Andrew Jennings

Andrew Jennings

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Sporting Corleones of the Caspian - Part 1

There's a new sports event next month. It's called the European Games, promoted by Olympic officials who turn their backs on the appalling human rights abuses committed by their hosts. Meet the First Family of Azerbaijan who say they cherish Olympic idealism - but are denounced in secret reports by US officials as violent mobsters....

(Get ready for a long read!)

Andrew Jennings and Max Metzger report...

THE DEMOCRACY PROTESTORS in Baku's Khurdakhani jail have endured their morning kicking and now, as the last of the 1,000 torchbearers approaches the Olympic Stadium, we are poised for the faux Olympic-style Opening Ceremony. The flaming Torch has traversed Azerbaijan, stopping in 59 towns, 39 of the halts at a Hedar Aliyev Park or Square, each time paying homage at a statue of the Father of the Nation.

Meydan.TV tells the truth about the bogus games
It is a rip-off . . . but by oil-gushing billionaires. Maybe that's why Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, is expected to take his VIP seat at the Baku Olympic stadium this mid-June, clutching a free tub of Caspian caviar.

The First Lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, will wave to the thinly spread crowd of sports officials, schoolkids and a few mums and dads in the 68,000- seat oval. She is in her early 50s and doesn't smile easily after all that cutting and stitching. She drapes herself in pricey gowns, rockstar shades, thick-soled Louboutins and shows more skin than you might expect in a Muslim country. Forget to address her as First Lady and you risk qualifying for the morning kicking.

The President's wife is the First Arbiter, chairing the Organising Committee for these first – and probably last – European Games. A senior member of one of the country's most powerful mafia families she keeps the peace between the competing clans, the God Mother, distributing $8 billion worth of Games contracts.

Looting the country's gas and oil reserves beneath the Caspian has enriched the First Families in the two decades since independence from the collapsing Soviet Union. This bogus sports event is the latest plundering. Staging them requires massive construction of arenas and swim pools. Whoopee!

To make it credible they need thousands of young athletes to show up. Who can supply them? The most reliable trafficker in young flesh is the International Olympic Committee. The bulk delivery is being organised by a senior member, an Irishman with insider knowledge of Olympic corruption going back 25 years. Helping out are senior officials of 49 European Olympic Committees. But they are amateurs in the hands of the pros, the Corleones of the South Caucasus.

First lady, Mehriban Aliyeva meeting with IOC man Pat Hickey and Minister of Sport, Azad Rahimov

THE SPORTS BAG stuffed with $10,000 in cash is handed over in the car park behind President Heydar Aliyev's office in July 1997. An official counts it and the two visiting gangsters, a Czech and an American, are ushered inside to begin negotiations to steal the country's oil wealth. The man they would bribe needs the money to buy the next presidential election.

The scam targeted Azerbaijan's vast oil and gas reserves belonging to state-owned company SOCAR. The Western view of the post-Soviet world was that public was bad and private good. One of the two men in the Baku car park was the bouncing Czech, Viktor Kozeny, a veteran of Eastern European privatisations.

Harvard-educated Viktor had tricked many a greedy fool out of massive fees in the tortuous transfer of public assets to Oligarchs. He stayed ahead of retribution by acquiring passports from Ireland and Grenada and relocating to a gated community in the Bahamas. Occasionally Viktor showed up at his $15 million residence in London's top draw Eaton Square and other times at his $20 million mountain chateau in Aspen, Colorado.

The Bouncing Czech: Viktor Kozeny, handcuffed in The Bahamas
Baku would be another cash cow. Every citizen, issued with vouchers, their tiny share of the oil, could cash in at the impromptu marketplace by Baku's 28 May subway station. Viktor set up a secretive company in the British Virgin Islands with the endearing name of - believe this - Oily Rock. He would buy vouchers for 50 cents and sell them to gullible investors, mostly from the USA, for up to $25.

Viktor entertained his wealthy Aspen neighbours, handed round the Beluga and talked of unbelievable riches, conveniently offshore. Ivana Trump and Natalie Cole lit up the room. He moved his roadshow to New York and suckered a senior US Senator who later became involved in combating corruption at the IOC, liberated $15 million from the giant AIG insurance group and . . . hold your breath . . . took a hedge fund for $125 million. He assured investors they were getting a great deal in an emerging market and when they flipped SOCAR they would get a ten times payback.

EVERY FEW DAYS in 1997 into 1998 private jets clogged the airspace above Baku, loaded with millions of dollars destined for the Presidential Palace. The Feds reckoned later that $180 million made the trip. Another $100 million was wired. Who got it? Viktor names then President Heydar, his son Ilham, now President, and a few Azeri capos.

Heydar and Ilham: Fingered for oil bribes
First Lady Mehriban married into the Aliyev clan a dozen years earlier and while she was never named in the subsequent indictments, Viktor's boys had to chip in $1million a time when the family women went shopping in Paris, London and New York. She doesn't talk about the $44,000 worth of white gold necklace and earrings from Aspreys or $600,000 worth of desk decorations for her father-in-law including a $48,000 sold gold bell push and a $101,000 jewelled picture frame - gifts on the ageing thief's 75th birthday.

