BAKU — The Azerbaijani Laundromat did not pay only politicians. It was also utilized to buy and disseminate favorable media coverage.
According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), in 2014 Sager Eckart, a former CNN producer, received nearly €2 million ($2.6 million) in his United Arab Emirates bank account from Hilux Services LP. Eckart is listed as a press contact for public relations articles) that promote the Azerbaijani government’s views. One of these articles voices Azerbaijan’s denials in the Luca Volonte case.
The article quotes Elkhan Suleymanov, the same Azerbaijani parliamentarian who paid both Lintner and Volonte, as saying: “Unfortunately, those who attack Azerbaijan without reason for a slander and smear campaign are often regarded as heroic fighters, and it has once again become clear that this unscrupulous slander and smear campaign against my country was part of a vast international conspiracy, organized by economic powers abroad to destabilize Azerbaijan.”
Eckart previously ran into controversy when his TV production company, FBC, made documentaries for the BBC about Malaysia’s palm oil industry and the associated environmental and human rights issues while being paid by the Malaysian government.
And it’s not just media people who got paid. Mario Palmonella, an Italian architect, got money from the same Hilux company for architectural planning work in Azerbaijan. He also co-signed an open letter that started: “We are all Azerbaijanis!!! This is the call expressed in an open letter of the Italian community in Baku. In the letter the Italians living in Azerbaijan express their indignation at the smear campaign against Azerbaijan in the Western mass-media.”
Along with a group of Romanian architects, Palmonella carried out several projects in Azerbaijan, including the 7 Hills development financed in part by the International Bank of Azerbaijan.
The architect and family members were paid multiple times from the Azerbajani Laundromat, receiving more than €57,500 ($74,000) in their Romanian and Italian bank accounts. He told OCCRP that he is aware of Azerbaijan’s human rights problems, but that he felt that signing the letter was the cost of doing business in Azerbaijan.
The 7 Hills development was never completed.