Azerbaijan's ruling families linked to secret investments via Maltese bank – The Guardian

16:42 • 24.04.18



By Juliette Garside and Stephanie Kirchgaessner
 

Azerbaijan’s ruling families are the alleged beneficiaries of dozens of anonymously owned companies that have been used to invest in property, hotels and businesses in Europe, according to an investigation by the Daphne Project.


Over the past three years, several networks of companies appear to have used a private bank in Malta for secret investments in the UK, Spain, France, Georgia and Montenegro, research by the project found. 


Many of the companies were allegedly operated for the benefit of the children of Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, and the sons of his minister for emergency situations, Kamaladdin Heydarov, according to three sources with knowledge of the transactions.


Their claims are supported by information in the public domain, and a leak from Dubai residency records.


Aliyev’s daughters, Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva, did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Lawyers for Heydarov’s sons, Nijat and Tale, said: “Our clients are the beneficial owners of companies … which have entirely legitimate and lawful business.”

 

Although there is no suggestion of wrongdoing, the disclosures are likely to raise new questions for Azerbaijan’s ruling elites, who have been widely criticised for a lack of transparency since Aliyev took power in 2003.


He has been accused of presiding over a regime that has imprisoned journalists, committed human rights abuses and allowed looting of state assets by public officials. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has repeatedly called for the country to be more open and provide greater transparency as part of necessary anti-corruption measures.


The president has denounced any criticism of his government as a “smear” and accused western media of waging a “biased, groundless and provocative” campaign against Azerbaijan’s leaders.


The investigation shows the breadth of previously unreported investments owned by some of the elite, and how Malta has been used as a gateway for them to buy and manage assets across Europe and the rest of the world.


At the heart of the network are companies that were clients of Pilatus bank, whose headquarters are in Malta and assets are frozen pending the outcome of an investigation initiated by the country’s banking regulator last month.


The information appears to show for the first time that the president’s daughters own a half share in Gilan Holding, one of Azerbaijan’s largest businesses, with interests in banking, construction, tourism, agriculture and Gabala football club.


Gilan Holding was founded by Heydarov in the 1980s and became one of Azerbaijan’s most successful companies before being handed to his sons, before Heydarov entered government.


Assets allegedly held by the families through companies that were customers of Pilatus bank include:


- An investment in the five-star Sofitel hotel and spa on Dubai’s Palm island, which is operated by the French multinational AccorHotels Group.

- Azerbaijan’s Gilan Holding conglomerate.

- Three French manufacturers of porcelain, bed linen and Smurf figurines.

- A $40m (£29m), five-star hotel redevelopment in Georgia.

The Maltese regulator has declined to comment on the focus of its inquiry at Pilatus, and there is no suggestion those named in this article acted illegally.


A collaboration of 18 news organisations, including the Guardian, Reuters and the New York Times, has been researching Pilatus. Led by France’s Forbidden Stories, the Daphne Project was created to continue the investigations of Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in October.





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