Police in Baku arrested Nizami Piriyev, a high-profile Azerbaijani businessman closely associated with President Ilham Aliyev.
Mr Piriyev, media reported, was charged with various financial crimes. He is in prison ahead of a trial in what appears to be a spectacular public fall.
One of Azerbaijan’s richest men, Mr Piriyev was the official owner of the Azerbaijan Methanol Company, a large and high-profile operation on the outskirts of Baku.
He paid for former British PM Tony Blair to fly to Baku in 2009 to open the plant. Mr Blair, criticised for taking cash from governments with dubious human rights records since he left office in 2007, was photographed at a press conference in Baku sitting between Mr Piriyev and his son, Nasib.
Mr Piriyev’s holding company PNN Group also owned franchise rights to a number of Western brands in Azerbaijan and across the former Soviet Union. It’s website said that this included the British high street news agent WHSmith and US fast food chain KFC. A spokesman for WHSmith, though, said that Mr Piriyev did not hold its franchise in Azerbaijan.
Mr Piriyev used to work in Russia for Gazprom and had businesses stretching across Central Asia.
It’s unclear what triggered his arrest and whether he has been associated with Azerbaijan’s increasingly marginalised opposition or if he had fallen out with President Aliyev. The United States and Europe have been increasingly critical of Mr Aliyev for cracking down on opposition.
This story was first published in issue 231 of the weekly newspaper The Conway Bulletin on May 13, 2015.
Copyright the Conway Bulletin, 2015