Germany Indicts Two Ex-MPs for Bribery

German prosecutors brought bribery and corruption charges against four people on Monday, including two former lawmakers suspected of receiving bribes from Azerbaijan in exchange for voting in Baku’s favor at the Council of Europe.

Axel FischerAxel Fischer (Photo: Foto-AG Gymnasium Melle, Wikimedia, License)Axel Fischer and Eduard Lintner were members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and were implicated in what became known as the Azerbaijan Laundromat -- a EU-wide lobbying and money-laundering scheme revealed by OCCRP in 2017. Azerbaijan used this so-called “caviar diplomacy” to influence European policy.

Baku used a secret US$2.9 billion slush fund to, among other things, offer free trips and expensive gifts to European MPs who would, for example, vote in Baku’s favor and beautify PACE’s human rights reports at a time when the country threw dozens of political prisoners in jail.

The investigation conducted and published by OCCRP and the Süddeutsche Zeitung exposed Lintner and a third PACE member, Karin Strenz, as those who benefited from the tactic. Strenz died unexpectedly in 2021, but prosecutors announced their intention to confiscate the bribes she allegedly received. Fischer was later identified by German prosecutors in 2021.

Prosecutors in Munich also charged Lintner's son, who is said to have helped behind the scenes and made transfers, as well as a former employee of Lintner and Strenz. Neither responded to questions from the German magazine Der Spiegel.

“In the end, these proceedings will trigger a chain reaction,” the head of the Bundestag's Council of Europe delegation, Frank Schwabe, told the magazine. “After all, these three are just part of a German and European corruption network surrounding Azerbaijan."

The Munich prosecution office is also investigating Azerbaijani ex-MP Elkhan Suleymanov. He ran a Baku-based NGO through which the payments were made and is believed to be the one who recruited Fischer. Suleymanov did not respond to questions from OCCRP and Der Spiegel.

Fischer allegedly received a bribe of 21,800 euros ($23,590) in 2016. The statute of limitations has run out, however, on payments he is believed to have received in 2015, amounting to 4,500 euro.

For that, he is believed to have voted in Azerbaijan’s favor, for instance in a vote on the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Karabakh in January 2016. At the time, Fischer was serving as PACE’s parliamentary rapporteur for Armenia.

Strenz was paid at least 22,000 euros (US$24,270) through a lobbying company set up by Lintner.

Meanwhile, Lintner’s two companies received a total of 3.4 million euros ($3.7 million) between 2012 and 2014, according to prosecutors, although it’s unclear how much he himself pocketed.

While investigating the suspects, police searched about 20 properties throughout Germany — including the offices of members of the German parliament, the Bundestag. They issued about 15 European investigation orders or requests for mutual legal assistance to countries including Cyprus, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Switzerland, and Turkey.

The new charges come as Azerbaijan’s relationship with PACE is deteriorating.

Each year, the parliaments of PACE member countries present the credentials of their delegations, and the assembly votes on their ratification. On January 24, PACE voted not to ratify the credentials of the Azerbaijani delegation by a vote of 76 to 10, with four abstentions, citing the country's poor human rights and democracy record.

Anticipating the results of the vote, Azerbaijan's delegation withdrew from PACE a few hours earlier.

"Nobody in the world, including those sitting in this hall, can speak with Azerbaijan in the language of threats and blackmail,” said Samad Seyidov, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation. “In the face of the current unbearable atmosphere of racism, Azerbaijanophobia, and Islamophobia in PACE, the delegation of Azerbaijan decides to cease its engagement with and presence at PACE until further notice."