BAKU, Azerbaijan (A.W.)—Ramil Safarov, the Azerbaijani army officer who murdered 26-year old Armenian Lt. Gurgen Margaryan at a NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace English-language course in 2004, was recently promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel by Baku, Azerbaijan’s Minval news agency reported.
Safarov had confessed to hacking to death 26-year old Margaryan while the latter was asleep in his dormitory room. Safarov struck Markaryan 16 times with an ax, almost decapitating him. Following the murder, he walked over to another Armenian officer’s room, hoping to commit a second murder, but found the door locked.
Safarov was found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison in April 2006, with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
On Aug. 31, 2012, Safarov was extradited to Azerbaijan and pardoned by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Official Yerevan reacted by suspending diplomatic ties with Hungary.
Azerbaijan’s Justice Ministry had assured officials in Hungary that Safarov would continue to serve his sentence in Azerbaijan. However, hours after his arrival on an Azerbaijani Airways special flight, President Ilham Aliyev signed an order to pardon Safarov. The pardon was effective from the day of signing.
Safarov’s pardon contradicted Azerbaijani criminal code, according to which prisoners serving a life sentence can be freed only after having served a period of a minimum of 25 years.
A recent investigation led by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) revealed that that several bank transfers—in excess of $7 million—were made to a Budapest bank account around the time the Hungarian government extradited Safarov to Azerbaijan.
As part of the ongoing investigation into the “Azerbaijani Laundromat“—a nearly $3 billion slush fund tied to Azerbaijan’s ruling elite and used to buy influence around the world—Hungarian investigative journalism NGO Átlátszó.hu revealed that the Budapest bank account belonged to an offshore company owned by the son of an influential Azerbaijani politician.
According to the report, more than $7 million was transferred to the account in 2012 right around the time the Hungarian government struck its deal with Azerbaijani authorities, allowing for Safarov’s extradition. The offshore company has since been closed.
The OCCRP reported that over a two-year period, more than $2.9 billion was laundered through core companies Polux Management LP, Hilux Services LP, Metastar Invest LLP, and LCM Alliance LLP, which “are part of a larger constellation of companies set up by unscrupulous agents to launder and steal large amounts of money” on behalf of Azerbaijan’s leading elite. The Budapest bank account of one of the companies in this constellation, Velasco International Inc., received transfers from Metastar Invest LLP totaling more $7 million around the time of Safarov’s extradition to Azerbaijan.
According to Átlátszó.hu, during Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s visit to Baku in June 2012, just prior to Safarov’s release, he was greeted by then-First Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan Yaqub Eyyubov, father of Orkhan Ejjubov—reportedly the owner of Velasco International Inc.