Better late than never. The German parliament has finally disciplined an MP from chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic party (CDU) over the MP’s role in a US$2.9 billion influence buying corruption scandal between Azerbaijan and more than a dozen European politicians.
Karin Strenz, a German MP since 2009, had a reputation for defending Azerbaijan despite its terrible human rights record In 2017 it became clear why: She was among a number of members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) who were found to have received money and gifts from Azerbaijan authorities between 2012 to 2014. During this period, PACE voted down a key resolution on politically motivated imprisonment in Azerbaijan.
Strenz was kicked out of the CDU’s delegation to PACE in early 2018, a few months after the “Azerbaijan Laundromat” scandal broke.
On January 18, the leadership of the Bundestag finally moved on the issue, ruling that Strenz had broken parliamentary rules on declaring external income.
Strenz accepted the ruling but made light of it: “When you commit a parking offence you get a parking ticket” she said.
She could face a fine of up to €60,000 (US$68,000) and several MPs, also from the Social Democrats, the CDU’s coalition allies, have called for her to be stripped of her parliamentary mandate.
“Whitewashing (the Baku) government, manipulating election monitoring, lying and getting rich at the same time is not the same as a parking offence,” Frank Schwabe, an SPD MP tweeted about Strenz.
The Bundestag may have been slow to act against Strenz, but it has been faster than any other national parliament. She is the first MP to face political consequences at home for taking money from Azerbaijan.
This is the most shocking aspect. PACE has banned 16 former members from the parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg, but little else has happened, despite the clear evidence of the politicians’ actions, that undermined the Council of Europe’s standing as Europe’s leading human rights body.
Let’s hope politicians in Spain, Belgium, and other parliaments hit by the scandal will quickly follow the Bundestag’s lead. It’s about standing up for human rights in Azerbaijan, and in Europe as a whole.