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Azerbaijan foreign minister, Socar vice-president visiting Malta

Mizzi delays information on number of Azerbaijan trips

The Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, will arrive in Malta today for talks with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Foreign Minister George Vella.

He will be accompanied on the three-day visit by Elshad Nasirov, vice president of oil company Socar and Azerbaijani ambassador Mammad Ahmadzada.

The minister is also expected to call on President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca and Speaker Anglu Farrugia.

Meanwhile, Konrad Mizzi’s office has delayed providing a list of the visits he has made to Azerbaijan and Dubai since 2013, citing the large number of documents involved.

Last month, The Sunday Times of Malta filed a request for the list under the Freedom of Information Act. The minister’s office gave its initial reply 20 days later, on the last day permitted by law, saying it needs more time.

The request was filed in light of the fact that since the Labour government took office, Malta has significantly upped its ties with Azerbaijan. In 2012, its President, Ilham Aliyev, was named corruption’s Person of the Year by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an investigative journalism NGO. The Aliyevs and their associates are known to own scores of offshore companies in Panama, Dubai and the British Virgin Islands.

Konrad Mizzi’s office wants more time to account for his Azeri trips since 2013. Photo: Chris Sant FournierKonrad Mizzi’s office wants more time to account for his Azeri trips since 2013. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Last week, Dr Mizzi’s office informed this newspaper it required more time to process the request due to the “large number of documents” involved. It had taken the office the maximum of 20 working days permitted by freedom of information law to provide that response.

Another freedom of information request for the number of times Dr Mizzi has met the head of Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company, Rovnag Abdullayev, was rejected outright.

The basis of the refusal to provide the information was that it was “publicly present via official press releases”.

This paper has filed a complaint about the ministry’s response.

Leaked e-mails in the Panama Papers show that in August 2015, Dr Mizzi’s financial advisers, Nexia BT, tried to obtain the necessary documentation from Mossack Fonseca in order to open bank accounts in Dubai for Dr Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri.

Mr Abdullayev visited Malta a month later to watch a Euro qualifying football game between Malta and Azerbaijan.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat held talks with Mr Abdullayev during his visit, accompanied by Dr Mizzi.

Not all of Dr Mizzi’s trips to Azerbaijan were officially announced. In December 2014, The Sunday Times reported how Prime Minister Joseph Muscat kept a planned visit he made with Dr Mizzi to the country under wraps.

The two men held direct talks with Mr Aliyev and a memorandum of understanding on energy cooperation wassigned. No civil servants were present.

Azeri State oil company Socar forms part of Electrogas, the private consortium behind the new gas-fired power plant in Delimara.

A businessman described by the US State Department as the frontman for billionaire Azeri Emergency Situations Minister Kamladdin Heydarov started to set up companies in Malta through Nexia BT soon after Dr Muscat’s visit to Azerbaijan.

The companies have since been liquidated. Secret diplomatic memos published by Wikileaks show that the US State Department had grave concerns over how Mr Heydarov had managed to amass such a large fortune.

The businessman was previously head of Azerbaijan’s Customs Commission, described by the US State Department as one of the most corrupt operations in Azerbaijan.

One leaked diplomatic memo says that the State customs position allowed Mr Heydarov to gain massive wealth, as significant illicit payments were made up the food chain.

A 2016 report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace identified Malta as one of several key locations where corrupt Azeri officials kept their money. 

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