By this time Viktor and his capos in Baku were holding tens of thousands of vouchers and millions in cash for buying more. That was the excuse for the presidential retinue to shake Viktor down for another $1 million to buy protection from a squad of Chechen gunmen.

Then the extortion got serious. Heydar intended to be re-elected in late1998 and that would take plenty of walk-about money. "They wanted their bite," recalled Viktor in 2000. Heydar's boys closed down the operation, retaining all the money, according to Viktor, prompting an FBI Special Agent to comment, “The corrupt Azeri officials scammed the scammers."

The Justice Department heard about the bribes and launched indictments under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – the law that says you must not bribe foreign government officials to get business. Bahamas refused to extradite Viktor from Lyford Key and a scurrying of hedgefund managers and a Swiss bank official turned State's witness. One small player was jailed for 12 months – and Heydar won the election.

Leyla Yunus: arrested for speaking out
 Dr LEYLA YUNUSacademic and internationally renowned human rights activist, who fought for human rights in Soviet times and translated for Margaret Thatcher in the 1990s, will be missing from the Mob's sporty ceremonies.

She dared to stand up to Lady Mehriban's decree that hundreds of homes must be demolished to make space for her pet family project, the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. The presenter was the First Daughter Leyla Aliyeva, her popstar husband Emin closed the show and a family firm was gifted a contract for the construction of the stunning 25,000-seat Crystal Hall.

The First Lady's vindictiveness was staggering. She sent in the bulldozers and without warning, demolished Dr Yunus's Baku home and the offices of the Institute for Peace and Democracy that also housed a women's crisis center and an anti-landmine campaign group. She claimed the building stood in the way of a new park surrounding the Crystal Hall. Police barred staff from retrieving personal and professional documents as the walls fell.
Crystal Hall: The First Family capture Azerbaijan
 That's not how you silence the brave, 59-year-old Dr Yunus. She gave an interview to the New York Times listing 98 political prisoners locked up by the regime. She organised a peace initiative with fellow activists in long-time enemy, neighbouring Armenia.

Then she went too far and sent a letter last July to the Olympic bosses begging them to take these European Games away, anywhere, but not in Azerbaijan where abuse of human rights is a daily event.

The day after the letter was made public the thugs arrived at her door. They took her and days later her husband, 59-year-old scientist Arif. They have not been seen in public since. The Government says they are charged with treason, large-scale fraud, forgery, tax evasion and illegal business.

These pensioners are so dangerous that they had to be locked up for three months pre-trial detention. In October it was extended until February this year. Then it was extended again until August, after the Games.

Off to Jail! Leyla Yunis
Baku's jails are as vile as you would fear. Her brother-in-law Ramis was allowed to visit and reported, "Leyla has been beaten and dragged by her hair by a prison guard and is being subjected to constant psychological abuse." In November men in civilian clothes, entered her cell and made sexually threatening gestures.

One of her lawyers disclosed that she has been subjected to verbal and physical abuse by a senior guard and a fellow inmate in her cell. There will be no more such reports. The Prosecutor has sacked both her lawyers. He does not have to give a reason.

She is denied treatment for a liver enlargement, diabetes, hepatitis and eye problems. She has lost 16 kilograms in custody and is denied parcels of special food. Arif Yunus has suffered a stroke and is being held at a jail run by the national security ministry, notorious for torturing inmates.

Old age is no barrier to torture in Baku's jails. In her 2,400 word letter to the IOC leader supplying youngsters to the Games Dr Yunus shone sunlight on one dissident family and how the Corleones systematically murdered them, one by one.

Novruzali Mammadov: to be killed in jail
Professor Novruzali Mammadov, an expert on the language of the Talish minority whose homeland straddles the border with Iran, was arrested in Baku in 2007 and tortured to confess that he was an Iranian spy. Despite them breaking his ribs and a collarbone the 69-year-old held firm. Over the next seven months his son Kamran visited - and each time was grabbed by plainclothes police and beaten. In September they put the boot in one time too many, dropping him home covered in blood. Kamran was the first casualty, dying hours later.

To increase pressure the cops planted drugs on second son Emil and threatened him with a lengthy jail sentence - unless his father signed the spying confession. The standoff continued for two more years and Professor Mamedov was jailed for 10 years, ensuring that the sick old man would never be free. The torturing never stopped and he died in his cell in 2009.

Forty days later his widow and son Emil were driving to lay flowers on his grave. A truck smashed into their little car, killing Emil.

Dr Leyla Yunus had addressed her letter to Patrick Hickey from Dublin, a member of the IOC's Executive Board and president of the European Olympic Committees who are supplying the young athletes to fill the stadia.

The Sporting Corleones of the Caspian - Part 2: Meet the IOC's Pat Hickey & The Mafia

Hickey sucks the dictator
PAT HICKEY KNOWS MORE THAN MOST about Olympic corruption. He has seen it firsthand over the past quarter of a century. In 1991, when he was an official at the Olympic Council of Ireland, Pat learned that in the dirty fight to host the 1998 winter Olympics some IOC members were selling their votes to rich bidding city Nagano for $100,000 a time.

