Azeri Presidential Aide’s House of Cards: New Corruption Allegations Emerge as US Responds Again

Despite numerous corruption and misconduct allegations, Hikmat Hajiyev, assistant to the president of Azerbaijan, appears untouchable due to his position, associates, weak internal institutions, and the US reluctance to address the allegations publicly. Trend News Agency

 

June 5, 2024

In the shadowy corridors of power in Baku, a complex web of influence, nepotism, and alleged corruption is unraveling, compelling the U.S. State Department to respond. At the heart of this unfolding drama is Hikmat Hajiyev, Assistant to the Azerbaijani President, whose recent meetings with senior U.S. officials have come under intense scrutiny by The Azeri Herald.

In a third response to The Azeri Herald’s inquiries on Hajiyev, the U.S. Department of State (DoS) addressed the issue of failed US messages to higher Azeri authorities about jailed dissidents. The DoS reiterated its deep concern over Azerbaijan’s human rights situation, especially the arrests of civil society members. The DoS urged the Azerbaijani government to “immediately release all individuals who are unjustly detained and to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all, including those exercising freedom of expression.”

This statement comes in the wake of The Azeri Herald’s follow-up questions regarding meetings between senior U.S. officials and Hikmat Hajiyev, Assistant to the Azerbaijani President. While the DoS confirmed these meetings occurred and that human rights concerns were raised, they have remained tight-lipped about the specific allegations against Hajiyev, stating off the record, “we have nothing further on this.”

 

Nepotism Royalty at Azerbaijan’s Highest Levels

The Herald also raised questions about escalating media suppression, particularly targeting Tural Sadigli, an Azeri journalist based in Europe. Sadigli exposed Hajiyev’s nepotism in orchestrating his wife’s appointment at SOCAR, Azerbaijan’s state oil giant. He encounters severe backlash from mainstream Azeri media outlets, purportedly under Hajiyev’s sway. Intriguingly, these attacks intensify when Hajiyev is criticized, even more so than when President Aliyev faces critique.

While not directly commenting on the allegations against Hajiyev, citing “privacy of discussions,” in its response to the question on media attacks against Tural Sadigli, the DoS stated that freedom of the press must be respected.

The Herald’s queries highlighted a series of troubling developments that have unfolded since these high-level meetings. These include the European Union’s statement that a recent pardon by President Ilham Aliyev “did not free any political prisoners,” suggesting that U.S. appeals to Hajiyev, president’s aide, were either not conveyed or disregarded. Furthermore, human rights conditions in Azerbaijan have reportedly worsened, with incidents such as the alleged assault and detention of journalist Fatima Movlamli and an economist in Baku.

While The Herald enquired about U.S. meetings with Hajiyev, a Pandora’s box of allegations were unearthed, each more disturbing than the last. The most explosive revelations come again, from Tural Sadigli’s Azad Soz YouTube channel, which has become a digital battleground in the fight for transparency. Sadigli, an Azeri journalist based in Europe, is not just reporting news; he’s making it. His exposés have painted a picture of Hajiyev as the puppet master of Azerbaijan’s state apparatus, pulling strings to elevate his inner circle.

At SOCAR, Azerbaijan’s state oil company and crown jewel, Hajiyev has reportedly turned nepotism into an art form. His wife, Aygun Huseynova, already director of communication, is accused of using her husband’s clout to assert power over SOCAR president Rovshan Najaf. But the family’s grip on SOCAR doesn’t end there.

In a stunning revelation, Sadigli exposed that Ilaha Novruzova, the wife of Hajiyev’s deputy Nusrat Suleymanov, has been catapulted to head SOCAR’s PR department. This move, allegedly orchestrated by Hajiyev, turns SOCAR’s communication team into a virtual family enterprise, raising serious questions about merit, transparency, and corporate governance in a company that is Azerbaijan’s economic lifeblood.

 

Muting the Critics Near and Far

The nepotism allegations extend to state media, the frontline of information control. Sadigli reports that Rauf Hajiyev, Hikmat’s cousin, now heads a section at AZERTAC, Azerbaijan’s official news agency. This appointment, critics argue, is not just about family favors but about shaping the national narrative. With family members in key media positions, Hajiyev can potentially influence what stories are told—and more importantly, which ones are silenced.

But Hajiyev’s influence doesn’t stop at the borders of Azerbaijan. Sources claim that he has other close associates strategically installed in presidential administrations, media, think tanks, and as envoys in countries like France, Sweden, Bulgaria, and India. Such a network allows Hajiyev to shape global perceptions of Azerbaijan, potentially silencing critics and promoting favorable narratives serving his own interests.

Moreover, Sadigli claims to be investigating potential links between Hajiyev and the gold business of former deputy culture minister Elnur Aliyev in Dubai. Elnur Aliyev, along with culture minister Anar Karimov, both former associates of Hajiyev from their time at Azerbaijani missions in the EU and NATO, have recently been dismissed by President Aliyev over corruption and mismanagement allegations.

According to Freedom House, France 24, and some Azeri media outlets, Hajiyev’s rise to power is not just a story of ambition, but of calculated betrayal. These sources claim that Hajiyev regained, protected, and promoted his career by backstabbing his former colleagues, pushing them into obscurity. Moreover, he allegedly orchestrated media campaigns against other countries in Azeri media he controls, further solidifying his grip on the nation’s narrative.

Despite these detailed and scathing allegations, Hajiyev is unlikely to face consequences. In Azerbaijan, corruption is the norm rather than the anomaly. Appointing relatives, family members, and cronies to higher positions is considered by some as smart management, not nepotism. The fighting fatigue and resignation of the population against corruption also play a role, as do corruption in the judiciary and a lack of checking institutions.

Furthermore, the U.S. attempting to deliver important messages via corrupt officials with breaches of integrity, such as Hajiyev, will not be effective. Such officials are likely to distort or even withdraw messages from foreign powers like the U.S. to head of state Ilham Aliyev, thus misleading him to serve their own goals.

 

US Affirms Values Amid Hajiyev Nepotism Accusations

These developments pose significant questions about the effectiveness of U.S. diplomacy in the region. While the DoS’s statement reaffirms its commitment to human rights and freedom of expression, critics argue that its cautious approach to the allegations against Hajiyev falls short. The Herald’s query suggests that by engaging Hajiyev at high levels without publicly addressing these claims, the U.S. may be inadvertently legitimizing and empowering him.

The State Department’s emphasis on free expression, while avoiding direct comment on the charges against Hajiyev, seems a tepid response to Azerbaijan’s intensifying human rights crisis. It’s a diplomatic tightrope walk: signaling support for press freedom without naming names or rocking boats.

As this saga unfolds, with its intertwined threads of family power, media manipulation, international influence, and whispers of gold, the international community watches closely. Azerbaijan has become more than a country; it’s a test case. Here, in the shadow of the Caucasus Mountains, the U.S. must decide how to balance realpolitik with its professed ideals.

Will Washington continue its muted diplomacy, hoping for change through private appeals? Or will it confront the swelling tide of allegations—the family appointments, the media attacks, the global network, the smell of corruption—that seem to mock those very appeals?

The answer will resonate far beyond Baku. In an age where power often operates in the shadows, through networks of family, finance, and international connections, Azerbaijan offers a stark choice: engage with the shadowy figures and risk legitimizing them, or shine a light into those shadows, no matter the diplomatic cost.

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