WASHINGTON, DC—A multi-year Congressional Ethics investigation and five-count federal indictment that led to the international manhunt, arrest, extradition and confession of Turkish American lobbyist Kemal Oksuz ended Tuesday with the U.S. District Court issuing a mild $20,000 fine and a sentence of time-served for scheming to conceal Azerbaijani government funding for a 2013 Congressional junket to Baku.
U.S District Judge Tanya Chutkan issued the sentence, which amounts to three months of jail time in Armenia and one week of jail time upon his extradition to the U.S. in November, 2018. Oksuz was also given two years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
“This laughably light sentence sends the wrong message to foreign powers intent on interfering in our American political process,” said Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We are, nonetheless, gratified to have played a role in bringing this scandal to light through our successful campaign for the release of a long-suppressed Congressional Ethics Office report on Oksuz’s criminal conduct.”
The grassroots campaign, backed by the ANCA, called for the public release of an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation report which sparked the FBI investigation, indictment, and Oksuz pleading guilty in December, in 2018, 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 2013 trip to Baku for the “USA-Azerbaijan: Vision for the Future,” reportedly had a guest list of 317 delegates from 42 states, including 11 sitting members of Congress and 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.
A 2014 Houston Chronicle news account showed 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 to start a massive investigation into who actually funded the 2013 Baku conference and by 2015 it was clear that while Mr. Oksuz had personally signed all the paperwork stating that it was the Turquoise Council organizing and paying for the trips, it was actually the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) that had paid over $750,000 for the travel and accommodations alone.
Throughout that process, the ANCA called for transparency; that whatever the Office Congressional Ethics (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.
Following the 2015 investigation, Oksuz fled the states and reportedly took residence in Armenia, where he 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.
Turkey has reportedly also issued a warrant for Oksuz’ arrest for his alleged role in the 2016 coup against Turkish President Recep Erdogan, which the government claims was carried out by pro-Gulen forces.