One day in December 2005, a few hours before dawn, employees of the Austrian central bank, dressed in blue overalls, began stacking about 30 million bank notes onto wooden pallets. They loaded the manat bills, the currency of Azerbaijan, into 38-ton trucks, according to people familiar with the shipment. Escorted by police in unmarked BMWs, the convoy rumbled past Vienna’s centuries-old churches and Habsburg palaces, crossed the Slovakian border and arrived at Bratislava Airport. There, the shrink-wrapped pallets were loaded onto a plane destined for Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
It looked like any other transaction in the international money-printing market, where bills are bought and sold amid tight security, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its December issue. In fact, Austrian prosecutors say, the sale was part of a corrupt bargain between officials at the Austrian central bank and their Azerbaijani counterparts.