The daughters of the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan set an example by settling at Lake Geneva. Here is the Pashayev family – which the first lady of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva belongs to – who chose Geneva to manage their clan’s riches. New “PEP”s in sight?
On 24 February in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, the president of the board of directors at PashaBank Farid Akhundov was very open to local press: “We have started the process of placing representatives in Switzerland. To do this, we have appointed a consultant, well-connected among Swiss bankers. Their mission is to establish a schedule and recommendations on the form which this representation will take.”
A bank near black gold
When contacted, Tobias Lux, speaker for FINMA (Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority), could neither confirm nor reject that the process has started for PashaBank, among the 54 pending demands: “We are by law prohibited to do this,” he says. However we have found out from the Azeri capital that the city chosen for the country’s largest commercial bank is Geneva. What will they do there? According to Farid Akhundov, who already does a lot of traveling to Geneva, the financial services for Azeri enterprises as well as managing their patrons’ fortunes are very likely to be at the heart of the activity of PashaBank Geneva.
From then on, even if financing the trade of raw materials (trade finance) will doubtlessly not be part of this activity as it remains centralized in Baku, this bank will not find itself on foreign land. There it will find Socar Trading, based in Rive, none other than the world headquarters of Azeri oil trading (1 million barrels per day). Established in Geneva only three years ago, Socar Trading “has sold 19 billion dollars’ worth of Azerbaijan oil in 2010”, states Valery Golovushkin, the Chief Executive. And Socar is on par with the big ‘black gold’ traders based in Geneva.
This being said, it is mainly the “pedigree” of PashaBank that is worthy of the biggest attention. The establishment belongs to Pasha Holding (construction, travel, insurance), founded y the second most powerful family in the small central Asian Republic: the Pashayev family. And for good reasons. Mehriban, the daughter of patriarch Arif Pashayev, is none other than the very glamorous spouse of the current president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, who rules his country with an iron fist but in velvet gloves which he reserves for Westerners.
According to American diplomats quoted by WikiLeaks, “Today Azerbaijan functions like Europe did in the Middle Ages: a small number of families, all interlinked, control entire regions of the country and whole sections of the national economy”, which is dominated by petrol and gas. The entire oil sales generated by Socar – which Ilham Aliyev was the boss of before succeeding his father Heydar – also slip “into official, as well as less official tills.”
Azeri spring on 11 March
In taking a huge step into Geneva, Azerbaijan is following the example of the Kazakh president Nazarbayev and that of the Uzbek master, Islam Karimov. For the time being, we do not know the Genevan residence of the Aliyev-Pashayev clan. Recently, however, Ilham Aliyev – who they call “Don Corleone” (or The Godfather) in Baku – has acquired a flamboyant seaside property in Dubai which costs $44 million, under the name of his son aged… 11. His own annual salary does not exceed $228 000.
From now on Aliyev, Karimov and Nazarbayev (partners of Switzerland at FMI – The Friedrich Miescher Institute) see themselves described as the last dictators to have survived the Arab Spring. In doing so they strongly risk being the last “politically exposed persons” (PEP) whose assets Switzerland freezes with all its might. The proof? On 11 March Azeri youth, via Facebook, are calling for a protest against the reign of Don Corleone. This will be their very first “Great People’s Day”.
Original in French [Le Matin]