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Τετάρτη, 14 Νοεμβρίου 2018 09:24

Nagorno-Karabakh, the lobbies and an international arrest warrant in Greek colors

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The lobbying warfare around the EU’s decision-making institutions is tough and its methods are often unorthodox.

A weird story is unfolding the last few days in Brussels concerning the 27 year long dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the de facto independent, mainly Armenian-populated entity which is internationally recognized as an integral part of Azerbaijan. Since 1994, negotiations are being held on the entity’s status as it resulted after the 1991-1994 war under OSCE, and at times skirmishes occur, often with several victims.

One would wonder whether Greece has reasons to be interested in Karabakh; however, what is happening the last few days is also significant for Greece, since Azerbaijan sentenced in absentia Mr Kaspar Karampetian, head of European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD), who happens to be a Greek citizen. EAFJD is in fact Armenia’s link to the EU and the coordinator of the Armenian National Committees’ activities in 14 European countries.

In fact, Azerbaijan has requested to Interpol an international arrest warrant for him, which has not reached Brussels yet.

Mr Karampetian was convicted by the Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan for “repeatedly crossing the state border of Azerbaijan through Armenia and visiting Nagorno-Karabakh with the aim of promoting the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”.

It should be reminded that Azerbaijan had also issued an international arrest warrant against three MEPs from Luxembourg, Czech Republic and Cyprus, for carrying out observation mission during the constitutional referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In this spirit, similar convictions should have been handed down and warrants should be issued for dozens of MEPs, EU MPs and journalists who have visited Nagorno-Karabakh the last few years.

It is certainly not the way to deal with European institutions. Or rather, Europeans are not used to such process. Over the last year, 21 Belgian MPs have visited Nagorno-Karabakh, while its president visited in turn Belgium, where two friendship groups were established. A similar friendship group with Nagorno-Karabakh has been established in the European Parliament, while several MEPs have visited Stepanakert.

What are the reasons behind the diplomatic tensions over the last year?

First it was the failed four-day blitzkrieg in 2016, when Azerbaijani armed forces were crushed by Karabakh army; from then on, diplomatic fever rose.

Many Europeans visited the region; only last month, the Swedish MEP and member of the European Parliaments’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, Lars Adaktusson, visited Stepanakert. The visit was considered very important because of Mr Adaktusson’s status, but also since the Swedish and Polish have led the way in building bridges with Post-Soviet Eurasia.

In fact, Adaktusson, together with Danish Anders Vistisen and 14 more MEPs, recently put a question to the European Parliament on why the EU envoy for South Caucasus has not visited Karabakh (the question was co-signed by four Greek MEPs as well, Spyraki, Kouloglou, Kyrkos, Sakorafa).

Azerbaijan is in the process of becoming an EU strategic partner in energy, but critical issues remain unsolved, such as democratic rights, human rights (a few months ago, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe initiated a procedure to sanction Azerbaijan for not complying to the European Court’s rulings on rights violation of an Azeri human rights activist), and of course the dispute with Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the “wonderful world” of Brussels and Strasbourg, policy making is often determined by lobbying groups. Both the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians try of course to promote their points of view.

Armenia’s diplomatic successes on Karabakh as well as Azerbaijan’s condemnations for human rights violations by the European Court of Human Rights may lead to more aggressive actions, such as the international warrant against Mr Karampetian or the three MEPs, last year.

They may also lead to other unorthodox methods such as bribing EU politicians, in a scheme revealed a few months ago as part of a big European-wide investigation by Guardian and other media such as Süddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde, Novaya Gazeta in Russia, Berlingske in Denmark, the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, Transparency International and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

According to the investigation, Azerbaijan paid 2.9bn dollars in bribes and other payments to politicians and journalists in the period 2012-2014 as part of its global lobbying campaign with the aim of improving its image and political influence to the EU institutions. Money were funneled via a branch of Danske Bank in Estonia and huge funds originated from the International Bank of Azerbaijan. Daske Bank admitted later that there had been unethical practices and money laundering, while details of payments were published in Danish newspaper Berlingske.

