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Azerbaijan: Bribery Allegations Hit Headlines
Scene from the video that appears to show a discussion on the terms of a massive bribe. (Screengrab shot: http://youtu.be/bGfOcoc-9m8)
A video ostensibly showing a member of Azerbaijan’s parliament asking for a bribe has caused a rare public scandal around the issue of corruption.
On September 20, Elshad Abdullayev, formerly rector of the Azerbaijan International University, told journalists that politician Gular Ahmadova had demanded two million manats (around 2.5 million US dollars) to secure him a seat in parliament.
The hidden-camera film appears to show a conversation involving Abdullayev, Ahmadova and another woman, Sevinj Babayeva in the run-up to the 2005 parliamentary election.
“I shot this video and recorded my meetings and telephone conversations with Gular Ahmadova and Sevinj Babayeva. I sent a CD with the video, together with an application to launch a criminal case against Gular Ahmadova, to the prosecutor general,” said Abdullayev, who is currently in France.
He lost his job when the authorities closed his university two years ago.
Abdullayev said he released the film footage onto the internet after he failed to get the prosecution service to act on the case.
Amid the wave of anger that followed, Ahmadova resigned from parliament and Babayeva was removed as head of Baku City Library.
Ahmedova has denied any wrongdoing, telling the APA news agency that the video footage was manipulated.
Once the video was in the public domain, prosecutors felt compelled to respond and launched a criminal case.
On September 28, Ahmadova announced she was standing down as a member of parliament, so that her position would not be seen as obstructing a fair investigation.
Before the investigation even began, Ali Ahmedov, deputy head of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, condemned his colleague Ahmedova and said she had lost the moral right to represent the party.
In the course of the video posted on the internet, speakers mention the name of Ramiz Mehdiyev, head of the presidential administration. Speaking on October 3, Mehdiyev denied any involvement in the alleged wrongdoing. It was, he said, a smear campaign against the Azerbaijani government and its representatives, but one that would not be successful.
The opposition has seized on the case. Isa Gambar, head of the Musavat party, said the scandal showed the depth of corruption in the current government.
“The rector of a university, the director of a library and a deputy are bargaining over seats in parliament,” he said, calling for “massive protests”.
Ali Karimli, head of the opposition Popular Front, said the case showed that parliament must be dissolved so that fresh elections could be held.
“This video fully confirms that parliament was elected by false means, and that all the seats were sold for money,” he claimed.
International watchdog groups say corruption is a major problem in Azerbaijan. The country has always scored poorly on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Last year, the country was ranked at 143 out of the 183 countries surveyed, slightly worse than the 134th place it got in 2010.
Seymur Kazimov is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.
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