June 9, 2021 - 11:10 AMT
How a secret army of Azerbaijani interns infiltrated Germany's democracy

For years, interns from Azerbaijan have networked in the Bundestag, maintaining strange contacts with the regime of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev – and German politicians, Vice says in a new piece.

In the German parliament, interns with ties to Aliyev have been working in the center of power for years. They are employed by MPs, some of whom themselves maintain connections with the country in the South Caucasus.

The system that underpins these connections is large and complex, with many players: a renowned Berlin university that receives hundreds of thousands of euros from Azerbaijan; members of almost all parties in the German parliament; and the embassies of two countries.

They all help to ensure that interns with close ties to the Aliyev regime were employed in the heart of German democracy. Aliyev leads an authoritarian regime that mistreats and imprisons opposition figures and persecutes journalists. He has ruled for almost 20 years, and last year he waged a bloody war over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

Nurlan Hasanov is an elected deputy in Azerbaijan’s national assembly, representing Aliyev’s ruling party. But back in 2012, as Azerbaijan prepared to host the Eurovision Song Contest, he began an internship in the Bundestag through a scheme called the International Parliamentary Scholarship (IPS).

Hasanov’s five-month internship was in the office of Steffen-Claudio Lemme from the SPD (Social Democratic Party). After the internship ended, Hasanov and Lemme went into business together: based on information from Germany’s trade register their business activities cover hiring nursing staff from Azerbaijan, importing and exporting goods from the Caucasus, among others.

The IPS scheme through which Hasanov entered the heart of German democracy is operated under the patronage of the Bundestag’s President, who has a role similar to that of a Speaker in other legislative assemblies.

The entire process is precisely regulated. First, the German embassy in the respective country sorts the applicants. Then a three-person selection committee chooses the future scholarship holders from all over the world, including Azerbaijan. At the moment, 50 countries are participating in IPS. IPS provides the interns with lodgings, a monthly stipend of 500 euros (about £430), insurance and travel expenses to Berlin.

In the case of Azerbaijan, it is striking that the vast majority of candidates already lived in Germany prior to their internship and had to fly back home for the selection round at the German embassy in Baku.

The IPS works with three Berlin universities - Free University, Technical University and Humboldt University. Humboldt has links to Baku and in 2017, it received 1 million euros (about £860,000) from Azerbaijan.

Many IPS graduates now occupy key positions. A former intern of Hauptmann’s works in the press department of the German embassy in Baku. Another IPS intern is doing his doctorate at Humboldt University.

Interns in the Bundestag receive a blue ID card. This allows them to move around the parliament unhindered. There are only a few areas to which they have no access. Some MPs even give their interns access to email correspondence, to stored documents, to files, to the cloud. Interns are unobtrusive. They often sit in the back rows of chairs at working group meetings or committee meetings. In the cafeteria, if they want to, they can listen in on confidential conversations.

"And the problem seems to be bigger: The parliament administration informs us upon request, that since 2008, 54 IPS interns from Azerbaijan have been employed in the Bundestag. And we are aware of many others – interns with ties to the Aliyev regime, placed in the heart of German democracy," Vice says.

"The Aliyev regime has invested billions over the years to influence opinion in Europe and bribe politicians. The attempts at bribery ranged from gifting carpets and the supply of prostitutes to money via letterbox companies. Now German politicians are under investigation as well."