The trace of money

A corruption scandal has rocked the Council of Europe: the Italian MP received millions of euros from Azerbaijan, website of German newspaper Tagesspiegel reports.

“The biggest scandal in the history of the Council of Europe would probably have never come to light if two suspicious bank transfers hadn’t been noticed in a Milanese money house.Those six-figure transfers were made through banks in the Baltic by shell companies based in the United Kingdom and the Marshall Islands. Milan’s public prosecutor took on the case and what emerged was politically explosive. Officially, the company that received the money belonged to the wife of an Italian politician. Luca Volonte received a total of €2.39 million between the end of 2012 and the end of 2014. Investigators established that the money was being sent by Azerbaijan and Volonte is due in court next month to answer charges of money laundering.”,- the author of the publication Claudia von Salzen reports.

As the journalist noted, Azerbaijan in recent years had made every effort to avoid the official negative verdict of the Council of Europe on the situation with human rights. “Thus, the Azerbaijani parliamentarians celebrated a small victory in January 2013 when a resolution by German Christoph Strasser about political prisoners in Azerbaijan was surprisingly voted down by the Council. For years, there have been indications that it isn’t just lobbying that has played a role and that “caviar diplomacy” has been at play.But in Volonte’s case, the problem goes deeper than just caviar and expensive carpets. The ex-parliamentarian has admitted to receiving €2.39 million but denies that the money was connected to his activities with the Council. As he said, this money was nothing but a reward for the consultations that he had given to Azerbaijani MP Elkhan Suleimanov”,- the newspaper reports.

As the newspaper found out, it all started for Luca Volonte with a trip to Azerbaijan in July 2011. After the meeting with Suleimanov, both deputies stayed in contact and Volonte even shared his thoughts on how to improve Azerbaijan’s image on the world stage. When in May 2012 the European Stability Initiative (ESI) published a report about “caviar diplomacy”, causing a stir in the Council of Europe, Volonte stressed in an internal note that there was “no evidence of corruption”.

In December 2012, a few weeks before the vote on the resolution, Volonte sent an email to Azerbaijani lobbyist Muslum Mammadov, detailing which “friends” they could count on when it came to the debate. The people mentioned spoke unusually positive about the South Caucasus republic, including current PACE President Pedro Agramunt. In December, Volonte received his first payment.

“After the Strasser-resolution was defeated, Volonte seemed to fear that the lucrative friendship was at an end. A short time later he proposed a new resolution on political prisoners, which he promptly withdrew a few days later. “Every wish from you is a command”, he later wrote to middleman Mammadov. Further talks were then held in Baku with Suleymanov and Russian politician Alexei Pushkov”,- Tagesspiegel reports.

“The story could have petered out there, if it was just a matter of alleged misconduct by politicians. But deputy leader of Germany’s Council delegation Frank Schwabe (SPD) fears that the scandal may go far deeper. There is the suspicion that the corruption has a larger scope and it is not just Volonte involved,” – Schwabe warnes.

According to research carried out by Der Tagesspiegel, there is evidence that only a part of the scandals have been unearthed. The intricacies of the firms involved in the scheme, and the amounts appearing in the investigation documents let us consider that we are talking about a system that served not only for payments to the Italian MP.

However, as the author of the material notes, the investigation of the scandal in the Council of Europe is progressing with difficulty. PACE President Agramunt tried to minimize the significance of the scandal and stated about “illegal attacks on the honor and reputation of the individual”. And the PACE Presidium postponed the decision on whether an independent investigation should be started.

And it has long been not only about Azerbaijan. “To date, there is a whole network in the Council of Europe that protects states with authoritarian tendencies from critical assessments”,- Schwabe said. So, in January, the obstacles to the debates on human rights in Turkey were deliberately obstructed.