The “Azerbaijan Laundromat” and Orbán’s Hungary

News of the “Azerbaijan Laundromat” scandal reached Hungary yesterday, thanks to the report of Átlátszó, a group of investigative journalists who participated in an investigation conducted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). It was a truly international effort that included Danish, British, French, Swiss, Russian, Austrian, Slovene, Romanian, Bulgarian, Estonian, Czech, and American journalists. The first short description of this money laundering scheme appeared in The Guardian on September 2, from which we learned that the ruling elite of Azerbaijan operated a secret $2.8 billion scheme to pay prominent Europeans, buy luxury items, and launder money through a network of opaque British companies.

In The Guardian article there is no reference to Hungary, but Átlátszó reported that from this enormous amount of money $7.6 million landed in Budapest in 2012 and 2013. The first installment was deposited by Metastar Invest LLP, one of the four phony companies set up to expedite Azerbaijan’s money laundering operation, in July 2012. The recipient of this and subsequent deposits was Valesco International, a company that a couple of years later conveniently ceased to exist. Where the money actually ended up no one knows.

Let’s quickly recall Azeri-Hungarian relations in the first few years of the second Orbán government. Viktor Orbán was in Baku in September 2010, participating in an energy summit, but he had a separate meeting with President Ilham Aliyev. A year later President Pál Schmitt paid a visit to Baku, where he also conducted negotiations with the Azeri president. And on June 30, 2012, Viktor Orbán, while attending the Crans Montana Forum in Baku, again met Aliyev. A few days later, sometime in July 2012, the first installment of the Azeri millions arrived in Budapest.

What happened at this meeting? Most likely it was during this encounter that Viktor Orbán was persuaded to extradite Ramil Safarov, an officer of the Azerbaijani Army who had been convicted of the 2004 murder of an Armenian officer during a NATO-sponsored training seminar in Budapest. Safarov was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Azeri government approached successive Hungarian governments several times, trying to persuade them to allow Safarov to return to Azerbaijan so he could serve the rest of his sentence in his own country. The Hungarians refused because they suspected, with good reason as it turned out, that Safarov would be pardoned as soon as his plane hit the ground in Baku.

It is hard not to suspect a connection between Orbán’s visit to Baku in June and the first installment of $7.6 million to a Hungarian bank account in July, especially since by the end of August Safarov was on his way to Azerbaijan, where he was welcomed as a national hero and set free.

Of course, this is just conjecture, but what is clear is that the Azeri government used bribes to achieve its political aims and that those who were ready to serve Azeri interests were generously rewarded. The extradition of Safarov was certainly something that merited recompense as far as Aliyev was concerned. Ever since then, Azeri-Hungarian relations have been close. Aliyev remained a grateful friend and Orbán a loyal ally. One of my posts from 2014 describes in some detail the close relationship that developed between the two countries, which at times became outright embarrassing. For example, when Viktor Orbán during his last visit to Baku in 2016 talked about “the leaders of the country who have made Azerbaijan one of the most respected and often envied countries in the world.”

The Azeri leadership also spent a considerable amount of money on European politicians who were ready to defend Ilham Aliyev’s dictatorship. I will concentrate here on one politician who also had extensive dealings with the Orbán government. He is Luca Volontè, who was one of the largest beneficiaries of Aliyev’s “generosity.” Volontè at the time was the chairman of the European People’s Party group in the Council of Europe. Italian prosecutors allege that Volontè was paid €2.4 million by Azerbaijani officials in exchange for “his support of political positions of the state” at the Council, which is supposed to promote democracy and the rule of law. The accusation is actually not new. Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative, a think tank, claimed as early as 2012 that “the Council of Europe … in recent years has been captured by autocrats.”

János Martonyi, Luca Volontè, and Viktor Orbán, March 28, 2012 / Orbán’s Facebook page

It is about this time that Viktor Orbán put a photo of himself with János Martonyi and Luca Volontè on his Facebook page. By that time, Volontè had proved to be a great friend of Hungary. In January 2011 the Council of Europe held a debate on the functioning of democracy in the country. Hungary was fiercely defended by several members of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), among them Volontè, who criticized the proceedings against Hungary on the ground of “a lack of facts.” Any criticism of the government inside of Hungary, he argued, comes from “people who are unhappy that they were not reelected.” Otherwise, Hungary is a model democracy.

Volontè’s close friendship with the Hungarian government continued. By 2013 he was again defending the Orbán government against the monitoring committee of the Council of Europe in connection with the new Hungarian constitution. He called the criticism of the Hungarian government a witch hunt. He claimed that the critics are not even familiar with the text of the constitution. Volontè explained all this in an interview with the then pro-government Magyar Nemzet.

