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."
|'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.
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.