With its November 1 parliament vote just days away, Azerbaijan today continued a string of detentions of senior government officials from the national security ministry and communications ministry that has left observers struggling to explain.
On October 29, Vidadi Zeynolav, the chief of staff of the communications ministry, a high-profile body handling such nationally sensitive projects as Azerbaijan's first satellite launch, was detained for unclear reasons.
To date, 22 arrests of officials related to government-run security or communications bodies have been reported.The first seven cases occurred after Mahmudov’s dismissal on October 17. An additional 15 followed on October 28.
Prosecutors say that the individuals were abusing their official powers or damaging "the rights and legitimate interests" of individuals or organizations, yet details of the cases remain under wraps. The hit list includes the deputy directors of Azerbaijan's counter-terrorism center and transnational organized crime center.
Apparently related to these arrests is also the dismissal and detention of Baku Telecommunications Production Association Director Beytulla Huseynov, a relative of ex-Minister Mahmudov. Huseynov’s brother, Hayrulla Huseynov, has been removed from a regional government post.
The government-friendly APA news agency noted yesterday that "[t]he investigation is still ongoing," but what precisely is being investigated or why remains unclear.
Ten years ago, ahead of Azerbaijan’s 2005 parliamentary elections, another roundup of senior government officials also occurred, but, that time, in connection with what prosecutors claimed was a coup-conspiracy. Critics dismissed the claim as a coverup for political motivations.
Local speculation about the true causes of this latest sweep-out does not seem to touch on a coup, but, in the absence of detailed government explanations, appears to be running wild — everything from racketeering to fraudulent currency schemes, according to an overview by Echo.az.
Whatever the cause of the detentions, the daily noted, the lack of a presidential decree appointing a successor for Mahmudov suggests that “certain urgent motives” prompted the decision to remove him. Mahmudov was seen as a loyal supporter of President Ilham Aliyev and served since 2004, after his predecessor was fired by Aliyev.
Nonetheless, the government has sought to reverse any sense that something is amiss. In an October 21 statement on its website, the national security ministry chastised media for spreading “false, slanderous information” about its employees, and underlined that it fulfills President Aliyev’s orders “without delay and conscientiously.”