From property to PR, the dictatorship reaches into the heart of London
Azerbaijan might seem a world away, but its dictatorship reaches into the heart of London’s wealthiest streets.
Given the choice, most Londoners would want nothing to do with the hideous President Ilham Aliyev. Azerbaijan under his rule is a place where brave dissidents like anti-corruption journalist Khadija Ismayilova can be thrown in jail on trumped up charges, and who on Friday will mark her 40th birthday behind bars.
While much of the country suffers poverty made worse by the fall in oil prices, the government spends a fortune on lobbyists and public relations abroad.
Key outposts of this whitewash policy are based right here in London. Here are just eight of the worst offenders:
- The European Azerbaijan Society, or TEAS, is a lobby group based over the road from St James’s Park. TEAS says its mission is ‘promoting the positive aspects of Azerbaijan’, and is chaired by Tale Heydarov, son of Kamaladdin Heydarov, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Emergency Situations.
The group has spent thousands taking British MPs on trips to Azerbaijan, including Bob Blackman, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Azerbaijan, and former chair Mark Field. TEAS also set up the Conservative Friends of Azerbaijan in 2011, which at time had 25 Tory MPs as members.
- Freud Communications, better known as the PR firm Freuds, based minutes from the Dominion Theatre in Tottenham Court Road, offers PR to clients Google, Bafta, and… the Azerbaijan government.
Another client is Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of President Aliyev. In 2011, Freuds organised a lavish party to introduce Aliyeva to London society, attended by Lord Mandelson, former head of BP Lord Browne, and Evgeny Lebedev, proprietor of the Evening Standard.
- Hampstead, Park Lane, Knightsbridge – three of the hottest property spots in London, and all host to properties owned by the Aliyev family.
First is a 10,000-square foot mansion in Hampstead Lane, worth around £17 million and owned by Leyla Aliyeva, after her father bought it in 1998.
Second is a penthouse at 199 Knightsbridge, worth at least £18 million and believed to be Leyla Aliyeva’s residence, (or one of them).
Third is 129-130 Park Lane Management Ltd, which manages a building of luxury apartments in Park Lane. The flats are registered in the British Virgin Islands, while 129-130 PLM Ltd’s ownership records bare the signature of Leyla Aliyeva.
- Conde Nast has its London headquarters in Hanover Square, where you can pick up a copy of Baku magazine, a glossy fashion quarterly edited by… Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of President Aliyev. Baku is packed with adverts for things many in Azerbaijan could never dream of buying.
- Child & Child law firm near Hyde Park Corner helped President Aliyev’s daughters become shareholders in Exaltation Limited, a company based in the British Virgin Islands set up in April 2015 ‘to hold UK property’.
The Panama Papers revealed Child & Child did not declare that Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva were PEPs, or ‘politically exposed persons’, as they should have done, saving the company greater scrutiny by banks.
- Buckingham Palace recently thanked Azerbaijan for sponsoring the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations in its official event programme. Azerbaijan even leant some horses to entertain Her Maj at her horse parade. Prince Andrew has lobbied for the regime and been a frequent guest.
- Shepherds Restaurant in Marsham Street near Millbank has hosted many a British politician for a surreptitious supper. It’s director is Lionel Zetter, a political lobbyist who is also director of TEAS (See 1 above).
As of 2014, two other directors of the restaurant had links to UEI, a holdings company tied to the Heydarov family and registered at the same address as TEAS.
- Formula One will hold its European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan, this June, lending the regime prestige it desperately craves. Campaigners have called on Formula One, (which has an office in Knightsbridge), to pressure Azerbaijan to release political prisoners, among other things.
But when its British-born chief executive Bernie Ecclestone was asked whether F1 has checked the country’s human rights record, he replied: ‘We have. I think everybody seems to be happy. There doesn’t seem to be any big problem there.’
In these ways, London is at the service of a brutal kleptocracy.
For more on Azerbaijan follow Sport for Rights on Twitter @SportforRights
Adam Barnett is a staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13