Ruling Party MP resigns, has party membership revoked as video reveals corruption at the heart of the political system in Azerbaijan.

The New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) announced Friday 28 September, that the party membership of Gular Ahmadova, a Member of the Azerbaijani Parliament, has been revoked after a video surfaced on YouTube  earlier in the week depicting the prominent YAP representative requesting a bribe from a former dean of a private university in Azerbaijan in exchange for a seat in parliament.

“The New Azerbaijan Party has expressed deep concern [regarding the] behaviours of the member of the party Gular Ahmadova together with the former rector of the International University of Azerbaijan Elshad Abdullayev in the recent video materials”, said Ali Ahmadov, (no relation to the MP in question), Deputy Chairperson of the YAP.

“Gular Ahmadova’s behaviour is not compatible with the principles and values of the party,” noted Ahmadov in a statement posted on the YAP website. “[Through] her fraud Ahmadova damaged the reputation of the ruling party in the country.” The statement continues that Ahmadova’s behaviour demonstrates she has lost the moral right to represent the YAP. Gular Ahmadova tendered her resignation on Friday in parliament, stating that as a criminal investigation was under way it would be inappropriate for her to remain in her position. She stated that she would assist the investigators, expressing confidence that the investigation will reveal the “objective truth” as well as the individuals involved in this scandal. 

Ms. Ahmadova has dismissed the video as another attempt by the former educator to discredit her, noting that  Abdullayev has tried unsuccessfully three times since 2002 to sue her in court. She remains adamant that the video was doctored.

The video was posted by opposition newspaper “Azadliq” (Azeri Report in English) which claims to have received the video and an accompanying letter from Elshad Abdullayev, former dean of the private Azerbaijan International University, currently living in exile in France.

In the video Gular Ahmadova, who has been described as one of the most influential members of the Azerbaijani parliament, is captured on tape demanding a bribe in exchange for a seat in parliament from the former dean of the private university.

During the sixteen minutes of footage filmed by what appears to be a hidden camera, Ahmadova and Abdullayev are seen to be arguing over the sum of the bribe to be paid. Ahmadova is heard requesting one million dollars, while Abdullayev claims he was assured the amount to be paid was only five hundred thousand dollars. In response the prominent Member of Parliament explains to Abdullayev that the amount requested depends on how much time is left before an election. She clarifies that if the position is sought four months ahead of an election it costs three hundred thousand dollars, if the time remaining is between two and three months the seat costs half a million dollars and if there are less than seven days before an election the amount requested is one million dollars. The video is undated.

The former university official is then seen attempting to appeal to Ahmadova by mentioning the names of other important YAP officials, including Ramiz Mehtiyev, the head of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan. Ahmadova replies that no names need be mentioned as she collects and handles all bribes herself. She adds that she is even capable of “scratching off names from the list approved by the President.”

The MP, later in the video, is heard reminding Abdullayev that “there are many who want to be a member of parliament, but there is only one voter.”

As the two continue to barter over the price of a seat in parliament, Ahmadova is heard bringing up the arrests of former ministers Ali Insanov and Farhad Aliyev in 2005, whom she notes were arrested as a result of their “political inconsistency” warning Abdullayev “this is serious, this is politics – this is about power.”

 At one point in the video the influential politician is also heard saying that she was able to “take care of the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and PACE [Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe].”

The video is a record of a meeting that happened in the office of Elshad Abdullayev, and which he filmed secretly. The meeting took place in October 2005, seven days before the Parliamentary elections. It was a tense political time in Azerbaijan immediately after the arrest of  two important government ministers – Farhad Aliyev and Ali Insanov on coup charges.  Abdullayev was a candidate in the Binagady constituency No 8, but he was not the officially endorsed candidate of YAP. During the conversation, Ahmedova tells him that she managed to strike the name of the official candidate off from the list confirmed by the president, and demands one million dollars to complete the process oh having him elected. In fact on November 7 the Central Election Commission  announced him a winner with 29,08% of the vote, but vote rigging was so blatant that under international pressure the result was cancelled.

 The Office of the Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan announced that it will investigate the corruption allegations against Ms. Ahmadova and that a criminal investigation has been established.

Ali Hasanov, a senior official of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan, confirmed on Wednesday that the authorities never accept people who try to enter official or elected bodies in such a way. Hasanov, who is the head of the Social and Political department of the Presidential Administration, said in his statement that the video provides evidence not only of people “like Elshad Abdullayev” to find illicit ways into government positions, but also, he said of the “resistance of state bodies to such facts.”

“Such people,” he told, “will sooner or later be exposed to the public. I have no doubt that the relevant bodies will take necessary measures regarding the video spread online.”

The Azerbaijan International University was forcefully closed by the Ministry of Education in 2010 on allegations that Abdullayev was accepting bribes reports Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

This report was prepared for CEW by Karina Gould.

photo: Screenshot from the video of Gular Ahmadova speaking with Elshad Abdullayev