Azerbaijani Lobbying Scheme Unravels in Guilty Plea

(CN) – A Turkish-American businessman pleaded guilty Monday to secretly funneling money from the government of Azerbaijan for a 2013 all-expense-paid trip attended by 10 members of Congress and dozens of their staff.

Five years have passed since Houston-based businessman Kemal Oksuz arranged the junket that lured lawmakers to Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, along the Caspian Sea.

Oksuz insisted on disclosure forms that his nonprofit Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians did not accept outside funding for the trip, but prosecutors learned it was financed by the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, or SOCAR.

Arrested by Armenian authorities in September, Oksuz found himself wanted for extradition by two countries: the United States and Turkey, which is pursuing him in its international anti-Gulenist purge.

Ultimately sent to Washington,Oksuz pleaded guilty Monday to his five-count U.S. indictment connected to his lies about a trip that sparked a U.S. House of Representatives investigation that cleared the attending lawmakers of violating ethics rules.

Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international watchdog, said that the representatives received a lavish welcome of “sumptuous dinners, fireworks displays, gifts of hand-woven carpets, crystal tea sets, silk scarves, and DVDs praising the country’s president.” 

Attendees included Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat from New Mexico; Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican; and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat.

Another Texas Republican on the trip, Steve Stockman, received a 10-year sentencelast month in an unrelated fraud case. 

Oksuz faces sentencing on Feb. 11, 2019.

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