Azeris Rally in Capital to Protest Alleged $3 Billion SchemeBy
Police stand aside after government sanctions demonstration
Demonstrators call for resignation of President Aliyev
Several thousand Azeris demonstrated without incident in the capital on Saturday to protest the alleged role of government leaders in a $3 billion scheme to launder money, pay off European officials and buy luxury goods.
Police didn’t intervene to stop the protest after the government approved the demonstration, organized in a Baku suburb by the National Council of Democratic Forces opposition group.
The protesters chanted “freedom” and “resignation,” demanding that President Ilham Aliyev step down.
The Caspian Sea nation’s rulers were “caught red-handed” while taking money they had “stolen from people” out of the country, Ali Karimli, leader of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party, told the crowd.
The so-called Azerbaijan Laundromat was uncovered in a joint investigation by 17 European media organizations including the Guardian and Le Monde and was published on Sept. 5 by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, known as OCCRP. The Azeri authorities blocked access to the OCCRP website after the report was published.
Banking records of transactions via four U.K.-registered shell companies showed that members of the country’s ruling elite were using a “secret slush fund” to pay off European officials, “launder money and otherwise benefit themselves,” the OCCRP said. The records were leaked to the Danish newspaper Berlingske, which shared them with other media and the OCCRP, according to the report.
Aliyev’s office rejected the accusations as “groundless.”