Karin Strenz

PACE Politicians on Baku’s Payroll

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FRANKFURT, Germany — It is not the first time that the Azerbaijan government has been caught bribing politicians in Europe, and it may or may not be the last. As reported on January 29 by the German Press Agency (DPA) and picked up by national media outlets, the Munich District Attorney’s office announced that members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have been under investigation for four years, suspected of having accepted bribes from the Azerbaijan regime. And now they will be charged.

(The money was apparently not well spent, as Azerbaijan has in essence been kicked off PACE.)

Eduard Lintner

Among them are two former members of the German Bundestag (Parliament), Eduard Lintner from the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Axel Fischer of the sister party Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The former was a long-term member of the German legislative body until 2009 and a member of PACE since 1999; Fischer served in the Bundestag until 2021 and was leader of the German delegation in PACE from 2014 to 2017. Another German politician named is the late Karin Strenz, a former CDU Bundestag member, who died in 2021. Her Baku connection had been revealed earlier, and was covered in the national press as well as the Armenian-German Correspondence (ADK), the publication of the German-Armenian Society (DAG).

Axel Fischer

Now that the district attorney in Munich has apparently enough material to reinforce its suspicions of bribery, the legal process should continue. Now it is up to the Munich Court of appeals to consider the charges and decide if it goes to court proceedings.

As reported on national television ZDF and other media, Strenz had received funds from Baku via Lintner. Back in 2017, Lintner’s name had emerged in investigations conducted by the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung as well as the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and he had acknowledged his role as a paid lobbyist. Reportedly two of his firms had contracts with a state-owned Azerbaijani entity, which delivered monthly payments, amounting in the end to millions of Euros. Apparently Lintner kept some of the money which was channeled through shell companies abroad, and forwarded some to Strenz. Lintner’s companies were supposedly being paid for certain services; instead, it was political favors that were purchased.

PACE, the body the individuals were hired to influence is presented as the “democratic conscience of Europe” on its website. With representatives of its 46 member countries, it is mandated to protect human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Armenia is a member of the Council of Europe, and therefore is bound to respect its rulings. Azerbaijan was a member until last week.

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According to press accounts, Council members are accused of having accepted bribes to represent Baku’s political interests, and to cast votes accordingly. In the current case, Fischer is said to have done so in January 2016 in a vote relative to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, and to have received over 20,000 Euro that year for services rendered. The District Attorney is apparently planning to seize the funds. The report asserts that Fischer was supposed to “deliver speeches favorable to Azerbaijan” in the sessions and “make available reserved documents.”

Even the widower of Strenz may have to return funds, although the proceedings against her had been dropped after her death. Her “earnings” were reportedly almost 150,000 Euro, between 2014 and 2017.

Scandalous as it sounds, to date none of the perpetrators had been punished. Gerald Knaus, the founding director of a think-tank called European Stability Initiative, went so far as to call it “the perfect crime.” Though pleased with the current “excellent” developments, Knaus said the fact it has taken so long is “disastrous.” That said, the affair may, indeed, catalyze a “chain reaction.” This is the view expressed by Frank Schwabe (SPD), who leads the Bundestag’s delegation to the Council of Europe. He sees the three named individuals as part of a larger, organized corruption network for Azerbaijan, involving not only Germans but other parliamentarians. In fact, German national television reported that the Munich authorities had also conducted investigations in other countries, including Cyprus, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Switzerland, and Azerbaijan — and that one former member of the Parliamentary Assembly from this last-named country, Elkhan Suleymanov, is also involved. It is to be hoped that the investigations will go forward, and focus on the period up to the most recent cases of Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian aggression.

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