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May 14, 2015

Report: Azerbaijan Used Nonprofits to Fund Congressional Travel

Azerbaijan's state-owned oil company subsidized travel for 10 members of Congress and 32 staff members to attend a conference two years ago, allegedly funneling money through two American nonprofits, according to an Office of Congressional Ethics report obtained by The Washington Post.

Investigators said the firm, known as Socar, contributed $750,000 to the groups to fund the trip to the Azerbaijani capital of Baku as well as expensive gifts for the six Democratic and four Republican representatives.

The Houston-based Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians and Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan filed false statements with Congress asserting they were sponsoring the May 2013 conference, according to the ethics office. The reports says that Socar set up the latter group a month before the Baku gathering and transferred $750,000 to its bank account.

Congressional participants said they were not aware the oil company was underwriting the trip. In a statement, SOCAR said it never hid its support of the conference and blamed the nonprofit groups for not filing proper disclosures. Kemal Oksuz, the head of both organizations, did not respond to the Post's request for comment. The report was referred to the House Ethics Committee for investigation of possible ethics violations for laws barring foreign governments from trying to influence U.S. policy.