Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Political Repression is All in the Game, When Big Money is in Play

BIG OIL lubricated way for Azerbaijan, but protesters steal the light. 

THE European Games are due to open in Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan, on Friday, but the Azerbaijani government's hope to use this event to boost its image suffered an own-goal last night with the news that a British rights campaigner, Emma Hughes, had been detained at the airport and would not be allowed to enter Azerbaijan.   

In a message to friends, Emma, who has called these "the BP games", accusing the British Petroleum company of backing the Azerbaijani regime, said:
"I'm being detained in Baku. I may get deported, but Azerbaijan's 100 political prisoners face years in jail until the BF-funded regime falls". 
Emma works with Platform, a group dedicated to promoting education, art and political activism concerning the global oil industry and its effects on society and the environment.

RAISING PRISONERS' PLIGHT ,  Emma Hughes exposed lobbyists.

In September 2013 she wrote about how an Azerbaijani government-backed lobbying outfit, The European Azerbaijani Society(TEAS) was working the British conference season, holding receptions at the conferences of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties.

Life in Azerbaijan is starkly different from TEAS facade of drinks and jazz. Azerbaijan's ruling elite have used the country's oil and gas wealth to establish a repressive system where police constantly monitor people, there is almost no press freedom and even the most peaceful of protests are violently broken up. In the past 18 months the Azerbaijani government have conducted what Human Rights Watch calls "a deliberate, abusive strategy to limit dissent" as it attempts to stifle opposition in the run up to the Azerbaijan presidential elections. In January in the town of Ismayilli, batons and teargas were used to break up demonstrations and in March water cannons and rubber bullets were fired on a protest in Baku – afterwards police arrested seven members of the youth movement NIDA for planning to incite violence, despite the demo remaining peaceful throughout. Human Rights Club have spent the last few months documenting political prisoner cases, they estimate there are over 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan's jails – two of whom were expected to be election candidates until their incarceration forced them to withdraw.
Her article, published on September 27, 2013 in the Guardian 'Comment is Free' column,  was headed:  Why UK politicians should be wary of Azerbaijan's overtures

 It would seem some British politicians have taken her warning with a pinch of salt, some barrels of oil, or a generous helping of mazooma.

As Private Eye (no.1393, May 29-June 11) reports:
Two days before polling, the Electoral Commission released details of the latest political donations, including a £50,000 gift to the Conservatives from one Javad Marandi, who last year gave the party £75,000 in a series of smaller gifts. Marandi is a British businessman who since 2002 has been managing partner of Pasha Construction, part of the Pasha Holdings conglomerate owned by the family of President Ilham Aliyev’s wife, Mehriban Aliyeva (nee Mehriban Pashayeva.)
According to a leaked US embassy cable in 2010: “The family of First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva” is “the single most powerful family in Azerbaijan.” It dominates several ministries and “controls Pasha Holdings, a conglomerate that includes Pasha Bank, Pasha Insurance, Pasha Construction, and Pasha Travel”. Most firms in Azerbaijan have to pay off officials demanding “slices of the corruption pie... [but] projects by Pasha Construction face few, if any, of these setbacks and are generally among the fastest to be built in Azerbaijan.”
Projects include the new Four Seasons hotel in the capital Baku, which had a glamorous launch in 2012 at which Pasha Construction was represented by Mr Marandi. He has also appeared in photographs at New York charity balls alongside Leyla Aliyeva, the president’s daughter.
When the Eye asked Mr Marandi if his donation was related to his business interests, his spokesperson said he gave the money “in a purely personal capacity as a British citizen and any suggestion that it was made for any other reason is entirely inaccurate”.
Concerns about human rights in Azerbaijan are currently building as the government imprisons critical journalists before next month’s European Games in Baku.

Of course, £50,000 might be a lot of money to me and you, and it is probably helping to flavour BP's own influence, but Azerbaijan is not the only ex-Soviet republic proving remunerative, and of course not the biggest.  (Kazakhstan's ruler has paid Tony Blair for advice, but that was through a company, whereas here we are talking about Party donations).

A report on the Tories' generous new supporters last year said:
"Since 2010, at least £1,157,433 has been donated to the party through British citizens who were formerly Russian citizens or are married to Russians or their associated companies."

And another:

Keeping up the sporting link, money was even raised with the promise of a tennis match to the highest bidder. And if the reference to Russians living in London sounds like we're talking about rich emigres separate from the Russian government, one of those involved in the fundraising fun was a former Finance Minister favourite of Putin.

That some of those who've made fortunes from the former 'workers' state' have followed their money to the City of London, settled and sent their offspring to posh public schools, does not stop them providing a useful channel for dosh and influence. It facilitates it. 
Critics thought not. And adding grist to their mill, Electoral Commission records promptly revealed Mrs Chernukhin to have been deemed an ‘impermissable donor’ when she first tried to give £10,000 to the Tory Party in 2012, seemingly on grounds that she was then a foreign citizen.
Publicity over the links to Russian wealth may sit uncomfortably with Cameron's calls to keep up sanctions against Russia now. But never lacking in hypocrisy or chutzpah, the Bullingdon Boy's champions David and Boris may sense new opportunities to shine by making speeches about "corruption" , and riding the tide of the FIFA scandals.

Trust some spoilsports to point out that not all corruption involves foreigners, and even the FIFA affair appears to involve British banks and companies.

Could the Cameron government combine its new-found desire to lead a crusade against corruption with its seeming willingness to bite the hand that feeds, reviving Cold War, to steal the 2018 World Cup plans and prestige back from Russia?

In the (now Russian-owned) Evening Standard, (June 9) Simon Jenkins writes that
Cameron previously tried to suppress questions about FIFA, but now could use the corruption row to land the games for Britain. 

But could he get away with this?  Never trust a Tory!

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