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Azerbaijani officials launder money in casino: Arrests started (Our investigation)

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BY EYNULLA FATULLAYEV

In December 2017, Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies detained a Georgian citizen, Izmailov Hashim Mammad oglu. In the criminal community Izmailov was better known under the nickname of 'Janpolad.' According to the sources of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, arrested on the Georgian-Azerbaijani border in the Gazakh region, 'Janpolad' was involved in the illegal criminal system 'Həvalə' ('Trust'). Together with 'Janpolad' were detained three of his associates of Azerbaijani nationality.

'Janpolad' and his associates

The investigation found that only in 2017 this joint criminal group illegally exported 81 million dollars and about 6 billion roubles from Azerbaijan.

So what is the 'Həvalə' system? It is an illegal scheme of remittances operating in Azerbaijan for more than 20 years. The uniqueness of its functioning lies in the fact that it works in direction of all countries and is built exclusively on trust: it is implemented without documents and written commitments. In the entire history of the formation and operation of this system, criminals involved in the illegal export of money did not allow a single miss. There was not a single fact of conning. The scheme eliminates error, since the slightest misunderstanding can undermine the 'trust,' on which this gigantic mechanism is built.

How is this unique horizontal line built? For example, some official or businessman needs to transfer 10 million dollars to Dubai, Istanbul or even to Beijing. He appeals to a special office 'without a sign' - a whole network of such underground 'banks' has been operating and continues to operate in Baku - and says that he must transfer such a sum abroad. A solidly built man in a suit without identification signs takes money from him and provides the address of a similar office in Dubai, Istanbul, etc. And an official or businessman can receive this amount abroad in exactly 24 hours.

For example, in Istanbul, one of these 'offices' is located at the walls of the legendary Grand Bazaar. On the ground floor it is quite a decent institution: a currency exchange office. But on the second floor you are already met by local boys with a thick notebook, where they find the name of the recipient. For this, to put it mildly, illegal service, representatives of the 'trust community' receive their compensation in the amount of 0.1-0.2 per cent. And given the scale of illegal financial transactions and the amount of money passing through the 'tax haven,' it is possible to imagine what a multiple gain these dealers get.

The absolute majority of officials and businessmen are involved in this 'trust community' of Azerbaijan. This is how the national capital flows out of the country. According to independent experts, annually through this illegal path around 9 billion dollars are taken out. For example, the largest market in Baku 'Sadarak' is still woven into this 'trust system.'

However, in recent years, law enforcement bodies gradually began to struggle against this scourge. It seems that very influential people are behind this system. But even a cautious fight against the evil led to clear results. If several years ago by means of the 'trust system' money from the country was exported by ordinary flights, now illegal dealers have to use such detours as smuggling, illegal border crossing and banditry. The 'trust system,' losing administrative resources one by one, was gradually merging organically with organized criminal groups in the struggle for vitality.

Escape of Georgians from Baku

How did 'Janpolad' and his accomplices carry out their secret illegal money transfer? This criminal 'authority' and his patrons used the popular in semi-criminal cities money laundering system of millions of dollars in casinos. In Mexico City, Monaco, Budva (Montenegro) and other cities flooded with systemic crime, criminal groups successfully tested the money-laundering method in gambling houses. After all, the list of casino services includes not only gambling entertainment - 24 hours a day customers are offered currency transactions: transfer of funds from account to account, unlimited cashing of credit cards, storage of securities, usurious services, etc. The casino is an ideal place for machinations with big money. For example, recently in Australia, a drug dealer was detained in one of the gambling houses, exchanging millions of dollars for chips. During the trial it became known that the drug dealer was practically not playing, but only laundered money and presented chips as a prize.

Last year, we established that some well-known Azerbaijani officials, deputies and bankers are laundering money in Tbilisi's Shangri La casino. Our reporter group conducted a hidden survey of an habitue of this gambling house - ex-deputy and banker Farhad Garibov. As it turned out later, not only Farhad Garibov, but many officials, including high-ranking persons, launder money at Shangri La in Tbilisi.

Farhad Garibov in Tbilisi's Shangri La

Moreover, many gambling officials lose tens of millions of dollars in this casino. The 'trust system,' bypassing customs and banks, in the usual mode ensures the receipt of funds from Baku to Tbilisi. An important fact, which has to be rechecked by our law enforcement agencies. As it became known in the course of our investigation, the citizens of Georgia of Armenian ethnicity are co-owners of the casino...

The law enforcement agencies came on the tracks of a criminal group, which involved two Georgians - Kakhaber Kacharava and Gocha Getsadze, who lived in the center of Baku on Neftchiler Avenue until 2018. However, immediately after the arrest of 'Janpolad,' the attackers managed to escape from Azerbaijan.

Gocha Getsadze

In the course of the investigation, another important fact emerged. It turns out that from 2014 to 2018 this network organized in Azerbaijan an underground online casino system hidden from the state. Despite the fact that in Azerbaijan, virtual gambling houses are also prohibited...

