Journalist petitions Strasbourg to disclose budget for US$250m state oil company headquarters
In a recent petition to the European Court of Human Rights, investigative journalist Shavalad Chobanoghlu has challenged Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court refusal to order the state oil company to disclose funding for its new multi-million dollar headquarters.
In April 2011, Shavalad Chobanoghlu, a journalist for the Azeri newspaper ‘Azadliq’, submitted a request for information to the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) concerning the use of state funds in the construction of its new headquarters. Known as “SOCAR Towers”, the headquarters has been reported to cost US$250m and Chobanoghlu sought the release of construction contracts, tender documents and financial reports indicating SOCAR’s estimated expenditure in the project.
SOCAR has consistently refused to disclose the information, arguing that as a private company it is not bound by Azerbaijan’s access to information law. Chobanoghlu argues that SOCAR is wholly state-owned, contributes a significant percentage of the state budget and has a monopoly over the oil and gas industry in the country.
Azerbaijan’s oil industry generates billions of dollars and, by 2008, oil revenues constituted 13% of the state budget. However, public spending – including of oil funds – has been fiercely criticised and there have been serious allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption. The announcement in 2010 of a US$250m headquarters for the state oil company therefore sparked an immediate interest into how exactly state funds were being used for the project.
In his petition to the European Court of Human Rights, Chobanoghlu argues that his right of access to information has been violated. His complaint joins a growing list of cases from Azerbaijan waiting to be decided by the Court, including cases involving violence against journalists, illegal detention, denial of broadcasting licences and defamation convictions. MLDI continues to work to highlight these cases and hopes to have judgments in a number of them in the near future.