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Azerbaijan gold mine development leaked in Panama papers

Consortium planed to develop the Chovdar gold field, which at one point was estimated to hold reserves worth up to $2.5 billion.

A new report based on leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm says that the daughters of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hold a significantly greater stake than previously known in a consortium that worked jointly with the government to develop a lucrative gold mine.

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On April 3, an international network of journalists published a series of reports based on documents about some 214,000 offshore companies created by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

In a new report published on April 4, the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) says the documents show that Aliyev’s daughters, Leyla and Arzu, control a 56 percent stake in the consortium to develop the Chovdar gold field, which at one point was estimated to hold reserves worth up to $2.5 billion.

This is considerably greater than the 11 percent stake held by the two women that RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service and the OCCRP documented in a 2012 joint investigation.

The co-author of that report was Azerbaijani investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, who is currently in prison on embezzlement and tax-evasion charges widely believed to be retribution for her reports on corruption involving senior government officials.

Ismayilova is credited as a co-author in the April 4 OCCRP report based on the leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm.

The Aliyevs did not respond to repeated requests for comment, the OCCRP said in the report.

Aliyev’s critics have long accused him of marshaling the state’s resources to enrich himself and his family, allegations that the Azerbaijani president has dismissed. But the leaked Panamanian documents appear to add to a larger picture of his family’s access to lucrative state deals.

In two 2007 decrees, the Azerbaijani government assigned the right to develop the Chovdar field and five other sites to a consortium called Azerbaijan International Mineral Resources Operating Company, Ltd.

AIMROC, which was formed by presidential decree the previous year, controlled a 70 percent stake in the mines, while the government controlled 30 percent.

Establishing the identities of the ultimate beneficiaries of AIMROC has long proven difficult, given the secretive nature of the offshore companies behind the consortium.

The 2012 investigation by RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service and the OCCRP found that Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva were listed as senior managers in three Panamanian firms that own U.K.-based Globex International, which holds an 11 percent stake in AIMROC.

The other three companies in the AIMROC joint venture are obscure offshore entities called Londex Resources, S.A, Willy and Meyris S.A., and Fargate Mining Corporation.

Until the leak of the Panamanian law firm’s documents, the true owners of these companies had been a mystery. But according to the records, Aliyev’s daughters control Londex Resources, which has a 45 percent stake in AIMROC, the OCCRP said in its April 4 report.

This puts the two women’s control of the consortium at 56 percent, the OCCRP concludes.

The OCCRP report notes that the development of the Chovdar gold field has ground to a halt, with workers complaining of unpaid salaries.

Source: Rferl

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