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Azerbaijan: Alleged Plotters Confess On State Television

Baku, 1 November (AFP) Azerbaijan's law-enforcement agencies claim they have made progress in an investigation into an alleged coup attempt involving a string of former cabinet ministers. In a joint statement released late yesterday, the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the National Security Ministry said they had collected evidence showing more former government officials were plotting with the opposition to overthrow President Ilham Aliyev's government ahead of the 6 November parliamentary elections. Also yesterday, some of the alleged plotters confessed to their purported crimes on AzTV, Azerbaijan's State Television.

Prague, 2 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Yesterday's prime-time television broadcast featured four of the alleged plotters.

They included former Finance Minister Fikrat Yusifov; Fikrat Sadyqov, the former head of Azerbaijan's state-controlled Azerkimya petrochemical company; former Health Minister Ali Insanov; and former presidential administration official Akif Muradverdiyev.

Yusifov was arrested on 16 October, hours before the expected return to Azerbaijan of exiled opposition leader Rasul Quliyev.

Azerbaijan's law-enforcement agencies say Yusifov's initial confessions made possible all subsequent arrests.

Authorities say some 13 former cabinet ministers, government officials, business executives, and police officers have been detained in the past two weeks on charges that include preparation of a coup, illegal possession of weapons, embezzlement, and corruption.

Rights campaigners and independent media, however, say the number of detainees is much higher.

The "Ekho" daily newspaper last week reported that some 30 people had been arrested since 16 October.

Fikrat Huseynli, who introduced himself as a member of a committee to protect the rights of the detainees, said yesterday in Baku that, according to his own estimates, up to 70 government officials have been either arrested or sacked in recent days.

'Plot' Details

Confessing on state television, Yusifov said the alleged plot had been maturing for years. Answering questions from an invisible prosecuting judge, the former finance minister said Quliyev first contacted him from his self-exile four years ago.

"In June 2001 -- I was then preparing my Ph.D at St. Petersburg University of Finance and Economy -- Quliyev phoned me from the United States and told me that he was planning to return to Azerbaijan soon. He told me that, for him to do so, he needed to settle a number of problems, first and foremost, organizational problems," Yusifov said.

A former parliament speaker and a one-time ally of late President Heydar Aliyev, Quliyev has been living in exile since 1996. He is wanted in Azerbaijan on embezzlement charges that he denies.

Quliyev, who chairs the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP), has been registered as a candidate in the upcoming legislative election. However, Azerbaijani authorities have threatened to arrest him as soon as he enters the country.

On 17 October, Quliyev was detained in Ukraine while reportedly flying to Baku from London. A Simferopol court eventually ordered his release, saying there was insufficient ground to extradite him to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijani authorities claim the alleged plot they foiled last month envisioned that ADP activists take control of the Baku international airport upon Quliyev's return. Then, according to the authorities, they would march on the city center to overthrow the government.

Quliyev has described government claims that he was planning to seize power forcibly as "fairy tales."

But yesterday, Yusifov assured television viewers that the government's claims are true. Asked by the prosecuting judge why he believed Quliyev had chosen him to organize his return to Azerbaijan, he said: "He probably thought that I would agree to solve the financial problems linked to his coming to power and conduct things with precision. This is probably why he banked on. At the same time, he probably knew he could entrust me with other tasks connected to his coming to power. [Again], this is probably why he banked on me."

Funds Transfer

In a joint statement released late yesterday, the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the National Security Ministry said Yusifov had confessed to receiving more than $300,000 from Quliyev to organize the alleged coup. According to Sadyqov, the money was primarily meant to finance street protests.

The statement said it was former Health Minister Ali Insanov who gave Yusifov the money. Insanov is one of the government officials who was sacked and arrested in recent days.

Yusifov yesterday said other secret funds went through Sadyqov, the former head of the petrochemical company Azerkimya. According to Yusifov, those funds went to Eldar Salayev, a former president of Azerbaijan's Academy of Sciences. The 72-year-old Salayev, who is a relative of Quliyev, has been charged with being part of the alleged plot.

"All in all, up until the very last day -- that is 16 October -- Sadyqov released some $50,000 and, upon Quliyev's request, gave this money to Eldar Salayev who lives [on the same street]," Yusifov said.

Whether Yusifov's televised confessions were obtained under duress was not immediately clear. He said during the broadcast that he was speaking on his own free will, but that could not be independently confirmed.

ADP leader Quliyev, who went back to London after his release from Ukrainian custody, has said that he will return to Baku to take part in the 6 November elections.

But most of Azerbaijan's political analysts have been questioning whether he will do so.

(RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report.)

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