By that time, Volontè was most likely a paid agent of the Azerbaijani government, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he also offered his services to the Orbán government, which was in considerable trouble both in the European Parliament and in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

A year later I became even more suspicious when an ugly attack was launched in Hungary against Professor Charles Gati after the publication of his article “The Mask is Off,” which originally appeared in The American Interest and a day later in Hungarian Spectrum. It was written after Viktor Orbán’s infamous speech about building an “illiberal state” in Hungary. Orbán wasn’t expecting such a violent reaction to his honest admission of his plans, and the Fidesz media tried to distinguish between the American and the European understanding of the word “liberal.” It was at this point that Luca Volontè was called upon as a true “European voice.” He must have had considerable government help with his long article titled “Hands Off Hungary!” because he seemed to be too familiar with the Hungarian political scene at the time.

Volontè is no longer in politics. He is running the Novae Terrae Foundation, which “commits itself to defend human rights conceived according to natural law.” But he still has time to write long articles in praise of Viktor Orbán. The last such article appeared in Magyar Hírlap on March 18, 2016 with the title “Hungarian Spark: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has the clear wisdom to outline the conditions of the epoch-making challenges ahead.” It is a propaganda piece which ends with this line: “I’m sure that I’m not the only one who can proudly say how good it is to meet true people and to know them as my friends, whom I hope to meet again in the country of St. Stephen soon.” Volontè’s wish was fulfilled because he visited Hungary in November 2016, giving a lecture on “The relativization of European values” at an international conference in Szeged organized by the Szeged-Csanád Bishopric and the Polish Consulate in Szeged. A few months later he was back in Hungary, this time for the World Family Summit held in May 2017, where he participated in a panel discussion on “Pro-family Activities in the World.”

This afternoon Magyar Idők published a surprisingly straightforward account of the Azeri bribery scheme with the title “Three-billion dollar fund for Baku’s plans: The threads reach the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.” The $7.6 million deposited in a Budapest bank was of course omitted from the summary, but the article to my great surprise included a mention of Volontè as one of the accused. My question is whether these revelations will have any bearing on the currently overfriendly Azeri-Hungarian relations.

September 6, 2017
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dos929
Guest
It is awfully sad that there are corrupt officials were, and most probably still are, in the ranks of the EU organisations. Thus no wonder that the champion of corruption, Orban, is protected by those unseen officials, and equally no wonder why Orban is so sure of himself in his fights against the EU. Unfortunately, the EU and too many other European leaders seem to came to the conclusion that they are powerless dealing with the Orban regime, as no matter how many infringement resolutions are passed, so far none had any tangible results. And even if Hungary would be forced paying the penalties, it ultimately would come out from the pockets of the Hungarian taxpayers and not from the ‘corrupt to the bones’ Orban and his cronies. The various government representatives already in full force deflecting the accusations and in true FIDESZ fashion they are pointing their fingers to the corrupt ex socialist era. Now, those ‘communists’, corrupt as they were, couldn’t hold a candle in comparison to this regime when it comes to corruption. The only way it seems to fight Orban is to expose internationally all and every detail of their Mafia practices, but even this won’t… Read more »
Guest

The German wiki says that in 2013 already Volonté was accused of corruption re Azerbaijan! So it’s been an open secret …
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luca_Volont%C3%A8
A typical “Christian politician” – to think that these corrupt creatures dare call themselves “The people’s party” …

Jan
Guest

So let’s hope for some railway fireworks from Ingeborg Graessle (CDU) then during election time. http://budapestbeacon.com/economics/fidesz-protests-eu-investigation-into-felcsut-miniature-railway/51757

Member

Jan – Most Hungarians have known exactly how corrupt Orban & Co. are for years, yet they vote for him anyway, because he is the Savior of the Nation. Any new revelations about the Felchoot Choo-Choo will have minimal impact.

Ferenc
Guest

I’ve read somewhere that that EU mission is planning to visit 10 EU projects in Hungary. Furthermore such an inspection mission is not exceptional, and are regularly organized to all EU countries.
Now Hungary is requesting the inspection to be postponed till after the elections and/or another list of projects to be agreed with the HU government…
Quote from a member of EU parliament: “What is the Orban government afraid of? If they spend the EU funds properly, than there’s no need to be worried! The mission has just to go there!!”

Ferenc
Guest

Fidesz in BB: “several thousand co-financed projects”
Ahum, what the rate of EU money in the mini-train? Seen figures of 70% EU money leaving 30% co-financing by HU. So the EU should inspect whenever they prefer, the sooner the better, and those il-everythings (incl.legal) better start scratching their heads how to present this FAKE development to the EU inspectors!

Observer
Guest

Jan

Orban’s choo choo train may be incredible, absurd, outrageous, but it’s just one small rotten apple in the truck of rotten apples.
There is NO gov or (Fid controlled) local gov project without corruption.

