The political atmosphere does not allow the fight against corruption

45 – Some time ago, information was spread that on the Spanish island of Ibiza, a watch worth 1.2 million euros was stolen from an Azerbaijani tourist. It was noted that this watch belongs to the son of one of the Azerbaijani officials. The primary information stated that the owner of the watch is Subhan Mammadli – the 22-year-old son of the chairman of the State Agency of Motor Roads of Azerbaijan Saleh Mamedov. However, then a document appeared in social media, according to which the owner of the watch was Rashad Abdullayev – the son of SOCAR President Rovnag Abdullayev. SOCAR did not officially deny and did not confirm in the local media that the stolen watch worth 1.2 million euros belonged to the son of the president of this structure, Rovnag Abdullayev. In fact, this is not the first time that Azerbaijani officials and their family members are involved in high-profile scandals. But we did not see these officials punished. Why not punish officials involved in corruption? The independent expert Zohar Ismail answers the questions from ASTNA.

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-It was published that the stolen watches in Ibiza worth 1 million pounds sterling belonged to the son of SOCAR President Rovnag Abdullayev. Officially, this information has not been refuted. However, we did not see anybody being punished for it. How do you think, why?

-This question with the watch got a big response. The question is serious. The tourist about whom foreign media wrote was the son of Ro Rashad Abdullayev, the son of the presidents of SOCAR. A police certificate confirmed this. In a normal country, they would already have investigated what was written about how Rashad Abdullayev acquired such funds. In most countries, there are anti-corruption structures, there are anti-corruption prosecution offices and courts. They would have led this process. If the fact of corruption had been proven, then the person would be punished. But, unfortunately, there is no such mechanism in Azerbaijan. Who will investigate this? By the way, Rashad Abdullayev works at SOCAR Trading, established by SOCAR. In itself, this creates a conflict of interest. His father is the president of SOCAR, which means the son cannot hold a position in the company established by SOCAR. This is completely contrary to the anticorruption legislation of Azerbaijan. These mechanisms do not work in Azerbaijan. And in general, despite the fact that our legislation provides for such issues, there are problems with their execution. The only hope is that what is happening will attract the attention of President Ilham Aliyev, and he will use some kind of punishment mechanism. In such cases, it is usually not even a matter of legal punishment. Here the talk is about the internal mechanism of punishment, in fact, contrary to the law, which can be run. Time will show. In any case, what happened will affect the activities of Rovnag Abdullayev, since this is a serious case, other related moments may emerge. After all, this question has attracted the attention of international media. Foreign media, journalists, researchers can dig deeper and bring to the surface other nuances. However, in Azerbaijan, the investigating authorities do not investigate this.

-This is not the first time in Azerbaijan. For example, the millions spent by Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of the the head of the International Bank Jangir Hajiyev, became a subject of discussion. Or, from time to time appear the informations about the real estate or business of some officials and deputies. Why no measures are taken against them? How to understand this? Does it mean that if you are a state official, if you are from us, then you can do everything?

-If to look at the mechanism of the current government, the rule of law is not the main principle here. The main principle here is devotion. Someone solves questions, someone brings a lot of money, the latter is very important. Suppose someone is appointed, for example,the chairman of the International Bank, the president of SOCAR – here the main criterion is who brings more money. Therefore, the facts of corruption in power do not cause much surprise. The fact of corruption can then cause discontent among the highest echelons of power when theft occurs without their knowledge. That is, they could not determine the extent of what is happening. The official-corrupt did not inform them about this. For example, we witnessed what happened at the time in the Interbank. And there was an information about it. The authorities simply did not have information about the scale of what was happening. A corrupt official then becomes the target of the wrath of the upper echelon of power when problems or a crisis occur in the structure led by him. That is what happened in the International Bank. At that time, the chairman of the bank was patronized by the head of the MNS. It also happens when a minister, a high-ranking official from the inside, who has authority, influence,patronizes a corrupt official, then he is not touched. And as soon as this high-ranking official leaves his post, the corrupt officials, whom he patronized, is checked.

-In your opinion, how do these people earn millions? Millions cannot be formed from their official revenues.

-For these people, their official income is a penny, because their lifestyle is different. They operate with public funds at various levels and abuse it. Where do they get the millions from? They steal from the structures in which they work. They receive interest for some operations, some tenders are sold by their own companies. Inflate prices. For example, a report by SOCAR was recently published, it turned out that its net profit has reduced. And this happened due to the fact that the company’s expenses are inflated. Suppose that expensive purchases are organized, money is appropriated under the guise of some expenses, that’s why net profit is declining. And the inflated costs go into the pockets of Rovnag Abdullayev, as well as other company management. They are helping out millions. The same happens in other structures, be it Interbank or Azerenergy. The purpose of the preservation of such structures as state property in this. Any foreign investment there may be attracted. But do not let anybody close. When we make comments, they say that here is a strategic object. However, the actual goal is to appropriate their revenues through these companies, as well as to allocate budgetary funds through these companies, since these state companies are allocated very large funds from the state budget.

