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Tax Police Raid Azerbaijan's Turan News Agency

The tax officials did not allow the searches to be filmed.
The tax officials did not allow the searches to be filmed.

BAKU -- Tax officials have raided the office of Azerbaijan's Turan News Agency in Baku.

Officers of the Taxation Ministry's Department for Tax Crimes Prevention came to the agency's office on August 16 and confiscated financial documents.

They also checked personal belongings of the independent news agency’s employees.

The officers did not allow anyone to film the searches.

Officials launched a tax-evasion investigation into Turan on August 7.

Investigators allege that the agency owes 37,000 manats ($21,500) in taxes for 2014-2016.

Turan editors deny the allegation and say the probe is politically motivated.

Turan's director, Mehman Aliyev, told RFE/RL that the court order the tax officers handed him did not allow them to conduct searches in the office, but that they did so anyway.

He said they thoroughly examined journalists' personal computers and all documents and papers on the desks.

Aliyev added that Turan had been instructed by the tax authorities earlier to provide them with copies of all documents, and that Turan agreed to do so and had been making copies of the papers.

"The agreement with the tax authorities was that we would submit all our documents on August 17...but they came all of a sudden today and conducted the search," Aliyev said.

Aliyev reiterated that his agency paid all due taxes in time and all the financial documents can easily prove that.

Turan was established in 1990. The agency issues reports in Azerbaijani, English, and Russian, and cooperates with leading international news agencies.

International rights defenders and Western governments have criticized Baku for persistent clampdowns targeting independent media outlets, journalists, opposition politicians and activists.

President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the oil-producing South Caucasus country of nearly 10 million people since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has shrugged off the criticism.

On August 11, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned "the Azerbaijani government's use of tax evasion allegations to harass" Turan, which it said was "the last independent media outlet still operating within the country."

Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.