MILAN, Italy (A.W.)— An Italian money-laundering case set to begin in mid-April has exposed a hidden offshore operation that may have contributed to a major human rights crackdown in Azerbaijan in 2013.
Investigators preparing for the upcoming Milan trial of Luca Volonte, an Italian member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), say they have uncovered €2.39 million (approx.. $2.5 million) in payments to Volonte through British and offshore companies.
Most of the funding came through the British company Hilux Services LLP and its account in an Estonian bank from Baktelekom MMC, a limited liability corporation in Azerbaijan.
A reporter for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) discovered that the Azerbaijani company is owned by a businessman with ties to the Azerbaijani first family.
Prosecutors allege that that the payments were made in exchange in Volonte’s efforts to silence the European body’s criticism of Azerbaijan’s human rights record.
Initially, prosecutors stated that they traced the €2.39 million directly to Volonte between 2012 and 2014. However, the indictment adds that as much as €1 billion ($1.05 billion) was channeled into the account of British Hilux Services LLP between December 2013 and December 2014, leading to suspicions that the corruption scheme could be on a wider scale than the Volonte case, reported the OCCRP.
The Milan Police and Prosecution launched a criminal case against Volonte in February 2012. Volonte was a former Member of Parliament of the Christian Union Party and is the former chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP) faction of PACE.