WASHINGTON, D.C.—Pro-Azerbaijani lobbyist Kemal “Kevin” Oksuz has plead guilty after an Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA)-backed grassroots campaign called for the public release of an Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) investigation into his illegally-funded Congressional junket to Azerbaijan.
“We are particularly gratified that the ANCA’s early advocacy for the public release of the closely-held Congressional Ethics Office report helped bring this scandal to the public’s attention,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “The more sunshine the better everyone can see the vast asymmetry between the ANCA’s civic advocacy and Aliyev’s foreign bribery.” Oksuz plead guilty to “devising a scheme to falsify, conceal and cover up material facts” from the U.S. Congress.
According to the Department of Justice, Oksuz, who chaired the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE), an organization affiliated with Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen, “admitted to, in truth, orchestrating a scheme to funnel money to fund the [2013 Congressional] trip from the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), the wholly state-owned national oil and gas company of Azerbaijan, and then concealed the true source of funding, which violated House travel regulations.”
The May/June 2013 trip to Baku for the “USA-Azerbaijan: Vision for the Future” reportedly had a guest list of 317 delegates from 42 states. Guests included 11 sitting members of Congress, 75 state representatives, the former governors of New Mexico and Oklahoma as well as three ex-Obama White House insiders: political strategist David Plouffe, former press secretary Robert Gibbs and ex-deputy chief of staff Jim Messina.
In 2014, the Houston Chronicle reported that all 11 members of Congress who attended the conference supported pro-Azerbaijani oil amendments in the U.S. House. This prompted the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to start a massive investigation into who actually funded the 2013 Baku conference. By 2015, it was clear that while Oksuz had personally signed all the paperwork stating that it was the Turquoise Council organizing and paying for the trips, it was actually SOCAR that had paid over $750,000 for travel and accommodations alone.
Throughout that process, the ANCA called for transparency – that whatever the OCE found be made available to the public, to reveal the extent of Azerbaijani government manipulation and intervention in the U.S. political process. The ANCA led a grassroots campaign and joined civic groups calling for the release of the OCE report. By October 2015, transparency triumphed with the OCE’s 70-page report and some 1000-pages of investigative material turned over to the Department of Justice.
After the 2015 investigation, Oksuz fled the U.S. and reportedly took up residence in Armenia and set up a travel agency. In September 2018, following an international warrant for his arrest, Armenian authorities remanded Oksuz to custody and eventually extradited him to the United States to face trial. It is unclear how a well-known pro-Azerbaijan lobbyist was allowed to set-up business in Armenia.
According to the Department of Justice, Oksuz will be sentenced on Feb. 11, 2019, before U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan for the District of Columbia.