The government of Azerbaijan responded angrily to revelations that it ran a secret $2.9 billion fund which was used to pay prominent Europeans, run lobbying operations, and launder money via a group of opaque British companies.
Azerbaijan’s presidential aide, Ali Hasanov, said the stories by the Guardian, the OCCRP and a Washington Post editorial were a smear, adding that the regime was the victim of a “scandalous” campaign organised by British intelligence, the Armenian diaspora and the US.
“When did the Guardian write about the truth about Azerbaijan? This newspaper has been known for decades for being against Azerbaijan,” Hasanov told the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet.
The reports were “biased, groundless and provocative,” he said.
Baku has now blocked access from inside Azerbaijan to the website of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP, which published details of the Azerbaijan Laundromat, following a leak of data to the Danish newspaper Berlingske.
British prime minister Theresa May’s spokesperson said that the National Crime Agency would now examine the information.
In March, a similar scheme run from Moscow, the $20bn Global Laundromat, was exposed.
Four offshore-owned British companies – based in Glasgow, Birmingham, and Potters Bar in Hertfordshire – were used to funnel money into the western financial system.
It went via the Estonian branch of a Danish bank, Danske.
One London-based beneficiary of the Laundromat, Jovdat Guliyev, resigned on Monday from the Anglo-Azerbaijani Society. Guliyev received nearly £400,000 from the scheme.
A former BP employee, he works for Azerbaijan’s state oil company.
The four firms at the centre of the Azerbaijani Laundromat were all limited partnerships registered in the UK.
They were: Metastar Invest, Hilux Services, Polux Management, and LCM Alliance.
Their corporate “partners” are anonymous entities based in the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles and Belize.
Some of the cash was used to pay for luxuries such as cars, interior design and dentistry, while other sums went to European politicians and prominent figures linked to the promotion of Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan’s ruling family is not directly named in the leaked documents. But evidence of a connection was overwhelming.
Large sums came via the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan, which is the largest bank in an oil-wealthy country, and yet earlier this summer it filed for bankruptcy protection in New York.
The defence and emergency situations ministries in Baku all contributed cash.