One of Europe’s oldest human rights bodies is being urged to set up a far-reaching anti-corruption investigation next week, amid fresh allegations of vote rigging that have put its credibility on the line, the Guardian reports.
Two people with high-level experience of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly (PACE) have told the Guardian they believe its members have been offered bribes for votes by Azerbaijan. The 324-member body is made up of delegates from national parliaments who meet four times a year in Strasbourg.
Arif Mammadov, a former Azerbaijani diplomat turned dissident, alleged that a member of the oil-rich country’s delegation at the Council of Europe had €30m (£25m) to spend on lobbying its institutions, including the Council of Europe assembly.
“Everyone” in the Azerbaijani delegation had heard of this number, although “it was never written down”, he told the Guardian. “It was said this money was to bribe members of the delegations and PACE generally.”
Tobias Billström, a Swedish delegate to the assembly and former justice minister, said “very credible members” had told him they had been offered bribes to vote in a certain way. He is one of 64 parliamentarians to have signed a resolution calling for an independent investigation into “serious and credible allegations of grave misconduct” centred on an Azerbaijani vote.
Allegations of “caviar diplomacy” have swirled around the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly for years, with Azerbaijan accused of offering cash and luxury gifts in exchange for favourable votes.
The claims were first laid out in a 2012 report by the European Stability Initiative thinktank, but have gathered momentum since Italian prosecutors began investigating a former chair of the centre-right group, Italian deputy Luca Volontè.
Volontè is accused of accepting €2.39m in bribes from Azerbaijan in exchange for supporting its government in the Council of Europe. He faces a trial for money laundering, and Milan’s public prosecutor is appealing a decision to drop a corruption charge against him. He has always denied any wrongdoing.