Exceptions may be the procurement of very specialized products from western companies which refuse to pay bribes in any form.

Guest

Maybe I’ve written about this story already:
More than 15 years ago (2000/2001) when I had that old house rebuilt I talked to the young “entrepreneur” whose small company did the work about his other projects and he told me quite frankly:
I do only stuff for private customers because I realised that I have no chance getting government projects (whether on the city level nor state level) – they expect you to pay large bribes which I can’t afford!

PS and OT:
Several of his workers still live in our village and whenever they pass by they smile and wave – we must have made a good impression, giving them coffee and after work having a beer with them …

Jan
Guest

That the corruption is everywhere in this regime is clear to me, you don’t have to convince me.
Still I have the hope that every little bit helps to expose this to the voters.
And information is the key for change.
All democratic people should fight this regime, independent on the political side you are on.
One reason I reacted was the generalisation that all EPP members are typically corrupt. Just showing that maybe there are “exceptions”.
I also met people who think OV is the saviour, giving them information like the Choo Choo train is an opportunity to evoke change.
That’s why I am happy with the information on this blog.
I know this may sound childish, but I refuse to accept that there is no opportunity for change.

Observer
Guest

We know that politics is a somewhat dirty business, but, as always, there is dirty and dirty.

As far as corruption (in Europe) is concerned even the notoriously corrupt Italian Christian Dems of the1950-1970s are left behind by the Orban regime which is also the most corrupt one in Hungarian history.

petofi
Guest

Let’s face it, Hungary has become a penal colony.

exTor
Guest

Surely you must mean ‘penile colony’, petőfi.

MAGYARKOZÓ

wrfree
Guest

Orban looks a Magyar ‘Marco Polo’ traveling on and discovering those secrets in the Azerbaijani thickets. Thing is it wouldn’t be too bad if he brought back some viable cultural/diplomatic trinkets etc etc that could be useful in a good proactive sense. Nope he’s a traveler that unfortunately brings back a destructive virus which wends its way throughout Europe.

They said Polo because of many years traveling had trouble speaking his native language as if he was disconnected from a previous time and place. Orban appears to have a different disconnection. He can speak Magyar alright but he
doesn’t wish to speak it to a disdained Europe. With the Grand Vizier the East appears to completely ‘understand’ the secret code better.

Jean P.
Guest

There was an innocent me who once believed in the immaculate honesty in the high level EU. I am disappointed by the serious news.

Ferenc
Guest

OT – Fidesz’s poor language skills
Referring to recent comments about the poor language skills by FIDs, recommended to read/check this reply letter from Orban to Juncker:
http://www.kormany.hu/download/7/1b/21000/JunckerJean-Claude%2020170906.pdf
An official and by a PM signed letter containing very typical HU translation mistakes like missing verbs (is/are, etc) and some articles

PS: it’s content? Obstinate Violence to the truth…

Guest

Thanks a lot, Ferenc!
Everybody should read this crazy letter!
It’s almost unbelievable, don’t know what to say.
And I wonder who translated this …

Ferenc
Guest
tappanch
Guest

Orban personally decided to release Səfərov, which took place on August 31, 2012.

http://nol.hu/kulfold/20120904-orban_dontott-1329917

Here is the timeline of the handover of $2,447,527 and €5,137,671 to “Velasco”.

comment image

https://atlatszo.hu/2017/09/07/igy-dolt-a-penz-magyarorszagra-a-bakui-feketekasszabol-alijevek-szerint-soros-ratamadt-azerbajdzsanra/

tappanch
Guest

Raw data of the $2.9 billion Azeri slush fund.

https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/raw-data/

Ferenc
Guest

From the atlatszo articles is clear that the Hungarian MKB bank is involved and that that Velasco company was closed in 2015.
What are the ways/possibilities to get on the table, where those 7 million Euros effectively went to?

Ferenc
Guest

Interview with peole from atlatszo about the azeri laundromat
http://hirtv.hu/egyenesen/dokumentum-a-penz-utja-1403018

Ferenc
Guest

Two interesting things from/about the HirTV interview:
-MKB bank has recent connections to Meszaros, IL-EVERYTHING-fitter aka.OV ‘strohmann’
-the banktransfers happened between 2012.Jul and 2013.Aug, when OV and Simicska were still on good terms with each other, the interview as now 4 years later on Simicska’s HirTV…

az angol beteg
Guest

Has anyone here actually tried to close a Hungarian Kft.? At one stage, I was stupid enough to own 3 of them.
It took at least 18 months to close them due to the usual bureaucracy beloved of the Hungarian state and in particular NAV. I suspect the reason is that someone wants to ensure that there isn’t something worth stealing before a Kft ceases to exist and it’s assets lost from being grabbed through a bogus tax investigation.
If a Kft is closed suddenly and quickly it can only be done with the consent of someone in authority.

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