The kings of casino come to officials in Baku

Finally we came to the most exciting episode of our real thriller. In late December, two of the most famous casino managers appear in Baku: Britons Darren Keane and John Harrek Christopher Majd. The latter also owns the passport of Australia. Notable guests from the gambling world in the Azerbaijani capital were met by high-ranking officials. But the most paradoxical in this case is that a convicted former law enforcement officer organized this meeting of gambling managers with representatives of the Azerbaijani authorities. In future publications, we will certainly disclose the names of these local dealers. We will not run ahead. This can in some ways confuse the reader and frighten officials.

Darren Keane

If Darren Keane arrived in Baku for the first time in December, John Harrek feels at home here. They are starting negotiations on the resumption of casino activities. Although everyone knows that gambling houses in Azerbaijan were closed back in the mid-1990s under the personal order of the then president. And since then, Heydar Aliyev and current President Ilham Aliyev have rejected all 'tempting' proposals and attempts to resume the casino activity. The Britons, owners of Tbilisi's Shangri La casino, know how inveterate VIP clients - Azerbaijani officials and even representatives of our law enforcement agencies - lose large sums in the lurky lane of the old Muslim quarter of old Tbilisi. Why not transfer the financial trap to the center of Baku?

Even after the escape of Khakhaber Karachava and Gocha Getsadze, as well as the arrest of the Janpolad's group, the persistent Britons, along with the insatiable high-ranking Azerbaijani officials, do not abandon attempts to push for a fateful decision in Baku on the casino case.

So, a holy place is never empty. The place of Georgians is occupied by Azerbaijani dealers. However, a new special operation of law enforcement bodies takes unawares the nurturing plan for the revival of gambling houses. The Britons leave Baku urgently. They understand that they can get behind bars, as they once did on the bunks in the old, like a legend, Butyrskaya prison.

All traces lead to criminal 'Storm'

In 2011, Russia's special services had arrested the manager of the company Storm International, Darren Keane, who came many years later in 2017 to meet an Azerbaijani official. Keane was accused of organizing underground gambling in Moscow. A native of the British city of Luton, Darren Keane (married to a Russian and lived in a villa in the Moscow suburbs) began his career as a manager of the casino 'Vinso Granda' in Moscow. And already in 2000 he was appointed general manager of the casino 'Shangri La,' in 2008 - executive director of Storm International. Storm International was founded by Englishman Michael Boettcher in 1992 and manages entertainment facilities in various countries - Germany, Mexico, Romania, Georgia, Armenia, Belarus and Russia.

Michael Boettcher

Russia's special services planned the arrest of the head of Storm International, Michael Boettcher, who before the arrest of Keane lived in Moscow in the area of Solntsevo. But he managed to escape from Russia in a matter of hours before Keane's arrest.

Keane was charged with organizing illegal gaming in Moscow. But a month later the Briton began cooperation with Russian special services and testified against his boss, and after that all charges against him were relaxed, and a little later he was released, getting only a ridiculous punishment - a fine of 150 thousand roubles.

And now back to the personality of Michael Boettcher himself, who directly participates in involving Azerbaijani officials in the gambling network of his 'Storm.'

Former taxi driver Michael Boettcher was the creator of Storm International, which included such well-known casinos in Moscow as Elite, Kings, Queens, Wells Fargo, Vinso Grand, Shangri La, HO, Jazz Town, Udarnik, New York, Carnival, a network of gaming halls Super Slots... However, after the arrest of Keane, Boettcher was forced to transfer his business from Russia to the CIS countries.

According to information published on April 30, 2018 on the site of Storm International, this company currently manages gambling and entertainment businesses in various countries: Germany, Georgia, Belarus, Latvia, Russia. In 2013, the biggest growth among Storm International's facilities was achieved by Shangri La casino in Tbilisi, due to an increase in the number of visitors by 28% and the average game volume by 83%. At the moment, Storm International is actively developing in the markets of Germany, Romania, Belarus, Armenia and Georgia. Though, according to media reports, the Mexican authorities also put an end to the activities of gambling establishments of this company in its capital.

How to stop the crime? Instead of a resume

In fact, the law enforcement agencies of Azerbaijan have faced a powerful deployed system of transnational crime, which poses a great threat to the national security of the country.

This is a bold challenge to national security, because in the game of money laundering and entanglement of our country in systemic crime, representatives of our bureaucratic class were also involved. The Azerbaijani authorities need to be bolder and more resolute: indeed, the example of an operational response by the Russian and Mexican leaders convinces them of the danger of rooting of these well-known all over the world representatives of the transnational criminal community in Azerbaijan.

Why have the authorities still not decided on the expulsion or arrest of these Britons? How can one explain such an impermissible tolerance to officials who launder capital, earned by predatory means and in gambling houses? We need cardinal and urgent measures... So far, only a few tentacles of the octopus have been chopped off. The hour of reckoning has come for accomplices of gambling kings in Baku itself...

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