Below are translated excerpts from the VICE news article entitled “Aserbaidschan-Affäre: Der Diktator, die CDU, der Moderator und das Geld” – (Azerbaijan Affair: The Dictator, The CDU, The Moderator and the Money)
VICE (Germany) investigative research explores how Azerbaijani lobbyists have exerted influence over Germany’s Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) parliamentary group over the years. In the supporting role for this effort: Azerbaijani lobbyists also bought the local Berlin TV station that broadcasts regime-friendly interviews.
Research shows that the influence of the authoritarian regime on CDU MPs is greater than previously assumed. Behind this is a lobby system to which CDU MPs in particular were apparently susceptible – for years.
The autocratic ruler from Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev, ruler of over ten million people, has an image problem. His country ranks at the bottom when it comes to freedom of the press, human rights and dealing with members of the opposition. At the same time, Aliyev, the Caucasian despot, has a solution to his problem: money, a lot of money. Azerbaijan, the country on the Caspian Sea, has very large oil and gas reserves. And so the despot converts the valuable raw materials into money. Aliyev then partially turns the money into reputation, at least he tries.
Azerbaijan not only sponsors major sporting events such as Formula 1 for image polishing, but also smears MPs in Europe. The regime is not always clever, sometimes very clumsy. For example, the conservative Italian member of the Council of Europe Luca Volontè, who collected around two million Euros in tortuous ways to prevent a critical resolution against Azerbaijan, was blown. He was sentenced to four years in prison by a court in Milan last year. According to experts, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Azerbaijan has been practicing “caviar diplomacy” in Europe for years to brighten up the image of the authoritarian-ruled country. The European Stability Initiative revealed the full extent of corruption years ago.
The CDU members of the Bundestag Karin Strenz and Axel Fischer are also being investigated in Germany. The public prosecutor’s office is also currently examining investigations against the Thuringian CDU member of the Bundestag Mark Hauptmann. On Sunday, it became known that Karin Strenz died on a flight from Cuba to Germany. Further details of her death are not yet known.
Investigating the Azerbaijani influence on Berlin politics quickly ends up with a widely ramified network of politicians and lobbyists. Not every statement in support of the Azerbaijani regime indicates political influence or even corruption. Yet research has shown that Azerbaijan’s influence on the CDU faction is much greater than previously assumed.
Azerbaijan has many advocates in the Bundestag, most of them from the CDU and Christian Social Union (CSU). Positive statements by German politicians are celebrated in the state media in Azerbaijan, which can be proven by a simple Google search. The Caucasus Republic urgently needs good press abroad. Azerbaijan has been at odds with its hated neighbor Armenia for decades. Last year there was a bloody war over Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan. As is so often the case with armed conflicts, the circumstances are complicated – and controversial under international law. It’s rarely just one nation’s fault. One thing is clear, however: Azerbaijan started the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The statements made by some politicians in Germany, who clearly and unreservedly take the side of Azerbaijan, seem all the more strange. Often they unilaterally address the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenia and the suffering of Azerbaijani refugees. Most of the time, they forget to mention how miserable democracy and human rights are in Azerbaijan. Human Rights Watch describes this list as “conspicuous” in political Berlin. Who is behind it? An influential Berlin lobby organization, The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), fashioned the mood for Azerbaijan until it was dissolved. And on a local station from Berlin, which, according to our research, produced regime-friendly contributions with Azerbaijani money.
The now dissolved lobby company “TEAS” commissioned relevant broadcasts for the purposes of the Azerbaijani cause and approved the content. Documents that VICE was able to see confirm this business relationship.