disappeared into a maze of offshore companies linked to President Aliyev.

The report builds on the work of Khadija Ismayilova, an award-winning investigative journalist who has been held in pre-trial detention in Azerbaijan since December. It is the first in a series of stories called “The Khadija Project”, a series of hard-hitting stories continuing her work. Journalists and volunteers from the United States and Europe collaborated with teams in Turkey and the Caucasus to finish the stories Ismayilova had been prevented from writing by her imprisonment.

Ismayilova’s arrest last December is a subject of international controversy. Human rights watchdogs have called it “politically motivated”, and Ismayilova herself branded the charges against her – including an allegation that she persuaded a former colleague to attempt suicide - “ridiculous”. 

Ali Hasanov, assistant to President Aliyev, responded to the OCCRP telecoms investigation in an interview with virutalaz.org.

“Such institutions that are in close contact with some Western circles are used as tools to pressure independent countries like Azerbaijan,” he said.

“The very same institutions publish unfounded and false materials disguised [as] ‘journalistic investigations’ stories against some countries, including Azerbaijan.”

Hasanov also commented that such “cheap and primitive methods” would not influence Azerbaijan’s policy. He said such organizations would receive the “deserved response”.

Khadija Ismayilova has endorsed the investigation in a letter written from prison.

“Now I understand why TeliaSonera was not so willing to answer my questions. A year before the investigation, there was a Global Internet Governance Forum in Baku. I asked a representative of TeliaSonera who its shareholders were. They did not answer,” she wrote.

“Later, I asked this same question on Twitter. Later on, I investigated the issue and found out. That was my last investigation.”

Ismayilova believes that the investigation, “along with others, is the reason for my arrest.”