Amid Political Purge, Sons of Longtime Azerbaijan Autocrat Talibov Offloaded Assets

The sons of the former ruler of an insular Azerbaijani exclave quietly transferred ownership of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of properties after their father stepped down following pressure from the central government, documents show.

Vasif Talibov presided for 27 years over a secretive and oppressive administration in Nakhchivan, an autonomous republic that has often been referred to as “Azerbaijan’s North Korea.” During that time, the Talibov family accumulated vast wealth, including properties and companies in Azerbaijan and elsewhere in the region.

Talibov was installed in December 1995 by Azerbaijan’s then-president Heydar Aliyev, his relative by marriage. But last year, the Azerbaijan government –– now led by Heydar’s son, Ilham Aliyev –– began cracking down on Talibov’s administration. Talibov abruptly resigned on December 21.

President Aliyev did not announce his motivation for the crackdown, which followed a 2022 OCCRP investigation revealing that Talibov’s sons, Rza and Seymur, received over $20 million in suspicious Credit Suisse and other bank transfers, and bought properties in Dubai and Georgia worth an estimated $63 million.

A statement from Aliyev’s office said Nakhchivan’s new administrator would be instructed to “fight against corruption.” Top officials under Talibov lost their posts, including his brother, Maharram, who had been the exclave’s deputy prosecutor.

Talibov family members had owned 100 percent of Nakhchivan Bank, which is based in the autonomous region. But they sold their shares on February 1, according to the bank’s latest annual report, a time when they faced pressure from the central government in Baku.

In Dubai, Rza and Seymur, recently transferred ownership of six properties that are worth at least $39 million in total. Rza also shifted ownership of a five-star hotel in Georgia.

“All this shows that, just as Vasif Talibov’s political power has come to an end, there are also problems surrounding the economic wealth under his control,” said Zohrab Ismayil, co-founder of Open Azerbaijan Initiative, an anti-corruption group.

“So they want to get out of this situation somehow.”

Seymur and Rza Talibov did not respond to OCCRP’s requests for comment.

Even as his father’s regime crumbled in Nakhchivan, Rza retained his position in Baku as head of the Citizenship Issues department at the State Migration Services. Seymur is a member of Nakhchivan’s parliament — at least until the next elections, scheduled for 2025.

The heightened scrutiny that comes with these official positions might have increased pressure on the brothers to transfer ownership of the properties, Ismayil said.

The Talibovs’ Dubai Properties

Until recently, Seymur’s name was on ownership papers for The Class Hotel Apartments, located in a high-rise in Dubai. Records obtained by reporters show that it is now owned –– at least on paper –– by a Turkish national named Fatih Aydin.

Aydin is chairman of a Turkish company called Reges Turizm İnşaat Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş., which is closely associated with the Talibov family.

Last year, Aydin also became deputy chairman of another Turkish company, Opera Otel Yatırımları A.Ş. Another man became chair, replacing Ilham Naghiyev who owned the firm with his brother Ilgar — sons of Azerbaijan’s Security Chief Ali Naghiyev. The company was previously co-owned by Ali’s brother Vali, who is a high ranking official at Migration Services, alongside Rza.

Through his lawyer, Aydin declined to answer questions about whether he knew the Talibovs personally or how he came to acquire Seymur’s Dubai property.

“Neither Mr. Fatih, nor us, nor the companies that Mr. Fatih is a partner in, have the duty or obligation to share with you any details regarding business relations or private life,” the lawyer said in an email.

The leaked Dubai real estate data obtained by the non-profit research organization C4ADS shows that Seymur owned two more properties that have now been transferred to at least one legal entity. Dubai’s property registry is not public, and no further details were available.

Seymur’s brother Rza also owned three properties in Dubai, which have also now been transferred to a different owner. In Georgia, Rza transferred ownership of a five-star hotel in Batumi, a resort city on the Black Sea coast.

The Georgian city of Batumi
Credit: Giorgi Balakhadze, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons The Georgian city of Batumi, where Rza owned a five-star hotel.

Black Sea Resort

In December, while his father’s government was under pressure in Nakhchivan, Rza advertised the sale of the Divan Suites Batumi hotel for $18 million. To handle the sale, Rza granted power of attorney to an Azerbaijan citizen named Zamin Gadimov, documents from Georgia’s business registry show.

Gadimov’s LinkedIn profile says he was CEO of the Azerbaijani company Gəmiqaya Turizm MMC (LLC). That firm was part of the Gamigaya network of companies that has been controlled by the Talibov family, OCCRP previously reported.

Gadimov had also been chair of the Talibov-connected Turkish company Reges Turizm İnşaat, until Aydin took over the role in January.

“It is true that I previously worked in a managerial position in the companies of the mentioned persons,” Gadimov told OCCRP. “Naturally, this is the reason why I participated in the sale.”

Gadimov’s social media posts show that he traveled to Georgia on January 11. That same day, business registry documents record his sale of Kervan Turizm Ltd, the company that owned Divan Suites. The buyer was a Turkish citizen named Levent Abi, who apparently paid $8.5 million –– a substantial amount, but still almost $10 million less than the hotel’s advertised asking price.

Abi declined to comment on the deal.

Three months after the sale, Gadimov was back in Georgia, where records show he bought a company called B-Pearl Turizm LLC, which was owned by Ilham Mirzaliyev. Mirzaliyev’s social media postings indicate that he worked at Divan Suites Batumi in positions including temporary manager and marketing revenue manager.

Two days after picking up B-Pearl, Gadimov used the firm to buy Kervan Turizm, which owns the Divan Suites, back from Abi. Gadimov purchased the hotel Rza had owned for exactly what Abi had paid for it: $8.5 million.

Gadimov denied that the money came from the Talibovs, saying he used a loan from an Azerbaijani bank to buy the hotel.

“I currently have no business relationship with the mentioned persons,” Gadimov said.

Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.

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