By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
In my last week’s article on secret funding for Azerbaijan’s lobbying in the United States, I referred to the payment made to “an influential oil and gas consultant with close ties to President Aliyev who presents himself as an immigration success story and lives in Dayton Ohio -- even as he also lobbies the US government on his homeland’s behalf.”
Jonny Wrate, in his article, “Baku’s Man in America,” on the OCCRP.org website (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project), provided extensive details of Adil Baguirov’s activities and the large payment he had received from Azeri sources to lobby on behalf of Azerbaijan in the United States.
Wrate reported that Baguirov, “a vocal member of the Azerbaijani diaspora, received the $253,150 transfer just months after a non-profit organization he runs, the Houston-based US Azeris Network, helped host a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, that was attended by 10 members of Congress. The junket was widely criticized, and investigated by the House Ethics Committee, for being secretly funded by Azerbaijan’s state oil company.... The precise origins of the money Baguirov received are unknown, hidden behind secretive shell companies. But there is ample evidence that the authoritarian country’s ruling elite is behind it.”
Baguirov, who “also helped organize other US-Azeri conferences in Washington, repeatedly testified before the House [of Representatives] in favor of US military aid to Azerbaijan, served as the coordinator of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus, and worked prominently in a Houston-based company that claims to have organized a trip by the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, to the White House,” wrote Wrate.
Baguirov and his family have extensive ties with Pres. Ilham Aliyev who awarded him a medal for his services in the US on behalf of Azerbaijan. However, Baguirov had not registered as a lobbyist, as required by US law, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). When contacted by OCCRP reporters, Baguirov said that the payment he had received was none of their business.
Baguirov moved to the United States at the age of 16. He graduated from the University of Southern California in international relations and business administration. Subsequently, he received a Ph.D. in political science in Moscow. Interestingly, Baguirov “was elected to Dayton’s school board, a position he held until 2017, when he resigned more than a month before the end of his term after local activist David Esrati discovered that he appeared to have lied about his residential address.”
Wrate revealed that Turbillion LLC, a consulting company Baguirov runs, received a payment of $253,150 from Hilux Services, a shell firm that is part of the Azerbaijani Laundromat. Turbillion is registered in Wyoming, “a state popular with those looking to create secretive companies due to its tax-free incentives and provision of anonymity.” Another Wyoming company controlled by Baguirov, which has the same mailing address as Turbillion, is called “Nobel Brothers Pictures LLC,” which is “allegedly producing a Hollywood movie about the history of the Azerbaijani oil industry.”
Six months before Baguirov received the payment of $253,150, his Houston-based non-profit US Azeris Network (USAN) “helped organize a two-day conference in Baku called “US-Azerbaijan Relations: Vision for Future.” Wrate revealed that two other conferences were organized by USAN in Washington.
“The Baku meeting in 2013 was attended by 11 members of [US] Congress, 10 of whom were paid for, and over 30 of their staff -- and that, according to a confidential report by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) obtained by the Washington Post, they were lavished with silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000,” Wrate reported.
In addition, Baguirov worked for Cong. Curt Weldon (R-PA) as Special Advisor on Russia and the former Soviet Union. Weldon lost his seat in 2006 “after the Justice Department investigated him for allegedly steering to his daughter’s lobbying firm almost $1 million in consulting contracts from two Russian companies and a Serbian foundation,” according to Wrate. Weldon founded the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus in 2004 together with fellow Congressman Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) who subsequently worked for Azerbaijan as a lobbyist. Baguirov “served as the Caucus’ coordinator and allegedly traveled with Congressional delegations to the former Soviet Union in 2003 and 2004.”
Furthermore, Wrate revealed that “between 2008 and 2016, Baguirov was also invited almost annually to recommend foreign economic and military aid budgets for Azerbaijan and Armenia to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Matters. In some years, other representatives of USAN and the Karabakh Foundation -- another of Baguirov’s non-profit organizations -- also testified.” In his congressional testimonies, Baguirov urged the US Congress to reduce the aid for Armenia to zero, while requesting that Azerbaijan receive $26 million from USAID and $3.9 million in military aid.
Baguirov was also the Executive Vice President of International Affairs for Worldwide Strategic Energy, Inc., a Houston-based company that offered its “strong business and political ties” to help prospective clients capitalize on hydrocarbon development opportunities in “politically complicated countries,” including Azerbaijan.
The US Justice Department should be asked to investigate Baguirov’s unregistered lobbying activities in the United States on behalf of Azerbaijan to see if any illegalities have been committed!