Council of Europe internal probe pursuing claims of Azerbaijan-linked corruption

Council of Europe internal probe pursuing claims of Azerbaijan-linked corruption
Bribes are said to have affected voting in the Strasbourg chamber of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
By bne IntelliNews May 31, 2017

The Council of Europe has launched an internal investigation into alleged corruption in its parliamentary assembly (PACE), the BBC reported on May 30.

The investigation, to be conducted by three leading human rights lawyers, comes after various stakeholders, including its own members, repeatedly urged the human rights watchdog to investigate claims that Azerbaijan bribed PACE members to obtain favourable votes.

Azerbaijan, which held the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe in 2014, is considered to be one of the worst human rights offenders in Europe. In recent years, the regime of President Ilham Aliyev has cracked down on critics and opposition politicians. Nevertheless, PACE has failed to adopt resolutions criticising the government in Baku for its treatment of civil society.

A report by the European Stability Initiative (ESI) released in December, revealed that Italian PACE member Luca Volonte had received €2.4mn from Azerbaijan to advocate for Baku at PACE. The revelations sparked calls for a wide-ranging investigation of corruption at PACE and prompted a trial against Volonte in Italy.

Until now, PACE has resisted the calls, a resistance that prompted critics to call its legitimacy into question. The 47-member Council of Europe oversees compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and is not an official part of the EU.

In 2013, Christoph Strasser, a German MP and PACE member, called on PACE to vote on a report decrying human rights violations in Azerbaijan. PACE rejected the report. Two ESI investigations published in 2014 and 2016 document a long trail of corrupt practices involving the Azerbaijani lobby and several PACE members.

The Council of Europe has appointed Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a top anti-terrorism judge from France, Sir Nicholas Bratza, a former president of the European Court of Human Rights, and Elisabet Fua, a Swedish former judge at the court, to lead the investigation. They are to report their findings by the end of the year.

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