A new investigation suggesting that the Pilatus bank of Malta was used to launder millions of dollars for the ruling family of Azerbaijan and their associates should be a wake-up call on beneficial ownership transparency for world's richest nations.
According to revelations published by OCCRP and other partners in The Daphne Project, the daughters of President Aliyev of Azerbaijan own a vast portfolio of luxury property in Dubai and elsewhere, and are the hidden beneficial owners of one of Azerbaijan’s largest holding companies.
"Pilatus Bank, currently closed and under investigation for money laundering by authorities in Malta, appears to have existed primarily to facilitate secretive kleptocratic transactions,” said Casey Kelso, global advocacy director at Transparency International. “While pressuring civil society, abusing human rights and manipulating elections at home, the Aliyevs have bought respect and luxury businesses in the Gulf and Europe through a network of proxies and shell companies.”
The Daphne Project revelations are not the first to expose a network of corruption linking Azerbaijan’s ruling family to banks and politicians across Europe. They come one day after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) published the findings of an independent inquiry into corruption at the assembly.
The independent panel of former judges began hearing testimonies in the wake of the 2017 Azerbaijani Laundromat exposé. That investigation revealed how Azerbaijan used a US$2.9billion slush fund to buy influence in Europe, including parliamentarians’ votes against human rights criticism of Azerbaijan at the Council of Europe (CoE).
The independent report highlighted breaches of the CoE code of conduct and strong new suspicions of corrupt activity linked to reputational laundering for Azerbaijan, in addition to those already reported. National authorities in Finland, Germany, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and other relevant jurisdictions should open investigations into these new cases.
In its own report published last week, Transparency International found that G20 countries are moving too slowly to meet their own standards for closing down the anonymous shell companies that allow criminals and the corrupt to launder money and move suspicious wealth across borders.
“The corrupt shouldn’t be able to hide behind complex legal structures to open accounts, make investments, and purchase luxury goods,” said Maira Martini, knowledge coordinator at Transparency International and co-author of the report. “We should be able to know who the individuals behind companies are, and where the funds for their investments come from. Transparency International urges countries to take swift action to end anonymous companies, in particular the establishment of public registers of beneficial ownership.”
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