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Sentence Passed in High-Profile Azerbaijani Bribery Case

Former Azerbaijani parliamentarian Gular Ahmadova
Former Azerbaijani parliamentarian Gular Ahmadova
The 14-month-scandal dubbed "Gular-gate" has ended with a jail term for one of the protagonists.

On December 2, Baku's Court for Serious Crimes sentenced Gular Ahmadova, a former parliamentarian from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), to three years' imprisonment on a charge of embezzlement.

The prosecution's case against her was founded on a video clip, filmed by a hidden camera and uploaded to YouTube in late September 2012, which contained what the prosecution construed as a demand by Ahmadova and her friend Sevinj Babayeva for $1 million from Elshad Abdullayev, former rector of the private Azerbaijan International University, for ensuring election to the Milli Mejlis in the 2005 Azerbaijani parliamentary poll.

Ahmadova's aide Shahid Ahmadov (no relation) immediately admitted that the filmed conversation between his boss, Babayeva and Abdullayev had taken place.

Ahmadov added, however, that the clip was edited, and that Ahmadova had in fact sought to pressure Abdullayev to repay money Abdullayev had solicited from Ahmadova's constituents in order to admit them to his university, but then failed to do so.

The university was closed in late 2010, after which Abdullayev emigrated to France, where he currently lives.

Ahmadova also insisted that the video footage had been falsified. She suggested that Abdullayev's motive in doing so was to boost his chances of gaining political asylum in France.

WATCH: A covert video allegedly shows negotiations over the sale of a seat in the Azerbaijani parliament:

Abdullayev retaliated at once with a new video clip addressed to Azerbaijan's Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov.

Abdullayev said he had paid a total of $2 million to Ahmadova to secure his election to parliament with the intention of making use of that position to expedite the investigation into the abduction in 2003 of his brother Mahir. (The Prosecutor-General's office promptly established a commission to probe Mahir Abdullayev's disappearance, but it has apparently made no progress. In April, Elshad Abdullayev accused National Security Ministry staffer General Akif Chovdarov accused of masterminding the abduction. Abdullayev linked Chovdarov to the infamous group of Interior Ministry killers headed by Haci Mammadov who went on trial in 2006.

In early October 2012, Abdullayev reportedly made new video footage of his three-way conversation with Ahmadova and Babayeva available to the opposition newspaper "Azadlyq." In this recording, the two women name veteran presidential administration head Ramiz Mehtiyev as the person ultimately responsible for determining who is elected to the Milli Mejlis, and whose instructions they advise Abdullayev to follow.

This was by no means the first time allegations have surfaced that a list of deputies to be elected to the Milli Majlis was drawn up in advance of the ballot.

On the eve of the November 1995 parliamentary election, opposition National Statehood Party leader politician Neymat Panahli claimed to be in possession of a list of candidates elected from single-mandate constituencies that subsequently proved to be almost 100 percent accurate.

In yet another clip uploaded to YouTube in mid-December, Babayeva tells Abdullayev that his $500,000 payment has been handed over to Mehtiyev. Mehtiyev has dismissed Abdullayev's allegations as "delirium" and "a provocation."

In all, between September 2012 and August 2013, Abdullayev is said to have uploaded some 20 video clips of conversations with various officials about his desire to obtain a parliament mandate and to expedite the investigation of his brother.

Meanwhile, the YAP leadership expelled Ahmadova from the party, and the Central Election Commission stripped her of her deputy's mandate. YAP Deputy Chairman and Executive Secretary Ali Ahmadov (no relation) said the party "profoundly regrets" her actions, which he branded "incompatible with [its] principles and values."

According to Prosecutor-General Garalov, Babayeva left Azerbaijan for Turkey with Ahmadova's help the day after the first video footage became public knowledge in late September. She died there in late December 2012. Her body was taken back to Baku, where a post-mortem examination established that she died of heart failure.

Babayeva's sister Tarana Safarova nonetheless subsequently testified at Ahmadova's trial that Babayeva was poisoned at a restaurant dinner with Ahmadova, the date of which is unclear.

Ahmadova was formally taken into custody in February, and went on trial on October 22.

She continued to plead not guilty either to the charge of extortion, or that of helping Babayeva leave the country while the latter was the subject of a different, ongoing extortion investigation.

Ahmedova argued in court that the video clip should not be adduced as evidence as it was filmed secretly, which, she said, constitutes a violation of the Azerbaijan Republic's constitution.

Both the trial and the sentence handed down to Ahmadova leave many questions open.

Neither Abdullayev nor Mehtiyev were summoned to testify. Ahmadova had said during the pretrial investigation that she had no intention of incriminating Mehtiyev.

Some lawyers and human rights activists apparently believe the prosecution's interpretation of the admittedly ambiguous conversation between Ahmadova, Babayeva and Abdullayev.

They hypothesize that the court gave Ahmadova an unjustifiably lenient sentence on orders from the presidential administration (for taking the flak on behalf of Mehtiyev?).

Emin Guseynov of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting contrasted Ahmadova's sentence with the nine-year prison term handed down in March 2013 to Avaz Zaynalov, editor of the opposition newspaper "Khural," on multiple charges, including tax evasion and extortion.

The latter charge was based on poor quality recordings of two telephone conversations in August 2011 between Zaynalov and Ahmadova, during which Ahmadova claims he demanded 10,000 manats ($12,700) from her in return for not publishing any derogatory articles about her.

Zaynalov claims the recordings were falsified and the case against him politically motivated.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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