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Political corruption assembly: Azerbaijani bribe and Russian interests in PACE

Author : Serhiy Sydorenko

14:32, 26 April 2017
Political corruption assembly: Azerbaijani bribe and Russian interests in PACE

Author : Serhiy Sydorenko

Today PACE conducts an ongoing discussion on charges of many-years corruption that goes back to 2010 and which a number of the assembly leaders can be involved in

14:32, 26 April 2017

Read the original article at eurointegration.com.ua

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Agramunt on meeting at St.Petersburg

President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Pedro Agramunt which has already gained notorious fame in Ukraine, gradually receives the image of "negative hero" also at the heart of Europe.

In Ukraine, he is known primarily as a key lobbyist of Russian interests. Agramunt officially recognizes that seeks to get Russia back to PACE plenary hall and at the end of last year even tried tricks to change the rules of assembly for this.

The highlight of such actions was his trip to Syria at the head of the delegation of the Russian State Duma deputies on board of a Russian military aircraft. Photos of Agramunt meeting with Assad then went around the world media. And no pity from him sounded - even for a few weeks when Syrian warplanes conducted gas attack on civilian neighborhoods.

But Agramunt’s "professional record" has a much older history.

Today PACE conducts an ongoing discussion on charges of many-years corruption that goes back to 2010 and in which a number of the assembly leaders can be involved.

Not for investigation

A month ago, the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland sent a letter to Agramunt, urging him to accelerate the creation of an independent body to investigate alleged corruption cases in PACE.

Before this, the Assembly leaders has tried to take this step, but without success - at the meeting of the PACE Bureau in March they found no support in favor of any of the options.

And the further we are moving, the more suspicious we become that this obstacle to finding the truth is a lot of money. And the great danger for the existing deputies.

On Monday evening Bureau should meet again, in order to consider this issue and try to find a decent way out of a scandal that has already struck the reputation of the assembly.

This story started back in 2012, and long remained on the sidelines of political debate, despite the attempts of European activists to draw attention to it. But last year the situation radically changed after allegations of corruption moved to the category of official - one of the former members of senior PACE officials - Luca Volonte - was under investigation in Italy.

He is accused of receiving political bribes, according to the scheme, on which the activists wrote in 2012. It is a quite a lot of money, now law enforcers proved the payments amounting to 2.4 million euros.

Although from the beginning it was only Azerbaijani story, now in it we see points of contact with the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Caviar diplomacy

Reluctance of the Assembly to study the issue of corruption is not surprising. After all, Volonte is just one of the participants of the scandal, which is simply unlucky getting attention of law enforcement.

Besides him, this case involved other names of leading deputies from different countries, including members of the Bureau - the governing body of the PACE, which considered the issue on Monday. Not surprisingly, the deputies did not wish to start an investigation against themselves.

Corruption suspects in question are known as "caviar diplomacy" and dedicated to support of Azerbaijan in PACE. The fact is that in addition to financial "thanksgiving" European lobbyists allegedly received from the eastern friends packages of black caviar.

By the way, most of the charges are directed to Pedro Agramunt.

Related: PACE creates new body to look into Agramunt's case

In 2012 the investigation called him one of the major paid lobbyists. A year later, in 2013, he became the protagonist of the publication as a key paid agent of Baku in Strasbourg. The newest investigation published in 2015, dedicated to the evidence against Volonte, but there are also many references to the Agramunt. Italian politician in his correspondence mentions the current president of PACE among the lobbyists working to protect the interests of Baku.

By the way, caviar - is not just symbolic gift. ESI organization sources, which words are published in the first public inquiry (as of 2011), stated that 10-12 deputies and 3-4 secretariat employees four times a year received 0.4-0.6 kg of caviar as a present. It means the "thank" worth a thousand dollars per person; lobbyists were also invited on vacation to Azerbaijan, where they received even more gifts.

"Caviar diplomacy" helped Azerbaijan for a long time to avoid penalties and even criticism in PACE, despite the harsh oppression of democracy in the country.

The lobbyists also had cash payment. For example, Luca Volonte signed a "contract for consulting" his Azerbaijani colleagues for 100 000 euros per month and, according to his correspondence received additional cash.

European corruption scale

At the beginning of 2013 Luca Volonte, on whom we wrote above, led a group of European People's Party in PACE. But it included only about a third of the deputies, so his efforts were not enough for Azerbaijani triumph. Letters found on Volonte’s computer show how large-scale network could be corrupted.

One of the main participants of this group was Pedro Agramunt. That time he was not yet president, but took perhaps even more substantial position in terms of Baku. From 2010 Agramunt was rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee on Azerbaijan question. He visited Azerbaijan, perhaps more times than any other European deputy, and was a regular participant (and later - head) of election observers group; end at the end of 2013 he also led the EPP Group.

Friendship with Agramunt was really valuable for Azerbaijan.

But the description of "caviar diplomacy" would be incomplete without mention of Ukrainian deputies vote.

Neither in Volonte letters nor in other ESI investigation materials we found names of Ukrainian deputies and we don’t see the obvious "lobbyists of Baku" in the current PACE delegation either. But Ukrainians were the part of the key vote - the most scandalous happened in 2013. 7 Ukrainian MPs voted against the resolution about political corruption in Azerbaijan.

In those days the author of these lines was in Strasbourg, so he asked with surprise one of the Ukrainian deputies - why we do not see the obvious. In response, MP proudly said that in return he agreed with Azerbaijanis their future support of the Ukrainian opposition initiatives...

Not surprisingly, the ESI beats the alarm: in recent years the term "democracy" becomes a striking slogan. Even in the Council of Europe - the organization whose sole role of which is to protect democracy.

And this story also proves – closing our eyes to political corruption, we can get some quick bonuses, but in the end - just lose. We are not aware of the cause for Ukrainian delegation to vote against the resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, but we can state that Kyiv never received the votes "in exchange". In January 2015, when two important issues for us were considered at once(about the humanitarian situation in the East and sanctions on Russians), Azerbaijan firstly ignored us, and the second time - voted against us.

And everyone in Europe knows that exit from the scandal should be sought as soon as possible, until the loss of reputation does not become irreversible.

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