We know this because in March 1991 Pat sent a letter marked "Strictly Private & Confidential" to the leaders of Salt Lake City's rival bid for the Games. We obtained our copy from the archives compiled after Salt Lake's bribes became public. Pat never reported the crooks and having proved his reliability, was elevated to IOC membership in 1995.
Those were jolly times at the IOC. Pat got his share when Atlanta was bidding for the 1996 Summer Games. They paid for his vacation, with other Olympic officials, at The Cloisters hotel-to-die-for on Sea Island, off the Georgia coast. Hickey's return airfare from Dublin was $5,344 and their official greeter noted, "Gee, they all eat a lot."

Those were jolly times at the IOC. Pat got his share when Atlanta was bidding for the 1996 Summer Games. They paid for his vacation, with other Olympic officials, at The Cloisters hotel-to-die-for on Sea Island, off the Georgia coast. Hickey's return airfare from Dublin was $5,344 and their official greeter noted, "Gee, they all eat a lot."

Three years later the Salt Lake corruption scandal broke and several more followed quickly. Pat Hickey was appointed to an IOC committee tasked with "reform." Alongside him were members concealing histories of sports contracts kickbacks, hiding doping scandals and more bribe scams. As expected their "reforms" weren't and the IOC carried on selecting themselves from people like themselves.
Message from Sonny: you wanna find this in your bed? 

Pat did have to face an election when he became President of the Olympic Council of Ireland in 1989 but, enjoying a novel constitution that gives his supporters extra votes, he is still in place. In his time Pat has threatened to sue most of the Irish media so they have made him a hero at home.
Real power fell at Pat's feet in 2006 when he won control of the little-known 49-member European Olympic Committees [EOC] and entered a new world of Gala Dinners.  But he wanted his own Games. Asia had them, the Americas did, Pat must make a European Games his legacy. Problem was, nobody wanted them. The European summer is crammed full of elite sports events across the continent. Who could afford them, and where would the athletes be found?

Hickey's Love letter to Lukashenko 
The democratic countries of Europe looked away, embarrassed. But there was one that wanted to divert attention from its ghastly human rights abuse and all-pervading dictatorship. The first clue to Pat's plans came at the EOC congress in Istanbul in 2008. Without consulting his members Pat announced a special award to the president of the national Olympic committee of Belarus for "His outstanding Contribution to the Olympic Movement." This was baffling because Belarus has inherited the former East German preeminence in doping its athletes. Every Olympics has its Belarusian scandals. It was the first at the London 2012 Games.

This president's day job was President of the Stalinist hangover of Belarus. When Alexander Lukashenko wasn't setting his thuggish police on youthful pro-democracy demonstrators he wanted sports events. This impressed Pat Hickey who announced in 2011, “It is important that the National Olympic Committee in Belarus is headed by Alexander Lukashenko.” This did not impress the European Union who banned the thug from travelling. Hickey pondered the near bankruptcy of Minsk and looked south to where the black gold gushed. On 12 December, 2012, Pat's EOC voted the first European Games to Baku.

Lukashenko and Aliyev: Hello & Goodbye to Hickey's SportsFest 
THE ALIYEV government embodies "organised crime." Who says so? An American diplomat in Baku in a secret report to Washington in September 2009. He had consulted sources inside the government before writing a detailed – and sometime hilarious – description of how Mafia politics and business work in Azerbaijan.

The report, circulated by Wikileaks, says President Ilham Aliyev is two men. "Michael Corleone on the outside, Sonny on the inside," said the diplomat.

"Sonny is brash, impulsive, and puts blind faith in force to address affronts to the Corleone family. For him, business is personal," wrote America's man in Baku. "Sonny refuses to contemplate a present or a future in which the Corleone family does not dominate . . . His goal appears to be a political environment in which the Aliyev dynasty is unchallenged."

That explains the vicious beatings, jailing and murders. If you must come to the Baku Games don't offend Sonny the Godfather sulking in the Presidential Palace. Be warned that if "Aliyev perceives a challenge to his authority or affronts to his family dignity, even minor ones, he and his inner circle are apt to react (or overreact)" with "crude retaliation."

Thug, Prince, Pauper
The "Michael Corleone on the outside" in his tailored suits and speaking perfect English negotiates with oil corporations, throws parties at Davos with the IOC's Pat Hickey and Prince Albert of Monaco cozying up to him and spends a fortune on massive international public relations campaigns to obscure his sordid "Sonny" image.

He is also "a talented balancer of alliances." That's a polite way of saying that the spoils from robbing the state and its vast oil wealth are shared equitably between the leading Families - including the First Lady's clan, the Pashayev Family, said to be the most powerful commercial family in the land.

Pat Hickey and his desperate need to overlord a European sports event ticked all their boxes. It would be immensely profitable for the families and generate warm soft images with the pliant international sports press as he bowed and scraped to Mehriban.

Europe's top gangster
The US Government view of Michael/Sonny was reinforced in public at the end of 2012 when the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a collective of classy investigative journalists working across Eastern Europe, applauded President Aliyev as their "Man of the Year."

They had acquired well-documented evidence that his family has secret ownership stakes in the country’s largest businesses including banks, construction companies, gold mines and phone companies. Maybe he was "Thief of the Year."

