Azerbaijan: Conviction in Cash-for-Seats Trial
A former member of parliament in Azerbaijan received a three-year jail sentence on December 2 after a trial based on video footage of her offering to sell a seat in the legislature.
The conviction of Gular Ahmadova is a rare example of a leading official being held to account in Azerbaijan, although some believe more than just one person should have been prosecuted.
Ahmadova was a member of the governing Yeni Azerbaijan party, but was expelled in December 2012 as a result of the revelations.
The story broke in September 2012, when Elshad Abdullayev, formerly rector of the Azerbaijan International University, told journalists that Ahmadova had demanded payment to secure him a seat in parliament.
He released a hidden-camera film showing a conversation involving him, Ahmadova and a woman called Sevinj Babayeva in the run-up to the 2005 parliamentary election.
In the video, Ahmadova hinted that the sum of one million US dollars was not for her but for Ramiz Mehdiyev, head of the Azerbaijani president’s office.
Mehdiyev denied any involvement, and dismissed the affair as an attempt to smear the Azerbaijani government.
Ahmadova was charged and arrested in February 2013.
“It’s the first time in this country that an official has been arrested and made to face responsibility,” Abdullayev told IWPR. “This is progress, and this case must serve as an example for other officials and politicians.”
Abdullayev now lives in France. Babayeva went to Turkey after the video was released, and died in December last year.
Ahmadova’s lawyers said she intended to appeal against the sentence, and her husband Fikrat Ahmadov said prosecutors had failed to provide any proof of their accusations.
“They have based this solely on supposition and on opinions,” he told IWPR. “There are three people involved here. Sevinj [Babayeva] is dead, and Elshad [Abdullayev] is in France, and Gular was arrested. Gular told investigators several times that they should bring Elshad Abdullayev over and arrange a meeting.”
Muzaffar Bakhish, a lawyer who has worked on several fraud cases in the past, told IWPR that the sentence could have been up to 12 years, so in reality Ahmadova got off lightly, especially considering the large sum of money she was accused of demanding.
“I know a case where a fraud of just 10,000 manats [13,000 dollars] earned a sentence of 11 years. That was someone who admitted guilt, who was responsible for five small children, and there were other ameliorating factors too, but the judge took didn’t take any of that into account,” he said.
Opposition politician Fuad Gahramanli, deputy head of the Popular Front party, told IWPR that the probe should not stop with the end of the trial, and should expand to include others who might be implicated.
“This would be a just verdict only if it wasn’t just Gular Ahmadova in the dock, but also those she passed the money to. This isn’t just about fraud by Ahmadova; it’s about a state crime, about the falsification of elections through bribery,” he said. “By placing all the blame on Ahmadova, the court has has covered up a state crime.”
Siyavush Novruzov, deputy head of the Yeni Azerbaijan party, distanced himself from the case, saying it was a matter for the judiciary.
“We said from the first day that it would be wrong to make any kind of comment on these matters. Any comments we made on the court’s verdict might be interpreted as pressuring the judge,” he said. “Other [appeal] courts will now be reviewing the case.”
Sevinj Telmanqizi is a journalist with the Yeni Musavat newspaper in Azerbaijan.