– There is an article in the legislation of Azerbaijan, according to which the Prosecutor General”s Office may carry out an investigation on any corruption fact published in the media. However, to this end, we have not witnessed the Prosecutor General”s Office to investigate information spread in the media about moneytaken offshore, about companies created offshore and foreign companies, about corruption scandals in which Azerbaijan was mentioned. Why do you think?

-It is natural that one of the powers of the investigating authorities, as well as the prosecutor’s office, is the right to verify the information published in the media. Check it and find out how serious it is. The prosecutor’s office should consider the facts presented in local or international media with evidence and documents. For this there is no difference in the presence or absence of any articles in the legislation. That is, it is the duty of investigators to investigate such facts. At the same time, the Court of Accounts should also investigate these issues, as they occurred in a state-owned company. And this is also one of their responsibilities. They should deal with such issues immediately, since the talk is about state-owned companies operating on the basis of public finances. But why the question is not considered?

Because the political atmosphere in Azerbaijan does not allow this. Suppose that the Prosecutor General”s Office will not have Zakir Garalov, Rustam Usubov, instead of them there will be other persons who are distinguished by their honesty, but still with the current government they will not be able to conduct an investigation related to SOCAR, since the political atmosphere does not allow this. Even if they start an investigation, they will be ordered to stop it. Because the laws do not work, they will be forced to stop.

-The officials always declare that there is a fight against corruption in Azerbaijan, officially it is always being promoted. Is there really a fight against corruption in Azerbaijan in one form or another?

-In Azerbaijan, the fight against corruption is wrong. It”s just that various international organizations have an anti-corruption diary. Therefore, against the corruption are some measures that are more imitative in nature. For many years, when mentioning anti-corruption, the government of Azerbaijan cited ASAN Hidmet as an example, since there is no other demonstration, but ASAN Hidmet has been created for a long time. Then what happened after ASAN Hidmet? Naturally, some minor issues are resolved. And those questions that created a strong public discontent. These questions played an important role in the creation of ASAN Hidmet. For example, people had to stand in long queues in order to get a passport, they had to endure red tape to get documents. This caused widespread discontent among people. ASAN Hidmet appeared after the “Arab Spring”. At that time, the authorities were experiencing some anxiety, because discontent reigned everywhere, protests, revolutions occurred. Power has changed. Therefore, our government, having created ASAN Hidmet at that time, solved some issues that are causing discontent. At the same time, this year, the authorities have taken some steps. For example, the problems that caused great discontent with the families of the Martyrs were resolved, and the tax on the export of potatoes and onions was also eliminated. That is, issues that give rise to public discontent are partially resolved. However, in general, there is no large-scale struggle against corruption in Azerbaijan. True, they try to present it as if there is a big struggle. Certain steps to address the issue of bribery at the household level have been taken. However, the embezzlement of state budget funds, called corruption, and the fight against corruption in government agencies, unfortunately, is not conducted, no measures are taken.

– What should be done to prevent illegal enrichment of officials, corruption and serious struggle against it in Azerbaijan? What would you suggest?

– First of all, the rule of law should be ensured in Azerbaijan, and the judiciary should fulfill its function. That is, in fact, there must be three powers. If this happens, a balance of power will be created, then there can be talk of a serious fight against corruption. However, now those who steal and those who fight against this struggle are the same people, so this struggle is not going on. First of all, the process of adopting the state budget, the process of spending – the whole system must be completely changed. State budget expenditures should mainly be carried out according to the objectives and programs. Then it will be seriously checked over so that it is possible to conduct both monitoring and auditing. On the other hand, the relationship between the state budget and state-owned companies should be fully clarified. Laws must be passed on state-owned companies, specific names must be named. For example, how should relations between the state and SOCAR, the state and the Interbank, etc., be regulated? In state-owned companies should be institutional reforms. Companies must operate in a transparent manner. There is no need for the president of Azerbaijan to appoint the president of SOCAR. SOCAR should have its own Board of Directors. The Board of Directors brings a manager, gives him a position, a salary, so that he runs this company. These companies, although they are state property, should work on a commercial basis. Funds from the state budget should be allocated to them only within the framework of certain programs. They can take loans with the condition of their return. If all these relations are settled, that is, if the judiciary is established, the state budget will be based on transparency and programs, relations between the state and companies will be clear, if the companies themselves have institutional reforms and they act on a commercial basis, and the public chamber to control all these structures and expenses, then in Azerbaijan a very serious blow can be dealt to corruption, it can be largely prevented.


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