Meet Azerbaijan's First Lady, president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadorchair of the Organizing Committee of the Eurovision Song Contest, winner of the 2014 "Olympic Excellence" Special Honorary Prize of the International Olympic Academy for promotion of Olympic values, vice-president of the Azerbaijan National Olympic Committee, Member of the Azerbaijani Parliament, vice-president of the ruling YAP – Yeni Azerbaijan Party – (take breath ) . . .  Chairperson of the Baku 2015 European Games Organizing Committee, Mehriban Aliyeva, neĆ© Pashayev.

First Lady and the company she keeps
It was prescient of Mehriban to take the Presidency of the Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation in 2002. These Games feature Rhythmic and Artistic Gymnastics in the spectacular new National Gymnastic Arena, described by the Financial Times as "a delightful essay in architecture parlante," built by Pasha Construction. Yes, its her clan and their conglomerate includes several banks, including Pasha Bank, Pasha Insurance, a TV station and much, much more. They are probably the richest tribe in this land, the size of Ireland but with twice the oil of Texas.

Mehriban and Michael – and sometimes Sonny – live well, according to another Wiki-leaked US embassy cable"There appeared to be an eerie sense of disconnect between President Aliyev's personal, private residence and the socioeconomic conditions for average Baku residents,” reported the ambassador in 2007. He and other diplomats were taken aback at the "ostentatious display and opulence" at the ruling couple's beach-front dacha with its "stunning" views of the Caspian.

Mehriban's profitable gymnastics hall 
The bus carrying them "sped toward the Presidential dacha through roads that were completely cleared of traffic." Lunch took four hours and "guests were treated to plenty of caviar, sturgeon, and wine, interspersed with frequent vodka/wine toasts . . . There were several underground saunas and an enormous indoor swimming pool. An indoor fountain and gold trimming throughout underscored the extravagance."

Reviewing his day the ambassador commented, "It is unclear whether Aliyev understands or is concerned with the sharp contrast between his life and that of average Azerbaijani citizens, many of whom are struggling."

The First Lady's PR machine wants us know that "Mehriban Aliyeva is committed to use all available opportunities to enhance the efficiency of humanitarian programs benefiting the Azerbaijani people." Maybe she was too busy to read a report in February from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. It dealt with marriages at the age of 12, prostitution, abortions and violence against women in Azerbaijan. The evidence is grim and gets worse because Sonny, trying to isolate his people from the better world beyond his borders, shuts down the NGOs working for women’s rights.

Azerbaijan has one of the highest abortion rates in Central Asia. Around 200,000 abortions were registered in 2012. On average women earn 58% less than men. In the oil and gas industry they earned 38% less.

THE FIRST DAUGHTER, Leyla Aliyeva, now 29, doesn't have to worry about a weekly wage packet. Reportedly, she ran up a £300,000 champagne bill entertaining a dozen girlfriends. The First Family's fleet of private jets shuttle her between luxury homes in London, Moscow and Baku.

Daughters Arzu and Leyla and mother Mehriban
The First Daughter's PR machine wants us know her personal philosophy is, "Releasing the power of youth to create greater harmony with our global environment." Leyla is editor-in-chief of art and fashion magazine Baku, launched in London three years, and delights starring in fashionista shoots with sister Arzu. At other times she paints, writes poetry and represents the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in Russia where Patriarch Kirill bestowed on her the honour of the Holy Order Of St Olga, Apostelian Princess (Third Class).

She is said to be friends with Prince Andrew who has visited Baku a dozen times in recent years to chat with Michael/Sonny. His nephews William and Harry play polo with super-rich Azeris who have made their homes in England. Sadly, polo with not be a sport in these Games.

The First Lady's Pasha Bank invites Princess Diana's former press secretary Patrick Jepson to speak at their seminars on "Building a Global Reputation" and he tells them, "I believe your country is a pearl of tolerance all over the world." Another visitor welcome in Baku is Tony Blair who is reputedly paid up to $150,000 a time to deliver warm and upbeat speeches.

YOU CANNOT HIDE FROM HIM. Fly 70 miles off shore to an island covered in oilrigs and at the heliport there's a giant billboard with a giant portrait of the National Leader, the Father of the Nation, the Architect of the People's Freedoms. Onshore he is watching you on every street in every town and city. This wise and kindly man – let's not linger on Heydar Aliyev's service in Soviet times as a Stalinist KGB enforcer – looms over every aspect of life in Azerbaijan. His image overhangs main roads on high gantries, he is watchful outside the Central Bank - even though he died in 2003.
When this little boy grows up, he will be a Great Leader 
One of the biggest hoardings, again over a major road into Baku, shows the Father of the Nation followed one step behind by current President Ilham. Behind them is the grandson, little Heydar. Sonny is determined the boy will succeed him at the Presidential Palace. Barely up to dad’s elbow he is already a real estate genius owning, according to the Washington Post, $44million worth of villas in distant Dubai. With his two big sisters, Leyla and Arzu they have $75 million worth of Gulf property registered in their names.

Every meeting room, public and private, has a prominent portrait of Heydar Aliyev. Hard-eyed in military uniform, strong in a suit or benevolent in evening dress. His image oversees foreign delegations, university lecture halls, army conference rooms.

Schoolbooks mould young minds with reverential mentions of the Wise Leader, the Great Leader who will be remembered forever. His grim image looms over the Home Page of the Ministry of Education website.

