For the first time, a luxury foreign property has been identified as belonging to a family member of Rovnag Abdullayev, the longtime president of Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR, OCCRP reports.
The vast state enterprise, which Abdullayev led until last year, has been criticized for its lack of transparency and for enriching Azerbaijani elites, including apparently members of his family, at the expense of public coffers.
Abdullayev, who now serves as a deputy economy minister, has had no known sources of income besides his official salary.
But a new corporate filing reveals that his 28-year-old son, Rashad Abdullayev, owns a luxury flat at Twenty Grosvenor Square, a prominent address in one of London’s most expensive areas. He acquired the property through a secretive offshore company for 17.3 million British pounds ($22.4 million) in 2019.
The storied building was once used by the U.S. Navy and hosted General Dwight D. Eisenhower as he led Allied forces during the Second World War. Starting in 2014 it was converted into an elite residential building featuring a wine cellar, its own sommelier, and a 25-meter swimming pool. The building’s luxurious flats are tended to around the clock by staff from the Four Seasons hospitality brand.
The Telegraph reported last March that some of the flats there had been purchased by prominent foreign businessmen, including Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.
But Rashad Abdullayev’s ownership of a four-bedroom flat on the building’s third floor has only now become possible to trace. It is held through a company incorporated on the island of Guernsey, where corporate ownership information is not public.
However, the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act, passed in the U.K. last year, requires all overseas entities that own properties in the country to declare their ultimate beneficial owners by the end of January 2023.
The Guernsey company, Mount Street Investments PCC, filed its declaration just over a week ago. Its records show that Rashad Abdullayev became the company’s owner in June 2019. According to U.K. land records, the company then bought the London flat that December.
“New transparency rules are revealing how politically connected people from around the world own vast amounts of U.K. real estate via secretive offshore companies,” said Ben Cowdock, Investigations Lead at Transparency International U.K. “When you’ve got an asset whose value far outstrips the owner’s known legal sources of wealth — especially owners deemed a higher corruption risk in law — it really should be a matter for the police to investigate.”
The source of the money used to pay for the flat is unknown. Rashad Abdullayev did not respond to requests for comment for this story. His father Rovnag Abdullayev wrote in an e-mail that he had made no payments in relation to his son’s apartment and knew nothing about the origins of the money used to buy it.
“Even if Rashad Abdullayev has purchased the aforementioned apartment,” he wrote, “I sincerely believe that he has not made any illegal transactions, that he has the necessary documents regarding this issue and that they are in accordance with the law.”
SOCAR’s annual reports show that the annual salaries and benefits for the company’s president and about a dozen vice presidents total less than $800,000, making it essentially impossible for the money for the London flat to have come solely from Rovnag Abdullayev’s official income.
According to his now-deleted LinkedIn profile, Rashad Abdullayev landed a job at SOCAR Trading, the state oil company’s marketing and development arm, at the age of 16. His title was “trade and business development specialist.” His father disputed the information contained in his son’s LinkedIn profile, writing that Rashad had not worked for SOCAR Trading, but as an intern for a different SOCAR-affiliated company.
Just three years later, at the age of 19, Rashad Abdullayev founded a real estate investment, consulting, and property management company while living in Turkey. For several years, he also owned a restaurant in the resort city of Bodrum and co-owned a chain of gas stations in Georgia.
His current place of employment and income are unknown.