OCCRP and Partners Win TRACE Prize for Azerbaijan Investigation

TRACE International, a global anti-bribery organization, awarded the OCCRP a prize for investigative journalism on Wednesday for reporting that exposed a billion dollar corruption scandal involving Azerbaijan’s ruling family and Nordic telecommunications giant TeliaSonera.

Ilham Aliyev 2015 06 13Ilham Aliyev (Photo: www.kremlin.ru, CC-A 4.0)

OCCRP reporter Miranda Patrucic accepted the award at a dinner in Cambridge, United Kingdom, on Wednesday for the story, which was done in conjunction with the Swedish Television program Uppdrag Granskning ("Mission Investigate") and Swedish news agency TT. Swiss Radio and Television and the Turkish daily Hurriyet contributed to the reporting.

The report revealed how a subsidiary of Swedish-Finnish telco TeliaSonera helped a company close to the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev take over lucrative state-owned shares of Azercell Telecom, the country’s largest mobile provider.

Azerbaijani taxpayers lost more than US$ 600 million in the scheme, which saw TeliaSonera dilute its majority stake in Azercell Telecom and turn down dividends in return for regulatory approval to operate in the country.

TeliaSonera announced that it was pulling out of the Eurasian market in September 2015, four months after the OCCRP published its story.

TRACE Prize judge Diana Henriques said the report was "bravely and persistently reported in the face of daunting dangers."

The report was part of the Khadija Project, an initiative by media including the OCCRP to cover corruption stories in Azerbaijan, the home country of formerly imprisoned investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

"This is an important story not just for the Khadija Project, but also to show just how multinational companies are fixing bribery in the world," OCCRP journalist Patrucic said.

The OCCRP was one of two winners of the inaugural TRACE award. The other prize went to the Wall Street Journal for reporting on Malaysia’s 1MDB fund scandal.  

"We are happy to be recognized for our work on the Aliyev family's bribe taking," OCCRP Editor Drew Sullivan said.  "Bribery is ruining a lot of countries and making a lot of bad people rich, so we thank TRACE for recognizing this crime."