Big Brother is watching you
The National Academy of Sciences has a department devoted to studies of Heydar Aliyev. It takes a compassionate view of his career as a KGB general, first secretary of Azerbaijan’s Communist Party, a member of the Moscow Politburo, Azerbaijan's President from 1993 to 2003. His earlier years working with the traditional mafia brought his first riches from Caspian Sea caviar and looting customs revenues is now erased. 

Visitors arrive at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport and encounter Heydar Aliyev Avenue, Heydar Aliyev ArenaHeydar Aliyev Park, Heydar Aliyev Sports and Exhibition Complex. They will be steered to the $250 million Heydar Aliyev Centre, designed by Zaha Hadid.

Leave the country and you can't escape Aliyev statues in Turkey, Georgia, Egypt, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Romania, Mexico, Canada and Moldova. That oil money goes a long way.

The Sporting Corleones of the Caspian - Part 3: Mafia women get rich - honest ones get jailed

GOLD MEDAL WINNING ATHLETES will take home a permanent reminder of how the ruling clan mugs its own country. Back in 2007 they helped themselves to the country's biggest gold mine in the mountains at Chovdar. Control was ripped off by four interlocking shell companies that floated out of Europe across the Atlantic, skirted Cuba and anchored in Panama City. Registered owners are the First and Second Daughters, Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva.

The Daughters don't dirty their hands shovelling rock or smelting ore. Those chores are subcontracted to a Japanese company. The Sisters spend the bullion from the $2.5 billion of gold and silver in the ground on exorbitant living in Paris, Moscow and London. Workers at the mine are paid $12 a day.

Khadija Ismayilova on her way to jail
The thieving was revealed in May 2012 by brave reporter Khadija Ismayilova. She's now 38, loved and admired by investigative reporters worldwide but we haven't seen her for a while. We know where she is – Kurdakhani jail in Baku – victim of the Sonny side of the President and a nasty cat and mouse legal process where his judges endlessly renew pre-trial detention because they haven't got a case.

After the Gold scandal Khadija dug into the First Family's looting of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012. Sifting through more obscure companies she tracked down the true owners of a major contractor building the costly Crystal Hall. Here again were the First and Second Daughters and their mother, First among the nation's Ladies, siphoning off more oil wealth.

To extract more money from their project they evicted dozens of families, demolishing their homes. There was compensation – which was promptly stolen. Human rights lawyer Bakhtiyar Mammadov took up their case, was accused of extortion and jailed for eight years.

This is one way we make our money
That encouraged the greed of the First Sisters. Khadija soon published, with the Balkans-based Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, that they owned a company supplying 80% of the country's cell phone services, registered in friendly Panama and the Caribbean island of Nevis.

Khadija became the focus of a hate campaign organised by the First Family. They slipped a video camera into her bedroom, recorded her with her boyfriend and posted on a government website. They called on patriots to kill her mother - and published her address. Keeping up the pressure they added the address of Khadija's sister, and accused her of being a "pimp" involved in "sex trafficking" in Turkey.

It didn't work. Khadija scorned them and published a list of 97 political prisoners. Then she disclosed more about the First family's secret accounts in the British Virgin Islands.

Prosecutors searching desperately for a reason to shut her up came up with a fanciful story that she incited a former colleague to kill himself. Bang! The prison doors closed on her last December and every couple of months Baku judges agree that more time is needed to discover her crimes.

Khadija telling the truth about the dictatorship
Occasionally Khadija manages to smuggle letters from jail. They are optimistic, never bitter. She says she feels more free than the prosecutors. "When I watch the helpless state of the judges and prosecutors, I feel sorry for them. It is strange, but I feel confident when I see them in such a condition. I feel supremely free compared to such officials."

Another time she asks, "Why am I here?" Her answer; "It is a question that everyone in prison asks themselves, no matter the crime. Corruption is the reason I am in my prison, but the regime's corruption, not mine."

Remembering the list of political prisoners, she mourns, "In a very small yet strategic and potentially volatile country bordering Russia and Iran, 100 of its best and brightest, its most aware, active and internationally engaged citizens have been removed from public life for the crime of seeking decency and fair play."

Her letters had her clapped in solitary confinement. Family visits were stopped. The regime staged a secret hearing in the jail in March this year with no family members or observers allowed. Now she was accused of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, and tax evasion and facing up to 12 years locked away.

During a break Khadija returned to her cell and declined to return. She smuggled out what would have been her closing statement to the court. She labelled the Azerbaijan regime “criminal” and the charges against her “insulting.”

The athletes, their coaches, their press officers, the visiting IOC members and their sponsors - including the usual suspects Coca-Cola and McDonalds – might echo Khadija's final question, "How come the authorities in possession of so much money, police, traitors, surveillance technology, and spies cannot come up with one proper case against me?"
Duncan MacKay: Telling it how they like it 
THE FIRST LADY'S PROPAGANDA MACHINE is driven from a substantial, detached redbrick house in the pleasant Buckinghamshire countryside to the north of London. Former Guardian athletics reporter Duncan MacKay was declared bankrupt in 2010 for unpaid billson a previous sports website but has recovered to build an empire of interlocking online publications. They generate remarkably favourable coverage of the International Olympic Committee, its wealthiest individual member, cities hoping to host Summer and Winter Games and martial arts federations. And the Corleones of the Caspian.

