LONDON (Guardian) — Four British companies are alleged to have played a key part in a multimillion pound bribery scandal involving a leading Italian politician.
Luca Volontè, a former member of the Union of the Centre party in Italy, has been accused of helping quash a human rights report criticizing Azerbaijan, one of the world’s most authoritarian countries. The Observer has also established that one of the UK companies was allegedly linked to a scandal involving Russian organized crime.
Volontè, who is also president of the European People’s party in the Council of Europe, is being investigated by the Milan public prosecutor’s office for allegedly accepting 2.39 million euros in bribes.
It is claimed that Volontè received the money in exchange for persuading the People’s party to vote against a 2013 report by the council, Europe’s leading human rights organization, that highlighted the plight of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. He denies any wrongdoing.
Several months after the report criticizing Azerbaijan was rejected by EU member state politicians, the European commission announced the construction of the controversial Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) bringing gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.
Campaign groups claim that the publication of the council’s report, drafted by a German Social Democrat MP, Christoph Strasser, would have invited public scrutiny of alleged abuses in the country, and raised questions about Europe’s backing for the pipeline.