March 3, 2021 - 12:09 AMT
OCCRP: How Azerbaijan botched investigation into journalist’s death

Sixteen years ago, Azerbaijani investigative journalist Elmar Huseynov was gunned down in the stairwell of his Baku apartment building. Newly unearthed documents point to a trail of obfuscations and missteps in the official investigation, OCCRP says in a fresh piece.

Huseynov’s reporting had targeted Azerbaijan’s elite, from politicians to big business. Long before his death, he had been subjected to intimidation and threats on his life. Since that night, his friends and family have speculated about whether powerful individuals had sought to neutralize him. The Monitor, Huseynov’s outlet, was known for its stinging reporting on corruption, which included taking aim at the president and his family.

The OCCRP has now published examination of a previously unpublished file from the FBI, which had been called in to help investigate. The information lays out a catalogue of obfuscations and missteps since 2005, largely made by the Azerbaijani authorities who were meant to be responsible for bringing Huseynov’s killer or killers to justice.

From the start, the investigation was dogged by an apparent unwillingness by Azerbaijani officials to focus on whether Huseynov had been killed because of his journalism. Instead, ministers in charge of the probe fixated on unsubstantiated claims that Armenia had ordered the killing to harm Azerbaijan’s government.

Sixteen years later, one of the murder suspects appears to live freely in Georgia, acquiring property interests in Tbilisi and a plot of land in Marneuli, in the country’s south. And although Azerbaijan’s Ministry for National Security insisted to Rushaniya Huseynova that its inquiries were ongoing, officials were telling the FBI, over the same time period, that the case was stalled.

The FBI case file into the murder, which the agency noted was so serious that “it could topple” the government, was compiled between 2005 and 2008. Seen by OCCRP, it reveals serious misgivings on the part of Legal Attaché Bryan Paarmann, who noted missed opportunities right from the start.

Though Azeri authorities admitted there were several possible avenues of investigation, Paarmann appeared to grow frustrated as they obsessed over a theory that a foreign country had ordered a hit on Huseynov to sow chaos in Azerbaijan. At the top of the ministers’ list of possible perpetrators was Armenia, with Russia and Iran considered possibilities.

Paarmann pointed to basic failures in crime scene control on the night of the killing, when police failed to stop members of the public from laying a trail of flowers on the blood in the stairwell, destroying any possibility that tread or footwear evidence could be gathered.

In regard to Huseynov’s autopsy, Paarmann asked whether fingernail scrapings had been taken to check for skin samples that could identify the killer. He was told yes, this had been done, but the results had come back negative. However, he could find “no mention of this procedure” in initial reports provided by the Azerbaijanis.

The entire investigation is available here: