More than $150 billion in oil and gas revenues over the past 10 years created unprecedented opportunities for Azerbaijan to invest into lobbying to hush critical voices from inside the country and abroad and to improve its relations with the west.
About the Author: Gubad Ibadoghlu, Senior Policy Analyst for social and economic studies at Azerbaijan’s Economic Research Center, a Baku-based NGO that promotes economic development and good governance.
The Sunlight Foundation previously placed Azerbaijan in the top 10 countries spending fortunes on lobbying companies in Washington, DC. According to the Foundation, the country spent about $2.3 million on lobbying in 2013. During the years of peak oil revenues (2010-2015) spending on lobbying remained very high.
In 2015 investigative journalists discovered that the Azerbaijani Embassy pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to its main lobbying organizations, the Podesta Group.
On April 30, 2014, the Podesta Group signed a bilateral agreement with the Embassy of Azerbaijan in the US. According to this agreement, the Podesta Group would receive a fixed monthly payment of $50,000 plus additional expenses for managing public relations for the Azerbaijani government. The fact-finding teams revealed records of hundreds of contacts signed between the Podesta Group and congressional offices, executive agencies, media members, and research centers.
Another investigative report, The Laundromat, issued by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in 2017 revealed that billions of dollars were used to hide the truth about human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.
OCCPR obtained leaked bank documents showing that $2.9 billion were laundered through shell companies by Azerbaijan’s ruling elites. Part of the sum was used to hush critics and to buy the loyalty of western organizations.
According to the report, three European officials, a journalist favoring the regime, and businessmen promoting the government received their share. These individuals at times even managed to mobilize such organizations as UNESCO and PACE to promote Azerbaijan while the government of Azerbaijan was conducting a massive crackdown on journalists and civil society between 2012 and 2014.
In addition, the Azerbaijani Embassy invested a total of $1,480,000 to gain support from another lobbying organization – the BGR Group. The organization received $390,000 in 2019, $600,000 in 2018, and $490,000 in 2017.
Moreover, the government of Azerbaijan spent oil and gas revenues on the Azerbaijan America Alliance (AAA), the US Azeris Network, and the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ), registered as a non-profit organization in the US.
The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) issued a report releasing the expenditures made by the American Alliance of Azerbaijan (AAA) between 2011-2015 to protect the interests of the ruling elite of Azerbaijan in the United States. Thus, the AAA spent $1.718 mln in 2015, $2.88 mln in 2014, $2.88 mln in 2013, $2.92 mln in 2012, and $2.26 mln in 2011 for a total of $12.658 mln spent altogether between 2011-2015. These were the peak years of oil profits for the country.
While continuing to use rising oil revenues to invest in non-transparent and unaccounted for projects, the elites in the administration pay for lobbying efforts by their partners in order to hush the media and political opposition within the country and the critical voices coming from abroad.
European countries and the United States, as key purchasers of Azerbaijani oil and gas, should not turn a blind eye to the human rights violations and imitations of reforms in the country, regardless of Azerbaijan’s lobbying efforts.