The Hungarian government has reportedly denied any connection between newly revealed cash transfers from Azerbaijan to Hungary and the 2012 release from prison of an Azerbaijani army officer who hacked to death an Armenian colleague in Budapest.
The revelation is part of an extensive international report which found that Azerbaijan’s ruling elite used a $2.9 billion slush fund to pay off European politicians, buy luxury goods, and launder money. The report, released by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) on Monday, says thousands of payments were channeled through four shell companies registered in Britain between 2012 and 2014.
According to the OCCRP, more than $9 million was transferred to Hungarian bank accounts of Velasco, an offshore company owned by a son of Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Yaqub Eyyubov, from 2012-2013. “The company was dissolved at the request of its Hungarian formation agency in 2015, and it is not clear where the money ended up,” says the report titled “The Azerbaijan Laundromat.”
The report says that the first $450,000cash transfer to the Velasco account with the Budapest-based MKB Bank was wired on July 19, 2012, just over one month before the extradition to Azerbaijan of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army officer who was serving a life sentence in a Hungarian prison. A Hungarian court had convicted Safarov of axe-murdering a sleeping Armenian officer, Gurgen Markarian, during a NATO training course in Budapest in 2004.
Immediately after the extradition, the Azerbaijani lieutenant received a hero’s welcome in Baku. Safarov was not only pardoned by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev but also promoted to the rank of major, granted a free apartment and paid eight years’ worth of back pay.
Safarov’s release provoked a furious reaction from Armenia and strong international criticism. Armenia suspended diplomatic relations with Hungary in protest. Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian charged in September 2012 that corruption was at the root of the “Azerbaijani-Hungarian deal” on Safarov.
The Hungarian government has repeatedly defended its decision to send Safarov back to Azerbaijan, saying it stemmed from a European convention and was not aimed at offending the Armenian people.
The transfer of Azerbaijani money to the Hungarian bank exposed by the OCCRP has rekindled suspicions that the authorities in Budapest were paid to repaatriate the convicted murderer. Hungary’s controversial Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Baku in June 2012.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto rejected suggestions linking Safarov’s extradition to cash flows from Azerbaijan at a news conference on Wednesday.
“In the firmest possible way, I reject any inference or insinuation which makes a connection between Hungarian foreign policy decisions and the aforementioned international criminal actions,” Szijjarto said, according to “The Budapest Beacon” daily. “I really hope we uncover the truth of what happened very soon.”
Thousands of Hungarians demonstrated in Budapest in September 2012 to condemn their government’s decision to hand over Safarov to Baku. Ferenc Gyurcsany, a former Hungarian prime minister, accused Orban’s government at the time of “selling the country’s honor for 30 pieces of silver.” Orban brushed aside the accusations.