Prague, 20 October 2005 (RFE/RL) – Azerbaijani law-enforcement agencies today shed some light on Farhad Aliyev's fate.
In a joint statement read on state television, the National Security Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Prosecutor-General's Office said Farhad Aliyev had been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to overthrow the government with Rasul Quliyev, the exiled chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA).
Yesterday, President Ilham Aliyev's office announced that Farhad Aliyev -- who is not related to the Azerbaijani leader -- had been removed from office and replaced by a long-time rival, State Securities Committee Chairman Heidar Babayev.
The official statement read on state television also confirmed that Farhad Aliyev's brother, Rafiq, has been arrested on similar charges. Rafiq Aliyev was reportedly detained at Baku international airport as he was preparing to board a Turkish Airlines flight.
Rafiq Aliyev is the chairman of Azpetrol, Azerbaijan's main oil refiner, which also owns the country's largest network of gas stations.
Reports say prosecutors and armed security officers yesterday searched Azpetrol's Baku headquarters. Azerbaijan's Turan news agency says the search continued into the early hours this morning.
Azerbaijani freelance journalist Sahin Abbasov told RFE/RL that rumors had long been circulating about Farhad Aliyev's possible dismissal.
"We'd known for long that there were disagreements among government members. In particular, we knew there was a struggle going on between Farhad Aliyev and Kamaladdin Heydarov, the influential head of the State Customs Department. As a result of this struggle, the [Economic Development] Ministry had had its prerogatives progressively reduced, and the rumor had it that Farhad Aliyev would soon be dismissed. But no one expected such sudden developments, nearly two weeks before the election," Abbasov said.
Tensions between the government and the opposition have been running high ahead of the 6 November parliamentary elections.
On 17 October, authorities in Ukraine's Crimean city of Simferopol arrested DPA Chairman Rasul Quliyev on an Interpol warrant issued at Baku's request. However, a Simferopol court today ordered Quliyev's release, saying there are not enough grounds to extradite him to Azerbaijan.
A onetime ally of Ilham Aliyev's late father, former President Heidar Aliyev, Quliyev has been living in exile in the United States since 1996. He is wanted in Azerbaijan on embezzlement charges, which he denies.
Quliyev said he was arrested in Simferopol while en route to Baku, where he is officially registered as a candidate in the upcoming elections. Some Azerbaijani media, however, have questioned Quliyev's account of events, suggesting he may never have intended to land in Baku, where he faces arrest.
Plotting A Coup?
Be that as it may, Azerbaijani law-enforcement agencies are now accusing Quliyev of plotting to overthrow the government.
The statement issued today says Farhad Aliyev had given Quliyev's supporters 100,000 euros ($120,000) to stir unrest after their leader's return. Authorities say evidence of the plot was obtained from former Finance Minister Fikrat Yusifov, who allegedly admitted to secretly meeting with Quliyev abroad.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service from Simferopol shortly after being released from custody, Quliyev flatly denied those allegations.
"A new wave of repression has started in Azerbaijan. The government says the opposition is plotting a coup and that I am leading this plot," Quliyev said. "We've been hearing these kinds of fairytales since 1993 [when Heidar Aliyev came back to power]. I don't know Farhad Aliyev at all, and I've never had any meeting with Yusifov."
Yusifov was arrested earlier this week along with former Foreign Trade Minister Nicat Quliyev. Whether the two men face charges similar to those brought against Farhad Aliyev is unclear.
Speaking to RFE/RL shortly before Farhad Aliyev's arrest was confirmed, political expert and former Social Democrat Party leader Zardust Alizade said that whatever official explanation is given for his detention, it will be met with widespread skepticism.
"For a democratic country, the situation in Azerbaijan is strange, and I would even say abnormal. The population does not believe in either the authorities or the opposition. It does not believe in our judicial system. Nor does it believe in our prosecutors or any of our politicians. Even if the government, the Interior Ministry or the Prosecutor-General's Office tomorrow say they have evidence that Farhad Aliyev is linked to Quliyev, society will doubt this could be true," Alizade said.
Representatives of the Azadliq (Freedom) opposition alliance -- which includes Quliyev's DPA –- have denied any links with Farhad Aliyev. Instead, they have suggested the removal of the economy minister may be linked to infighting among President Ilham Aliyev's team.
Farhad Aliyev recently complained to the Prosecutor-General's Office that some unspecified criminal groups were threatening to kill him. While admitting that a struggle for economic power may have pitted Farhad Aliyev against other government members, Alizade says these allegations are impossible to confirm.
Abbasov, in turn, rules out that rival ministers may have set up Farhad Aliyev's arrest, or that authorities may have accused of him of links with the opposition as a pretext to get rid of him.
"I don't think so. If it had been the case, they would have not done it in such a rush. I believe there is something here -- something so serious that they had to take urgent steps. With just [a little more than] two weeks before the election, these developments are not very good for the government. They are spreading fear among ministers because no one really knows what's happening. I think there is something serious here. Otherwise, they would have waited until after the election," Abbasov said.
Today's official statement says that in addition to the plot charges, Farhad Aliyev is accused of embezzling state property through fraudulent privatization schemes and of illegally holding stakes in his brother's company, Azpetrol.
President Ilham Aliyev today also sacked Health Minister Ali Insanov and a close aide of his late father, presidential administration official Akif Muradverdiyev.
No reason was given to explain the new sackings.
The pro-government Lider television station quoted security sources as saying Insanov, who is also a founder of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan (New Azerbaijan) party, was detained "as a suspect." No further details were immediately available.
RFE/RL's complete coverage of the November 6, 2005, legislative elections in Azerbaijan and their aftermath.
Timeline: How The Elections Have Unfolded
A photo gallery of the Azerbaijan opposition protests in Baku on November 9, 2005.