Kueyar Ray Bear Accusation of Azerbaijan’s Influence Attempts

In the summer of 2020, as tensions escalated over disputed territory in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan’s lobbyists in Washington were eager to shift the blame to neighboring Armenia and emphasize its ties to Russia.

Text messages released by federal prosecutors show that Azerbaijan had an insider, unknown to lawmakers, who worked closely with Azerbaijan’s ambassador in Washington at the time to carry out parallel attacks. .

Representative Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is currently indicted on charges of accepting bribes and acting as a foreign agent in a multi-year scheme to divert funds from Armenia because Russia has military bases there. He suggested in the document that he was planning a legislative maneuver to strip the government of the government.

The Azerbaijani ambassador responded enthusiastically.

“Your amendment is more timely than ever,” Ambassador Erin Suleymanov wrote to Mr. Kueyar. Suleymanov, who called the lawmaker “boss,” added: “The important thing is Russia’s presence.”

Mr. Cuellar’s legislative strategy did not work. But by the time of the text exchange, his family had received at least $360,000 from companies affiliated with the Azerbaijani government since December 2014, according to a federal indictment unsealed Friday in Houston.

The 54-page indictment highlights the importance of U.S. policymaking to foreign interests and the lengths to which the United States goes to shape policymaking in its favor despite high risks and sometimes questionable outcomes. It highlights the presence of animals.

The indictment alleges that Cuellar, 68, and his wife, Imelda, 67, face bribe-taking, money laundering and foreign lobbying charges in connection with efforts on behalf of the Azerbaijani government and a Mexico City bank that paid at least the funds. He is charged with conspiracy to violate the law. $238,390.

The Querries pleaded not guilty Friday and were each released on $100,000 bail. In a pre-indictment statement, Mr. Cuellar declared his innocence and indicated that the House Ethics Committee had cleared his financial activities. The Azerbaijani embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

The charges against the couple signal that the Justice Department is expanding its efforts to crack down on foreign influence activities, despite recent high-profile setbacks.with the jury the judge dismissed the lawsuit Relates to unregistered foreign lobbying by politicians with close ties to former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump.

The latest indictment is the second in recent months to accuse a sitting lawmaker of violating the law. Prohibition of Members of Parliament from Becoming Foreign Agents. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and his wife have been indicted on a series of charges since October, alleging they accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, including gold bullion, to support the governments of Egypt and Qatar. Mr. Menendez and his wife have maintained their innocence.

Beyond the payments that Mr. Menendez and Mr. Cuellar allegedly received, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Qatar are also in the traditional Washington lobby to keep aid flowing from the United States and gain support in disputes with neighboring countries. We have spent a lot of money on our activities.

From 2015 to the end of last year, Egypt reportedly spent $14.3 million on lobbying, while Qatar spent nearly $85.9 million. analysis Disclosures to the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) are made by the nonpartisan website OpenSecrets. The disclosures do not include donations to think tanks or other spending by wealthy foreign governments to generate goodwill.

Azerbaijan spent nearly $9.2 million on lobbying at the time, according to FARA filings. During this time, government forces held approximately 20 companies, including those headed by the former governor. hayley barbourMississippi Republican, former Congressman bob livingston, a Louisiana Republican who served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. His lobbying efforts also involved companies run by Democrats, including former advisers to Mr. Biden. larry laskya fundraiser who passed away in 2020 Vincent A. Roberti.

Azerbaijan’s goals included gaining support for the reintegration of Nagorno-Karabakh territory in the Lesser Caucasus, which has been in conflict with Armenia for decades. (Azerbaijan took full control of the territory in September.) Azerbaijan is also asking Congress to lift a ban on U.S. aid imposed in 1992 during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. Ta.

The U.S. has continuously announced exemptions to the ban since 2001, but Azerbaijanis consider the continuation of the underlying ban “a kind of insult and injustice,” the Clinton administration said. said Richard Kauzlaric, who served as ambassador to Azerbaijan at the time.

“When it comes to important issues for Azerbaijan in terms of lobbying, there is no sign of a return on investment,” Kauzlaric said. He believes that part of the reason is Human rights violations This is due to the Azerbaijani government and partly to the lack of an organized and activated diaspora that has been active in the Armenian cause.

“No amount of money will be able to compete with the number of voters in California, Massachusetts and other places where Armenian Americans live, work and vote,” he said.

Meanwhile, European politicians accused of accepting gifts and bribes Azerbaijani and Qatari officials say prosecutors’ allegations against Menendez and Cuellar add a new wrinkle to the world of underground influence operations in Washington.

Members of Congress held important positions in supporting foreign governments. Mr. Menendez served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mr. Cuellar served on the House Appropriations subcommittee, which oversees the State Department’s budget.

After each indictment, Menendez resigned as chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and Cuellar resigned as the top Democratic Party official. Menendez’s trial is scheduled to begin this month. Both men have vowed to remain in office while contesting the charges, and Cuellar said he plans to continue his re-election campaign.

The Azerbaijanis’ courtship of Mr. Cuéllar comes as the country’s oil interests maintain a presence in Texas, including state-owned companies that prosecutors say financed payments to Mr. Cuéllar. Ta.

Prosecutors say Cuellar and his wife, along with other Texas lawmakers, were hosted on a trip to Azerbaijan in 2013. Prosecutors said he was briefed by government officials and attended a dinner with state oil company executives. After Mr. Cuellar returned home, he was scouted by Azerbaijani officials and began raising money for two consulting firms. his wife made called IRC Business Solutions and global gold groupaccording to filings by prosecutors and the Texas company.

Prosecutors said the Kuegers used the money to pay off debts, pay for living expenses and buy things like a $12,000 custom-made gown and a $7,000 down payment on a new car.

The indictment alleges that Imelda Cuéllar “performed little or no legitimate work in exchange for payment.” Instead, “in exchange for the payment of bribes, Henry Cuellar committed acts that benefited Azerbaijan in violation of official duties and duties, and agreed to become an agent of and act on behalf of the government of Azerbaijan.”

Prosecutors say some of the work Mr. Kueyar did at the behest of Azerbaijanis included pressuring the Obama administration to take a tougher stance on Armenia and changing laws and commission reports to favor Azerbaijan. That included trying to insert language and having his staff lobby the State Department, he said. The purpose was to renew Suleymanov’s daughter’s passport.

For the most part, Mr. Kueyar’s efforts on behalf of Azerbaijan appear to have had minimal impact. He withdrew an amendment to strip funding from Armenia. Objection From the Armenian diaspora.

“I withdrew it because it was deemed out of order, but they are taking credit for it, haha,” Cuellar texted Suleimanov.

The ambassador replied, “They take all the credit!”

After Kueyar’s indictment was lifted, a group called the Armenian Congress of America called for “a broader investigation into these charges and who else is involved in Azerbaijan’s corrupt ways of operating.”

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