Big push in Hungary and EP for comprehensive inquiry into Azeri Laundromat

November 16, 2017

Big push in Hungary and EP for comprehensive inquiry into Azeri Laundromat
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (L) and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev during Orbán’s state visit in 2016 | Photo: Facebook/Orbán Viktor

Benedek Jávor, co-founder of Hungarian opposition party Párbeszéd and MEP serving with the European Greens, is proposing that the EU conduct a comprehensive inquiry into the Azerbaijani Laundromat. In Hungary, investigative journalism NGO Átlátszó.hu is filing a criminal complaint to force Hungary’s reluctant prosecution service to open an investigation into suspicious transfers of Azeri funds to a Hungarian bank account which took place right around the time the Hungarian government extradited convicted axe-murderer Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan at that country’s request.

Background

In September, a consortium of news outlets uncovered how a slush fund, dubbed the Azerbaijani Laundromat, tied to that country’s ruling elite was being used to buy influence around the world and polish the international reputation of the Azerbaijani president.

The Hungarian angle of this story revealed:

  • Several bank transfers – totaling more than USD 9 million – were made to an MKB bank account in Budapest right around the time the Hungarian government struck its deal with Azeri authorities allowing for the extradition of convicted axe-murderer Ramil Safarov;
  • The Budapest bank account in question belonged to an offshore company owned by the son of the Azeri deputy prime minister;
  • No information is available regarding how the aforementioned funds were used;
  • The offshore company has since been wound up; and
  • The Hungarian bank, MKB, has since been acquired by businessmen with very close ties to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The suspicious circumstances surrounding the 2012 extradition of Safarov have generated no shortage of theories as to what exactly motivated the Hungarian government to hand over the Azeri military officer convicted of butchering Armenian military officer Gurgen Margaryan with an axe in Budapest in 2004. The two were in Hungary participating in a NATO-sponsored language program.

When revelations of the Hungarian angle were reported, Hungary’s prosecution service was quick to dismiss any notion that there was something fishy about the several million dollars transferred to Budapest from entities named in the Azerbaijani Laundromat to the Budapest bank account.

Szabolcs Szabó, a Hungarian opposition MP, contacted the country’s prosecution service to find out whether the suspicious transfer was, or is, part of an investigation.

“There has not been, nor is there currently, any criminal investigation into this matter,” responded Prosecutor General Péter Polt.

Hungary’s controversial decision to return Safarov to Azerbaijan was condemned around the world, including within the European People’s Party, the ruling Fidesz party’s own European political group.

Pushing for a comprehensive investigation on the EU and Hungarian level

On Thursday, Hungarian investigative journalism NGO Átlátszó.hu announced that it is filing a criminal complaint with Hungary’s prosecution general for suspected money laundering, the bank’s alleged failure to notify authorities of suspected money laundering, and bribery. Átlátszó says they are filing the complaint based on company documents procured through their investigation, as well as bank statements confirming suspicious transactions.

Átlátszó.hu editor-in-chief Tamás Bodoky says: “It’s nonsense that the prosecution service is not investigating the billions of (Hungarian forints) transferred to Hungary from an offshore company tied to the Azeri deputy prime minister, Viktor Orbán’s [Azeri counterpart], simply because it has ‘no official knowledge of it.’

“That is why we are filing a criminal complaint,” Bodoky says, “So that they can no longer make that claim.”

On the EU front, Benedek Jávor and four other MEPs are turning to the European Banking Authority to initiate an EU-wide inquiry into the complex money-laundering operation.

“It is outrageous that now, in 21st-century Europe, a dictatorship like that in Azerbaijan can use fake companies incorporated in the United Kingdom and the subsidiary of a Danish bank in Estonia to launder money to EU countries, including Hungary,” Jávor says. “The Azeri funds laundered to these countries are being used to bribe and buy undue influence — and national authorities are doing absolutely nothing.”

Jávor says this phenomenon clearly demonstrates that this is a systemic problem for the European banking system.

“We cannot allow for systemic corruption to enter the European Union, especially when an Asian dictatorship is undermining the EU – and its Member States’ – democratic functioning,” Jávor says.