Posted on Sep 22, 2018
Serious instances of corruption have emerged in a damning report by the Independent investigation body on allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe (PACE).
A large number of high level individuals have been identified and named, including Spanish senator Pedro Agramunt, a former president of the Council of Europe (CoE) who has been banned from holding any senior post in the human rights body for 10 years following a major corruption inquiry into vote-rigging.
An issue of lack of transparency and an absence of safeguards against abuse was also found to arise with regard to the voting processes in the committees, which might affect the voting results and open the door to the possibility of exertion of improper influence, including that of a financial nature.
Particular concerns have been raised over PACE members behaviour towards Azerbaijan, which became a member of the CoE in 2001. Questions about PACE’s members weak response to ballot-box stuffing during elections and human rights violations in the oil-rich country.
As to the functioning of PACE in matters concerning Azerbaijan, the Investigation Body established that there was a group of persons working in PACE in favour of Azerbaijan. A certain level of cohesion in their various activities existed… In this context, 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 body also revealed that PACE members, who are drawn from the parliaments of the CoE’s 47 member states, would not consider themselves to be bound by the rules on the declaration of gifts in PACE, but only by those rules in their national parliaments. Former PACE parliamentarians have also been engaging in paid lobbying activities on behalf of Azerbaijan within the CoE, with money and “other corruptive activities” being used as a means of influencing various activities which were directly or indirectly seen as being in favour of the country.
Serious concerns regarding PACE’s work on Russia are also raised by the report. Allegations were made by a staff member of the PACE secretariat of conflicts of interest, in particular, it was alleged that a former senior PACE staff member had at one point taken unpaid leave during which he had worked for the Brussels office of a Russian energy corporation, subsequently taking on another assignment within the COE concerning Russia.
Following the illegal annexation of Crimea, and Russia’s backing for aggression in eastern Ukraine, the country faced economic sanctions from Western countries, including the EU and USA.
It also faced political sanctions in PACE, and saw its voting rights in the Assembly suspended. In 2017 Russia ceased paying its membership fees to the CoE stating that it would only resume payments when full rights were restored. The Kremlin hoped that financial pressure would force the CoE’s hand; now it is seemingly seeking to influence events in other ways.
In October PACE will vote on a resolution on the “harmonisation of the Assembly and Committee of Minister’s rules”. Adoption of this resolution will complicate or possibly even abolish the mechanism by which PACE can impose sanctions on a state. Russia is extremely keen to see this happen, and as we have seen, votes in PACE can clearly be bought.
If Russia were to have its voting rights restored without first complying with the demands of the international community for the return of Crimea, which is sovereign Ukrainian territory, to Ukrainian control this would have severe repercussions.
Firstly, PACE’s role as one of the world’s most influential defenders of human rights would be irreversibly undermined.
Secondly, any relaxing of sanctions would give encouragement to the Kremlin’s fellow travellers amongst the EU governments - and their are numerous of them - who are lobbying for the EU itself to drop the sanctions. Contrary to what Mr Putin may say publicly, the sanctions are hurting Russia badly, and he is desperate to bring them to an end.
Thirdly, It is Putin’s goal to destroy western political institutions. The EU, NATO, and CoE are all firmly in his sights.
CoE General Secretary Thorbjørn Jagland, identified in the Mitrokhin archive as a former KGB asset, codename “Yuriy”, is an advocate of the restoration of Russia’s rights in PACE, and appears to be on good terms with the Russian leadership.
Since becoming a member of the CoE in 1996 Russia has been selective as to which of the obligations of membership it chooses to honour. Should it not pay its dues for a second year running, the country can be expelled from the Council.
PACE members can be influenced and, it is clear from the CoE report, they can be bought. In December 2016 the highly controversial human rights NGO Open Dialog Foundation (ODF) lobbied PACE on the case of one Vyacheslav Platon Kobalyev, a Moldovan citizen and reputedly one the country’s richest men. He is currently serving an 18 year prison sentence having being found guilty of fraud and money laundering.
A declaration by PACE (No. 617 | 11 October 2016) calling for his release from jail describes him as having been subjected to “political persecution”.
This is alarming as the ODF’s most prominent clients, Mukhtar Ablyazov (who is widely believed to control ODF), Viktor and Ilyas Khrapunov, Bota Jardemalie, all citizens of Kazakhstan, all have convictions and/or outstanding arrest and extradition warrants in their names for money laundering and other offences. All are presented by the ODF as victims of “political persecution”, and many an EU politician has rallied to their defence, either through gullibility or as a result of other means of “persuasion” such as those highlighted in the CoE report.
The names of parliamentarians whose names are associated with ODF initiatives in defence of their clients have also been connected with political attacks on those who seek to bring the guilty to justice. This was noted recently in a PACE written declaration in April of this year condemning the government of Kazakhstan over human rights issues. Again the question should be asked: “was their any incentive offered for this initiative?”
Corruption is one of the most widespread and insidious of social evils. Its scourge has been felt in every part of society, undermining the public trust and confidence in officials, elected representatives and institutions, national and international. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has not been spared that scourge. Allegations of corrupt and improper activities on the part of members and former members of the Assembly, which have for several years circulated in the media and in the reports of various organisations, have done immeasurable damage to the reputation and standing of the Assembly itself and of the Council of Europe as a whole.
The full text of the report can be viewed here.
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