Typical of the enthusiastic coverage of Baku's European Games is his "Visionaries" sequence of profiles. A rare photo of a smiling, benign President Aliyev decorates Mr MacKay's admiring introduction. In 700 words we learn that he has great ambitions for his country and that "Aliyev refuses to put limits on what Azerbaijan can achieve in the future."

Another man without blemish on his character is bulky Sports Minister Azad Rahimov who cannot help looking like the last person you would want to meet in a dark Baku alley. He is the man "entrusted with delivering history." He "encapsulates the 'can do' spirit pervading the organisers" and  "Over the past 10 years, 35 Olympic sport complexes have been built." In his 565 words there's no space to examine who got the contracts.

The Saintly Mehriban
By the time the weary Mr Mackay encountered the First Lady, he had long stumbled into the language trough of Pyongyang. The saintly Mehriban gets the most words – 774 – but even less is said. Gymnastics is mentioned but she seems to lack passion. She cherishes her membership of her country's national Olympic committee. She helped build the Baku Museum of Modern Art – but the contractor who got the work isn't credited. Her sculpted face and frame are lovingly portrayed.

With seemingly unlimited funding Mr Mackay hires young and as yet unformed reporters to eulogise the Olympic industry as it would choose to be reported. He also employs a team of semi-retired British sports reporters whose upbeat reporting from the luxury hotels of Baku does not extend to mentioning their colleagues in the Kurdakhani jail.

WHAT BINDS THEM TOGETHER is their career-long admiration of the also unblemished Lord Sebastian Coe. They created a sports industry-wide attitude that the former runner, Tory politician and now multi-millionaire is, with the First Lady, stratospherically above any criticism.

Lord Coe shares her enthusiasm for this summer's seaside spectacle. In October 2012 he was appointed chairman of CSM strategic, part of the Chime communications group – a cluster of PR companies and event managers with more than 1,700 employees – receiving a “golden hello” of £1.9m in cash. His salary is £350,000 and the Financial Times estimates that this year he will earn £2.5 million from his various business interests including £300,000 a year as an "ambassador" for Nike.

CSM boasts that it played "a leading role" in bringing the European Games to Baku. It choreographed the winning presentation (there was only one) to Pat Hickey and his EOC in Rome in December 2012. CSM advised on "the sports programme, venue concept andoperations, Games event services, programme management, Games readiness,commercial strategy and the Baku 2015 operational budget."
Lord Coe promotes Baku at the Dorchester Hotel, April 27th, 2015

Lord Coe was elected chair of the British Olympic Association in November 2012 and the following month represented British sport at the vote on Baku's application, created by Chime, to host the European Games.

Chime is at ease with the Caspian Corleones. The clans wanted to stage the 2020 Olympic Games and Chime wants us to know that they "led on the development of the Applicant File; brand positioning, narrative and messaging and assisted the Baku 2020 team with its interaction with and presentations to the Olympic Movement." Baku lost.
'Hi big spender'
 Chime were more successful with football and secured three group matches and a quarter-final match for the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament. They supplied "strategic, technical and project management services, including the development and final production of the Bid Dossier."

ALONGSIDE LORD COE helping create a warm, friendly image for the Corleones is Jon Tibbs. The website of his Tonbridge Wells-based PR company proclaims, "We shape opinions, change perceptions and we build brands whose values are recognised and respected." One of Mr Tibbs' staff – a "senior consultant" – is dedicated to working for Baku. Tibbs himself has been lowkey but he surfaced last November in Baku hosting a dinner for Olympic officials where IOC president Thomas Bach was seen to bow low to kiss the hand of the First Lady.

IOC President Thomas Bach with his billionaire pals
Mr Tibbs was a booster for Sochi's bid to host last year's Winter Olympics, promising that the Games “could be the stimulus that accelerates the country's journey towards becoming an open, transparent and proudly democratic society, as well as bringing investment and opportunities for both Russian and international companies.”

Putin's Crimea adventure undermined Mr Tibbs' optimism about his client and he has moved Eastwards to speak favourably for Turkmenistan, like Azerbaijan another of the world's most vile dictatorships.

Jon Tibbs: Image enhancer to dictators
 Finding it difficult to say anything positive about his client President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and his enjoyment of extreme tortures of critics Mr Tibbs focussed instead on the thug's creating a vast Olympic-style sports complex. Tibbs opted for, "the best kept secret in world sport.”

Also on the Turkmenistan payroll is Lord Coe’s Chime company and the noble Lord praises his client’s “great vision.” Tibbs' pandering to the post-Soviet dictators brought him a Queen's Award for Enterprise last year.

The Sporting Corleones of the Caspian - Part 4: Meet the thugs with brass knuckles

Monday 3 March 2014, 4.35 amBOOM! Up go the offices of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. The police blamed the blast on a faulty gas cylinder - although there had never been any in the building. Little changes in the Caspian prison camp. A year earlier police raided a democracy training seminar in Baku, organized by Germany’s Friedrich Naumann Foundation. "Where's Nauman?" they demanded, fingering their batons expectantly. It took a while to convince them that the theologian died in 1919.

Three years ago we began collecting into a desktop folder disturbing stories of police violence and the Corleone war on freedom. There are so many now that we can only mention a few from the endless horror. This year Azerbaijan has three times more prisoners than Ireland. Perhaps Pat Hickey will want to mention this to IOC President Bach – and maybe the Irish team he is sending to Baku. Here's how Sonny's thugs treat the people, especially youngsters, the same age as the foreign athletes.

