US media is reporting on an Azerbaijani influence campaign centered on conservative German politicians. According to a VICE investigation. Azerbaijan has spent large sums of money attempting to buy itself a better image in Germany through sponsoring sporting events, the use of a small German television station, as well the bribery of elected officials:
March 29, 2021 A VICE investigation reveals how a little-known TV station and large sums of money were part of a lobbying strategy to polish Azerbaijan’s image in Germany. […] Scratch the surface and you’ll find that Azerbaijani influence on Berlin involves a wide network of politicians and lobbyists. Endorsements by German politicians, mostly from the CDU/CSU, are celebrated in Azerbaijan’s state media. […] Meanwhile, Azerbaijani media often broadcasts interviews from a German television station, TV Berlin. Not a big name in Germany, but well-known and well-connected in the capital, TV Berlin narrowly escaped insolvency in 2013. […] An insider familiar with TV Berlin’s production processes told VICE that many programs were commissioned and indirectly paid for by the Azerbaijani government. Other sources close to TV Berlin confirmed this. […] The commissions and finance came via lobbying organisation “The European Azerbaijan Society” (TEAS), since dissolved. Documents seen by VICE confirm the business relationship. Headquartered in Baku, TEAS lobbied in London, Paris, Istanbul, Berlin and Brussels between 2008 and 2018.
Read the full report here.
The CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union) and the CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union) are the two major conservative political parties in Germany.
The VICE investigation identifies the following individuals as alleged propagators of Azerbaijani influence:
- Karin Strenz (German MP, CDU) (deceased)
- Axel Fischer (German MP, CDU)
- Thomas Bareiß (German lawmaker, CDU)
- Olav Gutting (German MP, CDU)
- Peter Brinkmann (Journalist, Berlin TV)
- Nijat and Tale Heydarov (Founders, The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS))
- Shahin Namati (German head, The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS))
The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) was a pan-European Azerbaijani lobby group set up in 2008 by Nijat and Tale Heydarov, the sons of Kamaladdin Heydarov, who is currently Azerbaijan’s Minister of Emergency Situations. According to an archived version of its website, the TEAS had offices in the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, and Turkey, as well as in Azerbaijan.
In September 2017, UK media reported that Azerbaijan’s ruling elite operated a secret $3 billion scheme to pay prominent European politicians and journalists, buy luxury goods and launder money through a network of opaque British companies.
In November 2020, the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) published an analysis of Azerbaijan’s influence operations in the US during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, noting that the country had hired six US lobby firms to convince Americans that Armenia was the real aggressor and Turkey was not really involved in the conflict.