How Azerbaijan infiltrated the German government – The Vice

A VICE investigation reveals how a little-known TV station and large sums of money were part of a lobbying strategy to polish Azerbaijan’s image in Germany.

Angela Merkel’s ruling centre-right alliance between the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union has recently been plagued by pandemic infighting and scandal. But there is an arguably larger scandal engulfing playing out: The Azerbaijan Affair. 

A VICE reveals the previously-unknown extent of the authoritarian regime’s influence on conservative German MPs. Oil-rich and with a tendency to lock up critics, Azerbaijan has been attempting to buy itself a better image in Europe for years. 

It’s done this by sponsoring sporting events – and bribing politicians. And not always successfully. For example, in 2020 Luca Volontè, a conservative Italian member of the Council of Europe, was found to have been paid around two million euros in order to prevent a critical resolution against Azerbaijan and was sentenced to four years in prison by a Milan court. According to experts, Volontè is only the tip of the iceberg. In Germany, investigations are underway into a number of German MPs, including Karin Strenz and Axel Fischer, both members of the CDU. 

Azerbaijani influence on Berlin involves a wide network of politicians and lobbyists. Endorsements by German politicians, mostly from the CDU/CSU, are celebrated in Azerbaijan’s state media. And that’s because the republic desperately needs good press abroad – for decades, Azerbaijan has been at loggerheads with its neighbour Armenia. Last year, Azerbaijan started a bloody war in Nagorno-Karabakh region.

CDU MP Strenz was at the centre of the Azerbaijan Affair until she collapsed and died on a flight to Cuba on March 21. The Frankfurt public prosecutor’s office was investigating Strenz on suspicion of bribery, bribery of elected officials and money laundering. She had received at least 15,000 euros (about £12,700) from Azerbaijan in 2014 and 2015. If convicted, she would have faced up to five years in prison. 

In addition to Strenz, TV Berlin has also aired several interviews with Germany’s Azerbaijani ambassador, plus cheerful reports on President Aliyev’s visit to Germany, and pleasant documentaries on the country and its culture. One YouTube commenter sums up the elements conspicuously absent from the documentaries: “What about the unjust state of Azerbaijan? What about the free press, the opposition, just being shot in front of the house?”

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