Free speech is sometimes severely punished in Azerbaijan, a country
where scores of journalists and activists are in jail because they dared
to voice their discontent with the corruption and the theft of state
resources by President Ilham Aliyev’s regime.
So it’s ironic that a property in London that may have been purchased by
the Aliyevs with purloined billions overlooks the legendary Speakers’
Corner of Hyde Park, a place where open-air public speaking, debate and
discussion of government are not only allowed but encouraged.
OCCRP, which combed through British company and property records, found
yet another piece of the Aliyevs’ overseas real estate empire, a luxury
mansion worth millions of dollars in the very heart of London.
Mansion at 129-130 Park Lane, London.
A First Family Affair
Until September of last year, President Aliyev’s first-born daughter,
Leyla Aliyeva, was one of the directors of a company that manages a posh
building situated across the street from Hyde Park.
Aliyeva’s signature shows up in the company ownership records of
129-130 Park Lane Management Limited, the London firm that manages
the five-story mansion next to Hyde Park. The building itself hosts six
luxury apartments with a value ranging from $ 5.6 to $ 8 million. In
all, the building is worth more than $ 33 million.
It’s not clear how many of the apartments in the building belong to
members of the Azeri ruling family: all of the flats are registered to
British Virgin Island (BVI) companies that all use the same address – a
post office box.
A recent report by Transparency International UK titled “Corruption At
Your Doorstep” found that 36,342 London properties totalling 2.25 square
miles are held by companies based in offshore locales.
The Aliyevs typically use their own names in records involving
properties that they have owned for a long time. For some larger assets,
they have used a few trusted proxies. More recently, they have taken to
removing family names from the paper trail completely, possibly to avoid
bad press or limit the risk of assets being seized or frozen.
Leyla’s place in the company was taken, in October 2014, by another
prominent member of the ruling clan, her cousin, Mir Jamal Pashayev. He
is the nephew of Arif Pashayev, Leyla Aliyeva’s maternal grandfather.
OCCRP previously exposed Arif Pashayev’s secret real estate
in the Czech Republic where he owns a hotel in the popular spa-town of
Aliyeva became a director of the British real estate company in August
2008. She listed a Moscow address in the company formation paperwork, an
apartment situated in a residential complex built by Aras Agalarov, her
former father-in-law. Aliyeva announced on Instagram in May 2015 that
she has divorced her husband Emin Agalarov, an Azeri singer and
Arif Pashayev shows as owner of Pasha Holding, one of the largest
business conglomerates in Azerbaijan, involved in insurance, banking,
travel, construction and investments. At the same time, his nephew, Mir
Jamal, is the managing director of Pasha Holding.
However, Khadija Ismayilova, a journalist jailed by the Aliyev
administration last December, found in a 2014 investigation that the
First Daughters owned Pasha Holding.
The Aliyevs and the Pashayevs are the most powerful families in
Azerbaijan and between them own a significant chunk of the economy of
the oil-rich country on the shores of the Caspian.
Using circular motions, Misael Reyes massages soft wet mud over a copper plate, causing it to flow -- and reveal its riches. “Do you see that silver drop forming?” he asks. “That’s the mercury we use to start separating the gold from the ore we pull out of the mines and grind in these mills.”
In 2011, as then-President Hugo Chavez nationalized the gold mining industry, the leftist leader claimed he had a new idea that would make life better for all Venezuelans. He described a new “mining arc” south of the Orinoco River, in the northern Amazon, that could be exploited for vast minerals.