Home » Prices In opposition to Cuellar Lay Naked Azerbaijan’s Affect Makes an attempt

Prices In opposition to Cuellar Lay Naked Azerbaijan’s Affect Makes an attempt

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As tensions flared over disputed territory in the summertime of 2020, Azerbaijan’s squadron of high-priced Washington lobbyists scrambled to pin the blame on neighboring Armenia and spotlight its connections to Russia.

Unbeknown to members of Congress, Azerbaijan had an inside man who was working intently with the Azerbaijani ambassador to Washington on the time on a parallel line of assault, in response to textual content messages launched by federal prosecutors.

Consultant Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat now charged with accepting bribes and appearing as a international agent in a yearslong scheme, indicated in a textual content that he deliberate a legislative maneuver to attempt to strip funding from Armenia as a result of it hosted Russian army bases.

Azerbaijan’s ambassador responded enthusiastically.

“Your modification is extra well timed than ever,” the ambassador, Elin Suleymanov, wrote to Mr. Cuellar. “It’s all about Russian presence there,” added Mr. Suleymanov, who referred to the congressman as “Boss.”

Mr. Cuellar’s legislative gambit didn’t go far. However by the point of the textual content alternate, his household had accepted at the least $360,000 from Azerbaijani government-controlled firms since December 2014, in response to a federal indictment unsealed in Houston on Friday.

The 54-page indictment highlights the significance of U.S. policymaking to international pursuits, and the lengths to which they go to attempt to form it to their benefit, however excessive dangers and typically questionable outcomes.

The indictment accuses Mr. Cuellar, 68, and his spouse, Imelda, 67, of accepting bribes, cash laundering and conspiring to violate international lobbying legal guidelines in reference to efforts on behalf of the Azerbaijani authorities and a Mexico Metropolis financial institution that paid them at the least $238,390.

The Cuellars pleaded not responsible on Friday, and had been launched after every paid a bond of $100,000. In an announcement earlier than the indictment, Mr. Cuellar declared his innocence and advised that the Home Ethics Committee had cleared his monetary exercise. The Azerbaijani Embassy didn’t reply to a request for remark.

The fees in opposition to the couple counsel that the Justice Division is increasing its efforts to clamp down on international affect campaigns, regardless of latest high-profile setbacks. Juries and judges have rejected circumstances associated to unregistered international lobbying by political figures with shut ties to former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump.

The indictment is the second in latest months to cost a sitting member of Congress with violating a prohibition on lawmakers serving as international brokers. Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and his spouse obtained a sequence of costs beginning in October accusing them of accepting a whole bunch of hundreds of {dollars} in bribes, together with gold bars, to assist the governments of Egypt and Qatar. Mr. Menendez and his spouse have pleaded not responsible.

Past the funds Mr. Menendez and Mr. Cuellar are accused of receiving, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Qatar have been heavy spenders on conventional Washington lobbying to take care of the stream of United States support and to win help in disputes with neighbors.

From 2015 to the tip of final 12 months, Egypt spent $14.3 million on lobbying and Qatar spent almost $85.9 million, in response to analyses by the nonpartisan web site OpenSecrets of disclosures to the Justice Division beneath the Overseas Brokers Registration Act, or FARA. The disclosures don’t embrace donations to suppose tanks and different expenditures that rich international governments use to attempt to generate good will.

Azerbaijan spent almost $9.2 million on lobbying in that point, in response to FARA filings. Arms of the federal government retained about 20 corporations throughout that point, together with ones led by former Gov. Haley Barbour, Republican of Mississippi, and former Consultant Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican who served as chairman of the Home Appropriations Committee. The lobbying efforts additionally concerned corporations run by Democrats, corresponding to the previous Biden adviser Larry Rasky, who died in 2020, and the fund-raiser Vincent A. Roberti.