Azerbaijan's brutal police silence protesters
The Free Thought University, funded by the US and UK embassies in Baku to promote democracy and human rights was shut down in April 2013. Prosecutors arrived at the university in without warning and sealed its doors.

Elvan Nabiyev was arrested five days after he and 24 others sent a letter to President Aliyev complaining about unfair treatment by officials in Kurdamir district. “Immediately after that the pressures began. Our shops started to be demolished," said one of them.

Lawyer Khalid Bagired was recently disbarred after defending a group of opposition activists. Another activist was beaten on the street, saw his father kidnapped and a colleague murdered. Jailed, the guards added on two more years claiming to have found heroin in his cell. Then in midwinter they locked him for 15 days in a "kartser," a Soviet-era concrete cell.

"The only way to survive was to be constantly in motion," he said. "If I stood still for even a moment, I would have died. I didn't sleep for 15 days. The windows were open and there was no bed."

Do the Baku cops and prosecutors have any shame? Do they tell their loved ones what they do for a living? Three activists from the NIDA youth group were arrested and accused of planning an insurrection. Police claim they found petrol bombs and marijuana at their homes. Other activists believe they were tortured before appearing on state television confessing their guilt and admitting they had been plotting revolution.

Khadija Ismayilova explains, "Activists are forced to sign statements asking for clemency. They have to go to the cemetery and bow at the grave of former President Heydar Aliyev, all the while being filmed."

There are two kinds of journalists in Baku. The compliant ones living in a block of apartments built for them by kindly "Michael." He inaugurated the Baku building on National Press Day in 2013, announcing that "Freedom of speech is fully secured in Azerbaijan."

Where the dictator stores his journalists
The rest bounce between hospitals, newsrooms on the verge of closure by the cops, random attacks by street thugs who are never caught and the Khurdakhani jail.

The experience of independent Editor Sardar Alibeili, is typical. Fellow walks up to him, spits in his face, throws himself on pavement screaming in agony. Cops appear immediately and arrest our man for hooliganism.

Again: Gulbuta Khasmammadova explained what happened when her son was accosted by a stranger while out with family members.
“Some man we didn’t know spat in my son’s face. When Taleh asked him why he’d done it, he fell on the ground and started yelling. Then he feigned unconsciousness,” she said. “Policemen who were nearby arrested my son.”

“The incident was recorded on CCTV and there are eyewitnesses. But both investigators and the court have refused to look at the footage or interview witnesses,” she said. The family noted that the "victim" has appeared as a prosecution witness in previous trials.

The definition of an honest reporter in Azerbaijan is one who when stopped by the police is carrying heroin and a search reveals ammunition in their homes. They are arraigned in cages in the sinister-sounding Grave Crimes Court.

The First Lady, The Daughters and Baku's propagandists enthuse about their country's religious tolerance. This is news to Baptists who are tossed in jail for practicing religion without a permit. They asked for one and were refused. Same with Jehovah's Witnesses. "Under our laws, spreading religious books is banned," explained a top cop. Some Sunni Muslims can end up in jail for praying at home. Norway's Forum 18 publishes sad reports of religious repression.

When President Sonny isn't closing the domestic press and jailing its journalists his tax inspectors turn on internationally respected NGOs providing independent news. Bank accounts are frozen, bogus cases of libel and defamation and tax evasion launched against free papers, tame judges impose vast penalties. Reporters are subjected to hours of screaming abuse that they are spies and foreign agents. When dragged before secret courts the compliant judges prevent them objecting to phony evidence.

The Baku boosters can't stop lying. They claim to their captive audience that "nearly" 200 TV networks around the planet will screen these "European Games." Why?  A source at one station told us that they got the feed from Baku for free, as long as they screened two minutes of tourism adverts every hour.

Aliyev inspects his army: we want a war!
ON A QUIET DAY in Baku you might hear the daily exchanges of fire at the front line. Snipers, mortars, heavy artillery and rockets. Later in the day there's a ping pong of allegations, the daily scoreline, about "violations of the ceasefire" on the OSCE-imposed Line of Contact with Armenia. Both sides announce deaths of soldiers and thousands of bullets winging across the countryside. Will visiting athletes be equipped with body armour?

The collapse of the Soviet Union triggered wars across Central Asia and the Caucasus as ethnic groups sought independence and the mafia clans who had been the communist leaders of yesteryear seized power and stole on an unparalleled scale in history.

Sonny's dad, the Great Leader, screwed up when he came to power in the early 1990s. His war against Armenia, intended to unite support behind him, was a disaster causing thousands of refugees and loss of the multi-ethnic Nagorno-Karabakh region. Michael Corleone now manipulates this catastrophe to create his national siege mentality of repression and justifying criminalizing of critical thought in his gulag. Then there's the endless bending of the truth about the historic massacres by all communities going back more than a century.

Don't expect an Olympic Truce while Sonny is giving the orders.
His annual review of his army, his tanks, his rocket launchers and his artillery is jarringly memorable of the old Red Square May Day military shows with the geriatrics saluting on Lenin's tomb. Michael displays his menace alone on the Presidential stand on the Caspian shore as his troops goose-step past for hours.

