(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dr LEYLA YUNUS, academic 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.
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.
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.
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.