The Talibovs’ Tight Grip
The Talibovs’ stranglehold on Nakhchivan is not just political. It is widely assumed in Nakhchivan that the family dominates the local economy, and
experts have described them restricting imports, driving competitors out of business, and even putting residents to work harvesting their produce.
According to an exiled Nakhchivani, many products in the territory are sold under the brand Gamigaya, a group of companies widely assumed to belong to the family. The Gamigaya holding has also built or renovated
dozens of public facilities across Nakhchivan, including ministry buildings, hospitals, universities, and a mosque.
Little documented proof of the Talibovs’ connection to this group of companies — or to Cahan Holding, another omnipresent local conglomerate — has ever emerged. In 2014, Rza Talibov described himself on Facebook as Gamigaya’s chairman. But no company ownership records are available to show who actually owns either conglomerate.
Instead, the Gamigaya and Cahan holdings are run by two businessmen associated with the Talibovs named Vugar Abassov and Emin Uchar.
Abassov and Uchar partnered with Rza Talibov, his mother, and a cousin in the only business in which they have ever been documented to be shareholders: Nakhchivanbank, a local financial institution founded in 2008. The bank has since stopped disclosing its shareholders, leaving it unclear whether the family is still involved, though Rza’s sister Baharkhanim is a member of its supervisory board. If they are still part owners of the institution, it is unclear how much they may be earning.
The Laundromat Millions
But despite this lack of public records, leaked bank data from Switzerland — part of the international Suisse Secrets investigation — allowed reporters to document some of their wealth for the first time. At their maximum in March 2011, the records show, Seymur’s Credit Suisse account held $7.3 million, and Rza’s held $9.3 million.
🔗The Suisse Secrets Investigation
The data was provided by an anonymous source to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared it with OCCRP and 46 other media partners around the world. Reporters on five continents combed through thousands of bank records, interviewed insiders, regulators, and criminal prosecutors, and dug into court records and financial disclosures to corroborate their findings. The data covers over 18,000 accounts that were open from the 1940s until well into the last decade. Together, they held funds worth more than $100 billion.
"I believe that Swiss banking secrecy laws are immoral,” the source of the data said in a statement. “The pretext of protecting financial privacy is merely a fig leaf covering the shameful role of Swiss banks as collaborators of tax evaders. This situation enables corruption and starves developing countries of much-needed tax revenue.”
Because the Credit Suisse data obtained by journalists is incomplete, there are a number of important caveats to be kept in mind when interpreting it.
Read more about the project, where the data came from, and what it means.
Because these figures only show the account balance at one point in time, it’s impossible to know how much money passed through the accounts over the years. But both brothers’ account numbers also appear in two other leaks of banking data previously obtained by OCCRP.
They show that, between 2007 and 2012, Rza and Seymur’s accounts at Credit Suisse and several other banks received over a hundred separate wire transfers worth a total of $20.5 million from two shell companies, Murova Systems and Continus Corporation.
How much the Talibov children received from the Laundromat companies.
Both companies were identified as money laundering vehicles by Bosnian prosecutors who looked into them as part of a
human trafficking investigation.
These shell companies, which never did any substantive business, were part of the
Azerbaijani and Troika Laundromats, two massive money laundering systems uncovered in previous OCCRP investigations. Laundromats are essentially groups of connected shell companies that send money around and around to each other, using many separate fake transactions to obscure its origins.
“That’s incredibly unusual,” said Barrow, the financial crime specialist who reviewed the transactions, explaining that they contained multiple warning signs.
Most obviously, he said, was the origin of the money: shell companies that registered no real business activity.
“Second problem, every single one of those payments is a round figure,” Barrow said. “Business isn’t conducted that way. … Banks are supposed to have monitoring in place that picks up on round figure sums and flags them as suspicious.”
“And the other [suspicious] thing is when somebody is apparently doing a massively wide variety of different businesses,” he said. “We saw textiles and electronics going through the same company accounts. What company does that? It makes no commercial sense whatsoever.”
For politically connected people, Barrow said, banks have a “legal duty to do enhanced due diligence. Enhanced due diligence to establish the source of wealth.”
But the money kept flowing, with the three Talibov children receiving more and more until 2012, the last year that appears in the records.
🔗An Inner Circle with Laundromat Access
Rza and Seymur Talibov weren’t the only members of the family to receive money from the Laundromats. In 2012, an account held by their sister, Baharkhanim Talibova, received $900,000 from Murova Systems and another offshore shell company. Vasif Talibov’s nephew, Elnur Talibov, received $77,000 from Murova Systems in his own Credit Suisse account. The shell company also paid his tuition at College Du Leman, an international boarding school in Geneva. And Vugar Abassov, the Talibovs’ business partner, received $5.8 million from Murova and Continus.
“Getting Acquainted” with Batumi
That January, Vasif Talibov paid a three-day visit to the seaside Georgian resort city of Batumi, in the autonomous republic of Adjara. According to the press office of the local government, his goal was to “get acquainted with the economic and tourist[ic] potential of the region.”
His elder son Rza, who accompanied him on the official trip, soon made a personal real estate investment in the city, buying a historical building just a few blocks from the beach for $1.5 million.
A few months later, Adjara representatives visited Nakhchivan and signed a memorandum of economic cooperation between the two regions.
Rza Talibov posted this photo of the opening ceremony of his new Batumi hotel on his Facebook page. From left to right: His brother Seymur Talibov, their business partners Vugar Abbasov and Emin Uchar, and Rza Talibov.
Rza Talibov / Facebook
Afterwards, Rza wasted no time snapping up an adjacent 19th-century building from the government through a special agreement with the Adjara economic ministry. Though it was valued at over half a million dollars, he was charged only a symbolic amount of sixty cents to acquire it, in the interests of redevelopment. Rza also bought out several people who already owned space in the building for another $1.2 million.
He then merged the two buildings together to open a five-star hotel,
Divan Suites Batumi. According to an announcement by the city administration, he would spend $10 million on its construction.
Rza also paid over $6 million to have a company owned by Emin Uchar, who co-founded Nakhchivanbank with the family, build him an elite villa in the city’s exclusive Green Cape neighborhood.
This two-story villa in Batumi, built for Rza Talibov, has a swimming pool and over 1,170 square meters of living space.
But the bulk of the family’s acquisitions were in Dubai.
By 2020, Vasif Talibov’s sons had acquired 11 properties in the Emirate worth a total of at least $45 million today, including a 12-floor luxury hotel. According to a leak of real estate data obtained by the non-profit research organization
C4ADS, both brothers held Emirati identification cards, indicating that they had residency there.
Scroll through the gallery below to see the Talibovs’ acquisitions. The data is current as of 2020.
None of these extravagant properties appear on the brothers’ social media accounts. Unlike some other children of authoritarian rulers, Seymur and Rza avoid displays of conspicuous wealth on their social media pages, posting instead about their love for their country, their father’s achievements, and their devotion to President Aliyev.
In one Twitter post last year, Rza shared a quote from Aliyev in large block letters, apparently designed to underscore the regime’s frugality.
“Our traditions, values, and lifestyle are our assets,” he wrote.
He didn’t mention the other ones.
Research on this story was provided by OCCRP ID.
Data expertise was provided by OCCRP's Data Team.
Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.