According to Guardian, a lot of money was used to pay members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace) such as German MEP Eduard Lintner and Italian Luca Volonte, former chair of the centre-right group in Pace.

The payments took place at a time when the European Court of Human Rights had convicted Azerbaijan for jailing activists and journalists and a vote for an unfavorable resolution in Pace was at stake.

Ultimately, the vote did not take place.

Luca Volonte was charged with money laundering and corruption by a Milan court. He was cleared for money laundering charges, but corruption case is pending trial.

Lintner founded an NGO, the Society for Promoting German-Azerbaijani Relations (GEFDAB), having received 819,500 dollars.

The Volonte case came to light in 2016. His foundation in Italy received about two million dollars.

Kalin Mitrev case is also useful for understanding how lobbying works. According to the investigation, payments were also made via British companies to Kalin Mitrev, a Bulgarian board member of the EBRD. As Guardian and other leading European newspapers wrote, payments were made from the Azeri company Avuar Co for “consultancy services”, and amounted to more than 400,000 dollars. Mitrev denied wrongdoing and claimed that he did not know where the money came from.

At the same time, by coincidence, Mitrev’s wife, Irina Bokova, who happens to be UNESCO Director-General, presented UNESCO’s Mozart Gold Metal to Mehriban Aliyeva, President of Azerbaijan Ilhan Aliyev’s wife. She also hosted a photo exhibition called “Azerbaijan – A Land of Tolerance” at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The event was organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. She also denied that all this has anything to do with her husband’s activities.

Thousands of dollars were also paid to PR companies and journalists, according to the investigation published on Guardian and other media.

This, in short, is how lobbying groups work.

Regarding the arrest warrant against Mr Karampetian, it has not been executed yet. It would be interesting to see how Greek state will respond to the persecution and possible request for extradition of a Greek citizen.

What Azerbaijan claims

CNN Greece asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan to comment regarding the conviction and the international warrant against Mr Karampetian who, we repeat, is a Greek citizen. This is what the spokesperson of the Ministry, Hikmat Aliyev, stated:

“Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders is recognized by the international community as a whole, including the EU and its member states.

Without authorization and permission by the government of Azerbaijan, the visit to Azerbaijan’s occupied territories is a blatant violation of Azerbaijan’s state borders status quo, the rules for passport controls, and the immigration and penal code.

Mr Kaspar Karampetian, a Belgium resident, is a frequent visitor of Azerbaijan’s occupied territories and in direct contact and collaboration with the illegal puppet regime established there.

This illegal regime is the outcome of the military occupation, the ethnic cleansing, the war crimes and the crimes against humanity that Armenia commits towards Azerbaijan.

Mr Kaspar Karampetian, getting involved in promoting this regime, is funding EU politicians’ visits in occupied territories and pursues the actions and policy to undermine Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He is thus violating inherent rights, including the right to property of millions of internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan and refugees, and provides a favorable environment for the annexation of Azerbaijan territories.

Such illegal actions consist serious crimes under the Azeri penal code. In general, such actions against any country’s territorial integrity are considered serious crimes and give rise to liability. The Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan’s office has brought legal proceedings against him. All bilateral and multilateral organizations will be used to bring Mr Karampetian to court. We are certain that Mr Karampetian fully understands the serious legal responsibilities from his illegal actions.

CNN Greece asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan to comment on international media reports about the bribery scheme and the investigation outcome.

Here are two indicative links:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/04/uk-at-centre-of-secret-3bn-azerbaijani-money-laundering-and-lobbying-scheme

http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/lobbyismus-von-kaviar-und-verkauften-seelen-1.3652313

Mr Aliyev’s reply is the following:

“The so-called allegations or the orchestrated media campaign against Azerbaijan is a strong example of fake news and propaganda. Those who were behind it have not been able to provide any serious argument and failed, as was expected. Armenian lobbying groups, including EAFJD, played a part in unsuccessfully reproducing these fake news in other media”.

Published on CNN Greece 14/11/2019

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