Two former German MP’s, Axel Fischer and Eduard Lintner of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), have been charged with bribery and corruption by German prosecutors on January 29th.
The MP’s have been charged as a part of a wider, several year long investigation into a network of various briberies Azerbaijan has sent and sends to several different European politicians in a number of different European countries.
Lintner and Fischer are accused of receiving funds from Azerbaijan in exchange for positive public support, votes in favour of Azeri interests, and altering a number of different reports on human rights, particularly from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in Azerbaijan to be shown more positively.
Fischer allegedly received a bribe of 21,800 euros in 2016 (23,590 USD), on top of 4,500 euro’s in 2015. At the time, Fischer was serving as the PACE parliamentary rapporteur for Armenia. Following payment, Fischer voted in Azerbaijan’s favour in several different instances, including on votes of PACE pertaining to clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2016.
Lintner, however, received a total of 3.4 million euros (3.7m USD) in payments to two companies owned by him between 2012-2014. It is unclear how much of this money stayed within the companies, and how much ended up in his personal funds.
Fischer and Lintner were both members of PACE as well as MP’s in the German government.
A Wider Network
The two MP’s are not the only ones being charged with bribery and corruption. Karin Strenz, also a former MP and PACE member, has also had accusations of bribery brought against her. Due to Strenz’s death in 2021, these charges cannot be pursued, however German authorities have announced their intention to confiscate the bribes received by Strenz.
In addition to Lintner and Fischer, German prosecutors brought charges against Lintner’s son, who is accused of assisting behind the scenes and making the transfers between Azerbaijan and the MP’s, as well as a former employee of both Lintner and Strenz.
Both Lintner and Fischer have denied the accusations against them, whereas Lintners son and the employee have not publicly responded to the allegations.
Frank Schwabe, head of the German Bundestag’s Council of Europe delegation, has stated that “these proceedings will trigger a chain reaction. After all, these three are just part of a German and European corruption network surrounding Azerbaijan”.
Through Lintner, and a lobbying company which he ran, several payments were made from Azerbaijan to other MP’s. The other MP’s involved have not yet been charged, as investigations continue.
Additionally German prosecutors are investigating Azeri ex-MP Elkhan Suleymanov, who ran an NGO based in Baku, the Azeri capital, through which all the payments were made.
The Azeri network, which spans across several different European countries, was first exposed in 2017 by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), who refers to the network as the “Azerbaijan Laundromat”.
The OCCRP estimates that Azerbaijan at the time maintained a “slush fund” (a reserve of money to be used for illicit purposes) valued at 2.9 billion USD. From this fund, Azerbaijan made a myriad of payments to, purchased expensive gifts for, and gifted free trips to European MP’s who in turn would vote in Azerbaijan’s favour and lobby for them.
Azerbaijan and PACE
In recent years the relationship between Azerbaijan and PACE has deteriorated, particularly since the 2020 44-Day war (the Second Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh war). Each year the Council of Europe, of which PACE is the parliamentary arm of, holds a vote in order to ratify the credentials of its member states, of which there are 46 different nations.
On January 24th, however, Azerbaijan withdrew from PACE, just a few hours before the assembly voted not to ratify Azerbaijan’s credentials, citing Azerbaijan’s poor human rights and democracy records. The vote was 76-10, with four abstentions.
“Very serious concerns remain as to [Azerbaijan’s] ability to conduct free and fair elections, the separation of powers, the weakness of its legislature vis-A-vis the executive, the independence of the Judiciary and respect for human rights, as illustrated by numerous judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and opinions of the Venice Commission” -The Pace Resolution
Azerbaijan withdrew on the day of the vote after it became evident the vote would not go there way two days prior, January 22nd, when German MP Frank Schwabe challenged the nations credentials at the opening of the 22nd’s PACE session. Schwabe was supported by 30 other assembly members. The following day, PACE’s Monitoring Committee released a report recommending Azerbaijan’s credentials be denied, prompting their withdrawal on the 24th.
Azerbaijan stated they withdrew due to the “racism, Azerbaijanophobia, and Islamophobia” exhibited by PACE.
“In the face of the current unbearable atmosphere of racism, Azerbaijanophobia and Islamophobia in the PACE, the delegation of Azerbaijan decides to cease its engagement with and presence at the PACE until further notice” -The Azeri delegation to PACE
Azerbaijan mentioned in their statement to PACE anger towards the lack of support they had faced in the face of “Armenian aggression”, stating that they had hoped when they joined in 2001 that PACE could serve as an avenue towards helping “Azerbaijan to restore the rights of hundreds of thousands Azerbaijanis violated as a result of the military aggression and the occupation of a part of its internationally recognized territories by Armenia, and consequently, the justice would be served for the sake of reaching the lasting peace in the region”.
“After Azerbaijan’s historic victory over the aggression, the occupation and the violent separatism, and the restoration of its territorial integrity and sovereignty, we face an orchestrated smear campaign to denigrate Azerbaijan, and cast shadow on its achievement to restore the justice denied for so long to the people of Azerbaijan” -The Azeri Statement
They reference the disputed territory of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), which is internationally recognized as Azerbaijan but was, until recently, inhabited by ethnic Armenians. In the 90’s a war was fought between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the land, which resulted in Artsakh declaring independence. In 2020 Azerbaijan invaded the region, and established control over a significant portion of the region until a peace deal was brokered by Russia. In September of 2023, Azerbaijan again launched an attack on Artsakh, following a nearly year long blockade of Artsakh by Azerbaijan (from December 2022 until September of 2023), causing the self-described Republic of Artsakh and the Artsakh Defence Forces to surrender to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has since been able to establish full control over Artsakh, however virtually all of the regions 120,000 Armenians left for Armenia in a mass exodus, which Armenia and several other nations, including France, have called ethnic cleansing by Azerbaijan.