On October 30, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) called on the Department of Justice to investigate potentially illegal activities of U.S. groups with ties to foreign entities in Turkey and Azerbaijan.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) and the House Committee on Ethics concluded that 9 members of Congress and more than two dozen staff members accepted a trip that was improperly paid for by foreign corporations in Azerbaijan and Turkey. In addition to attending a convention in Azerbaijan, several Members of Congress and their staff also traveled to Turkey free of cost. The OCE’s review found that the congressional travel to Azerbaijan and Turkey was “not funded exclusively by the entities disclosed on travel forms submitted to the Committee on Ethics.”
A USA TODAY investigation discovered that Gulen groups, Turkish organizations who follow the leadership of Fethullah Gulen, “secretly funded as many as 200 trips to Turkey for members of Congress and staff since 2008, repeatedly violating House rules and possibly federal law.” Over the course of its review, the OCE obtained evidence that a Turkish organization, named the Bosphorus Atlantic Cultural Association of Friendship and Cooperation (BAKIAD), funded and coordinated the congressional travel within Turkey dating back several years. Four of the Gulen groups sponsoring the 2013 conference in Azerbaijan also “used BAKIAD to arrange and finance all in-country expenses for congressional travel in Turkey,” OCE found. “Importantly, however, BAKIAD’s role does not appear to have been disclosed to the Committee on Ethics in 2013 or in other years.” Congressional disclosures show the Gulen-backed trips totaled more than $800,000 in free travel for lawmakers and staff. Both the Turkish and Azerbaijani Congressional Caucuses have significantly increased their membership over the last several years.
According to the USA TODAY, “A dozen different Gulen groups have sponsored congressional travel since 2008 and have filed forms with the House certifying that they were paying for the trips. The House Ethics Committee approved all the trips in advance based on the forms the Gulen groups submitted. But a USA TODAY investigation found many of those disclosures were apparently false. Some of the Gulenist groups claimed to be certified nonprofits, but they do not appear in state or IRS databases of approved charities. Groups that did register with the IRS filed tax forms indicating that they did not pay for congressional travel. And five of the groups admitted to congressional investigators earlier this year that a Gulenist group in Turkey was secretly covering the costs of travel inside Turkey for lawmakers and staff.”
The OCE investigators received documentation that the lawmakers accepted donations by two Texas-based nonprofit corporations, the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE) and the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ). They found that TCAE and AFAZ concealed the true source of the funding for travel and other expenses for the U.S. officials. Instead, much of the cost of travel and funding for the Convention was paid for by undisclosed entities including the Republic of Azerbaijan through its national oil company, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR). Evidence revealed that SOCAR founded AFAZ in the month prior to the Convention, transferring $750,000 to an AFAZ bank account.
“The revelations by the USA TODAY investigation, in addition to the Office of Congressional Ethics investigation, are remarkable,” the Assembly said in its letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “We respectfully request a full and thorough investigation by the Department of Justice into these groups and the full application of the law. The reported activities constitute plainly illegal behavior and strikes at the core of our Constitutional government through blatant foreign influence peddling.”
Office of Congressional Ethics Referrals: