Abid Sharifov: Imaginary Alabala, Real Evrascon

 

On May 23, 2015, Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov lashed out at a journalist at a press conference about the May 19 Baku fire.

When asked by a reporter about what company will undertake reconstruction work of the burned down building in Baku’s Binagadi district, Sharifov replied: “None of your business! Why do you need to know this? For example, Alabala will. We’ll decide on our own. That doesn’t concern the press!”

 “It will be my company. Write about this!” he then added.

Some say that Sharifov’s deep-seated dislike of journalists dates back to the November 2000 Baku earthquake when the media referred to Sharifov as “someone who makes living off natural disasters.”

Verbal attacks by government officials against journalists are barely uncommon in Azerbaijan, but this latest bout of anger betrayed a deeper issue at play – Sharifov’s longstanding interests in Azerbaijan’s lucrative construction sector.

Sharifov’s longstanding interest in construction

Alabala may be an imaginary entity but Sharifov’s interest in the construction industry is real. The 75 year-old deputy premier, who has held his post for 20 years, has been involved in this industry for over 50 years.

Sharifov graduated from Azerbaijan Technical University with a degree in Construction Engineering in 1962 and worked for Baku’s Main Construction Department before becoming the head of the 23rd construction department in Baku in 1972.  

After privatization in the 1990s, he moved into the private sector. However, like most government officials, he covered the ultimate ownership of his companies with the names of his relatives. Sharifov previously worked for state-owned road construction company Azərnəqliyyatyoltikinti and remains heavily involved in the company via his immediate relatives.

Imaginary Alabala, real Evrascon

In 2001, Azərnəqliyyatyoltikinti was transformed into Azerkorpu Open Joint Stock Company. With more than 5,000 employees, hundreds of vehicles and sophisticated special construction equipment, its footprint expands well beyond Azerbaijan. The company also conducts construction activities of facilities overseas, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc. To better reflect its transnational nature, the company assumed a new name in 2013, Euro-Asian Construction Corporation a/k/a Evrascon OJSC.

Sharifov’s spouse Sadaya Yagub Gizi is a 12.15% shareholder of Evrascon. She holds a total of 22,920 shares in the company, which amounts to almost 56,000 manats in nominal value. In 2012, the company’s net worth was estimated at 275.5 million manats. As such, it appears that the shareholders’ capital reached 120 million manats. These calculations indicate that Sharifovs’ family’s shares equaled a capital worth circa 14.5 million manats.

A further indication of the deputy premier’s affiliation with Evrascon is the voter registration address. The Sharifovs’ address is listed as 144 Azadlig Avenue, Apt. 83, Baku in the official voter register, which corresponds with Evrascon’s registered address.

Joint stock companies in Azerbaijan are required by law to publicize their annual returns, including names of shareholders holding 10% of shares and more, via the media and the company websites. Evrascon’s ultimate ownership information, however, is not publicly available. Sharifov has managed to hide his affiliation with Evrascon, while the company goes unpunished for not meeting transparency requirements.

‘Sharifov factor’ instrumental in construction tenders

Meanwhile, the Sharifov factor was instrumental in securing lucrative government deals and tenders for Azerkorpu. The company conducted construction work worth over 260 million manats in 2011. In 2012, this number increase to over 302 million manats.

Sharifov and his company continue to deny allegations of favoritism.

Who is Ismayil Ismiyev?

Evrascon’s majority shareholder (51.2%) is an individual named Ismayil Effendi Ismiyev, who also serves as the company’s Chairman of the Board. Ismiyev is also presumably the owner of Turskish construction and industrial company Effendi International Group, as well as Hydrotransproject Scientific Research Center LLC, formerly known as Technomost. Hydrotransproject Scientific Research Center LLC, which specializes in the design of hydrotechnical and transportation appliances, holds 16.89% shares of Evrascon.

Business interests go well beyond construction

The two families appear to be linked through a commercial bank named Azernaqliyyatbank Open Joint Stock Company. Sharifov’s spouse, two children, son-in-law, parents, and two brothers, as well as Ismiyev’s family members, were among the bank’s stakeholders until 2008. The bank subsequently got under the control of ADOR and Azenco Group companies, which allegedly belong to Azerbaijan’s ruling family. The two families and around 50 other shareholders sold their shares of the bank, which subsequently became known as Expressbank OJSC.

The Sharifovs, however, may still have a stake in the banking sector. A person named Elchin Abid oglu Sharifov currently heads the Absheron branch of the International Bank of Azerbaijan OJSC, recently embroiled in a slew of scandals.

Sharifov’s family is also reportedly involved in the health and tourism sectors. His son-in-law, Mammad Mahmudov, allegedly owns a private clinic in Baku named Optimed. The director of the clinic is Sharifov's daughter, Tarana Abid gizi Mahmudova, according to the Executive Power of the Narimanov district.

Originally from the northwestern Azerbaijani town of Sheki, Sharifov allegedly owns a luxurious resort center in his native region named Sheki Parj. The center opened in March 2015, with Sharifov and a number of other officials participating in the opening ceremony. The Sharifov family is also reportedly constructing an even larger hotel complex in the picturesque forest of Markhal.

Markhal

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