Azerbaijan’s objectives included profitable help for the reintegration of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory within the Lesser Caucasus, which has been beneath dispute with Armenia for many years. (Azerbaijan seized full management of the territory in September.) Azerbaijan additionally needed Congress to repeal a ban on U.S. support imposed in 1992 through the first Nagorno-Karabakh struggle.

Whereas the US has frequently issued waivers to the ban since 2001, the Azerbaijanis take into account the sturdiness of the underlying ban “sort of an insult and injustice,” mentioned Richard Kauzlarich, who served as ambassador to Azerbaijan through the Clinton administration.

“I haven’t seen indicators of the return on the funding so far as points which can be essential to Azerbaijan when it comes to their lobbying efforts,” Mr. Kauzlarich mentioned. He attributed that partly to continued considerations about human rights abuses by the Azerbaijani authorities and partly to the dearth of an organized, activated diaspora like that which has lobbied for Armenian causes.

“No amount of cash goes to have the ability to counter the variety of voters in California and Massachusetts and elsewhere the place Armenian People stay, are lively and vote,” he mentioned.

Whereas politicians in Europe have been accused of accepting items and bribes from Azerbaijani and Qatari officers, the prosecutors’ claims of funds to Mr. Menendez and Mr. Cueller add a brand new wrinkle on this planet of subterranean affect campaigns in Washington.

The lawmakers had been in prime positions to assist international governments. Mr. Menendez was the chairman of the Senate Overseas Relations Committee, whereas Mr. Cuellar served on the Home Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the funds of the State Division.

After their respective indictments, Mr. Menendez stepped down from his chairmanship, and Mr. Cuellar from his place as the highest Democrat on the Homeland Safety Appropriations Subcommittee. Mr. Menendez’s trial is scheduled to start this month. Each have vowed to stay in workplace as they contest the costs, and Mr. Cuellar has mentioned he intends to proceed his re-election marketing campaign.

The Azerbaijanis’ courtship of Mr. Cuellar got here as oil pursuits within the nation, together with the state-owned firm that prosecutors say funded the funds to the Cuellars, maintained a presence in Texas.

Mr. Cuellar and his spouse, together with different Texas lawmakers, had been handled to journeys to Azerbaijan in 2013. He obtained briefings from high-level authorities officers and attended a dinner with executives from the state-owned oil firm, in response to prosecutors. After Mr. Cuellar returned, he was recruited by Azerbaijani officers, who started funneling funds to a pair of consulting corporations his spouse created referred to as IRC Enterprise Options and World Gold Group, in response to prosecutors and Texas firms filings.

The Cuellars used the cash to repay money owed, fund dwelling bills and make purchases together with a $12,000 customized robe and a $7,000 down fee for a brand new automotive, prosecutors say.

The indictment claims that Imelda Cuellar “carried out little or no legit work in alternate for the funds.” As an alternative, “in alternate for the bribe funds, Henry Cuellar agreed to carry out official acts and acts in violation of his official duties benefiting Azerbaijan and to be and act as an agent of the federal government of Azerbaijan.”

Among the many providers prosecutors say Mr. Cuellar carried out on the behest of the Azerbaijanis was urgent the Obama administration to take a tougher line in opposition to Armenia, making an attempt to insert language favorable to Azerbaijan into laws and committee studies and having members of his employees urge the State Division to resume a passport for the daughter of Mr. Suleymanov.

Mr. Cuellar’s efforts on behalf of Azerbaijan principally appear to have had minimal impression. He withdrew the modification to strip funding from Armenia after objections from an Armenian diaspora group.

“It was going to be dominated out of order so I withdrew however they’re taking credit score ha ha,” Mr. Cuellar texted Mr. Suleymanov.

The ambassador responded “they take credit score for the whole lot!”

After the indictment of Mr. Cuellar was unsealed, the group, Armenian Meeting of America, referred to as for “a broader investigation in relation to those costs and who else could also be tied to Azerbaijan’s corrupt modes of operation.”

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