Sonny inspects his troops
Michael is buying vast amounts of military hardware and his Defence Minister says "Azerbaijan's flag will absolutely wave over the occupied territories in the very near future." 

Election days are busy times in Baku. The ballot box stuffers are busy delivering sacks of completed ballot papers to polling stations. They have to avoid colliding with what the election observers call "the carousel" of Presidential aides rushing around voting repeatedly. That's what happened in Michael's successful election campaigns of 2005 and again in 2013. The local organisations monitoring massive electoral frauds won't be busy again because Sonny has jailed them.

Looting Azerbaijan's oil wealth never stops. In December 2013 Global Witness reported the latest variations on the privatisation rackets of the 1990s. Yet again the economy has been captured by a small elite, dealing in billions of dollars worth of the country's only major resource.

Where's the oil money going?
Companies owned by a little-known but well-connected Baku businessman obtained a small slice of an offshore company owned by Azerbaijan's state-owned oil company SOCAR – and then sold it for a staggering profit of $118 million. That was a part of the $375 million he made from working with the country's state oil firm, without, say the Global Witness investigators, any evidence of "proper bidding processes or public tenders." Many of the businesses involved are hidden in offshore havens.

Global Witness also revealed that little of the oil wealth was reaching the majority of the population. They quoted a United Nations report that "Azerbaijan spends much less of its GDP on health than most countries in the world" and one result was "relatively high child and maternal mortality rates." A year later SOCAR responded: The allegations were "groundless and biased."

Global Witness and Human Rights Watch appealed to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to expel Azerbaijan. Membership of EITI recognises companies, governments and civil-society groups committed to promoting transparency about revenues from energy extraction – and upholding individual liberties and press freedom.

On April 14, EITI’s board agreed and Azerbaijan was downgraded from full member to candidate. To have its membership restored, Baku needs to “ensure that civil society in Azerbaijan can participate in the EITI in a meaningful way.”

THE BRASS KNUCKLES distorted his face into balloons of blood and it took a moment to locate his eyes amongst the swellings. A group of thugs had burst into the human rights office of journalist Ilgar Nasibov in Nakhchivan in August last year and beat him unconscious.

What brass knuckles do to a human face
Mr Nasibov suffered severe head trauma, broken cheekbones and nose, broken ribs and one eye was damaged. On the way out they wrecked his office. He was previously injured in a hit and run incident. This time, they nearly killed him.

Sonny's crackdown increases in severity as his "European Games" get nearer. His judges hand down more heavy sentences on local journalists. Michael has invited the foreign press but Sonny has written the rules. "Accreditation will be cancelled should the representative violate the rules of accreditation, working against Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, independence, interests and sovereignty," say his enforcers.

Sonny is chillingly clear about the Family's view of press freedom. “Any media person found spreading distorted information on Azerbaijan, thus unfairly representing the country’s interests will face the full force of the law." Sounds like a great opportunity to get exclusive interviews with their imprisoned colleagues. Did the IOC have a hand in this?

Two of the world's bravest athletes were 200-metre medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos who used the 1968 Mexico Olympics to highlight the oppression of Black people in the USA.

Brave Tommie Smith and John Carlos
Brave athletes this year might dare to write the names Khadija or Leyla on their vests under their branded sportswear, to be revealed at the end of their competitions and especially if they reach the medal podium. They can add one more name, Rasul for human rights lawyer Rasul Jafarov, jailed on May 16 for six and a half years. Sonny's tame judge found him guilty of the usual stuff, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of office - whatever that is.

Rasul's real crime has been to call for a “Sport for Rights” campaign to raise awareness on Azerbaijan’s human rights record in the run up to these European Games. He has been in jail since last August and the Corleones have not forgiven that he organised the "Sing for Democracy Campaign" at the time of the Eurovision contest in 2012.

The English and Irish officials employed in these Games dismiss human rights outrages as "politics" that cannot be allowed to interfere with their sport and enviable lifestyle. The CEO of the event, Simon Clegg, worked for the British Olympic Association, is a longtime pal of Lord Seb Coe and tells the London Independent he was aware of the country’s reputation before accepting the post but had seen no evidence of authoritarian behaviour, adding that he was “focused on the sport and not any political issues."

Hickey and Clegg: Handmaidens to the Dictatorship
Clegg added: “I walk out in the street, I walk around freely, and I can only come back on what I see and what I experience here but it is an incredibly free society. It’s a wonderful place to live and I’m very focused on what I have to deliver on behalf of the president of the country and that is delivering a highly successful inaugural European Games.”

Clegg is echoed by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone who plans a race in Baku next year. Asked if he would "check out the human rights record in Baku," Ecclestone responded: "We have. I think everybody seems to be happy. Doesn’t seem to be any big problem there."

Bernie will be expected to visit the tomb and looming statue of the National Leader, the Father of the Nation. It is likely that sports officials, athletes and even teenage swimmers will be directed to pay homage, for the benefit of local TV.

They can be comforted by remembering the toppled statues of Stalin, Lenin, Saddam and, after dark, can surreptitiously whisper in the Athletes village Percy Bysshe Shelley's wonderful poem from 1818, Ozymandias.

 I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away"