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'Strong suspicion' of corruption in 'Caviargate' at Council of Europe

Georges Gobet, AFP | A French caviar-tasting in December, 2016. Caviar is now at the centre of a major corruption exposé involving the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Investigators said on Sunday that they have “a strong suspicion” of corruption involving a number of officials at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) over alleged bribes in a scandal dubbed “Caviargate”.

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An external probe said it had “established that there was a strong suspicion that certain current and former members of PACE had engaged in activity of a corruptive nature” in favour of Azerbaidjan, according to an investigative report released on the Council of Europe’s website.

PACE is the parliamentary arm of the Council of Europe, and is dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Its 324 principal members are made up of parliamentarians from 47 nations, including the 28 members of the European Union.

Several current or ex-members are suspected of having been “bought” by accepting bribes of caviar, carpets and stays in luxury hotels in Baku, Azebaidjan’s capital, the report said.

In exchange, they are alleged to have voted against a damning report in January 2013 into the situation of political prisoners in the former Soviet republic.

“The investigation body found that, in their activities concerning Azerbaijan, several members and former members of PACE had acted contrary to the PACE ethical standards,” the report said.

“The parliamentarians involved are invited to suspend their activity while a (PACE) committee examines their situation on a case-by-case basis,” PACE President Michele Nicoletti told reporters on Sunday.

The investigative report of more than 200 pages was prepared by three experts: the former French anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, Nicolas Bratza, the British ex-president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and the Swedish former ECHR judge Elisabet Fura.

Its publication comes on the eve of the opening of the PACE Spring Session.

With no legislative powers, PACE sits in Strasbourg for four weeks a year to discuss the defence of human rights or the fight against corruption.

(AFP)

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