Construction workers who built facilities for the 2015 European Games have yet to receive their wages almost a year later. The company that contracted them, Azimport, has won over 700 tenders with the wholly state-owned State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) in the past 10 years.
Eleven months have passed by since the work was performed, but SOCAR has yet to pay for it.
What does the Azerbaijani law say about situations like this? Does the law make it clear as to when the client must pay for the full-scale work?
“Delay in payment of wages to employees is illegal, economist Zohrab Ismayil says. “The company must pay its employees on a monthly basis, regularly. In any case, there was supposed to be an employment contract to regulate this. The rest is regulated by a contractor’s agreement. Nevertheless, the main part of the payment had to be made in advance (this could be done partially as well) to allow the service provider to purchase materials and pay its employees. These things are regulated by contracts not by laws. The fact that the job wasn’t received duly indicates certain issues. Perhaps, it is linked to the fact that Azimport is being exposed.”
The State Labor Inspectorate Service advised workers to sue the company for not signing an employment contract with them at the beginning.
“In general, prior to any employment relationship, an employment contract must be signed,” lawyer Azer Guliyev says. “In case of a breach of law, financial, administrative, disciplinary and criminal liabilities must be incurred. If a company doesn’t sign an employment contract, the Labor Inspectorate Service can impose a fine on them. Even if the number of employees is just 10, the fines are pretty significant. If the number of employees exceeds 10, the head of the company might be arrested for three to seven years.”
“However, there is a chance that instead of an employment contract, the company signed a civil agreement,” Guliyev added. “The Labor Inspectorate is the body in charge of state control over labor legislation. If any employer breaks the law, the state body is in position to apply mandatory disciplinary and administrative penalties. Moreover, they can even sue those companies for violating the law.”
No information on procurement
Below is the list of tenders won by Azimport, according to the information from the State Procurement Agency (at the moment their duties and functions as well as the state-owned property under their jurisdiction were transferred to the State Service for Antimonopoly Policy and Consumers' Rights Protection under the Ministry of Economy) on public procurement from 2010 to 2015.
Information on tender based procurement for 2011
The data from the past six years shows that there is no indication of the above-mentioned projects in these records, although most of these projects were carried out in the past six years. Moreover, although the company representative claims that they won 700 tenders from SOCAR, there is no indication of those projects, including the disputed Shangai project. There is no information about projects allegedly won by Azimport from SOCAR.
Is there a “hidden hand” protecting Azimport?
Unhappy workers claim they approached each and every law enforcement agency and the country’s official institutions. But their complaints fell on deaf ears. None of them even looked at their case. They say they only found out the reason when they approached the Presidential Administration: “We were basically told at the Presidential Administration that we wouldn’t be able to deal with Azimport since its real owner is the president’s economic advisor Ali Asadov. Even the president is not powerful enough to go against him. The only thing you can do is to find a good lawyer and take your case to the European Court.”
“Ali Asadov and Azer Asgerov destroyed my restaurant”
There have been a number of allegations that Ali Asadov, the president’s economic advisor and the deputy head of the Presidential Administration, is the beneficial owner of Azimport in the
Ramiz Zeynalov, a resident of Buzovna settlement, has been involved in a number of legal disputes with Azimport for the past five years. He claims that Ali Asadov is the real owner of the company.
“I live in Buzovna. Ali Asadov also lives in Buzovna,” he said. “One of his properties in Buzovna was side by side with my office. In 2011, Ali Asadov sent me a message through the deputy head of the Khazar district Executive Power and one of the real estate agents that he wanted to buy my office. I refused to sell it. After that, Ali Asadov came to my restaurant in our district together with the head of Azimport, Azer Asgerov. In front of my son and the guys who run the restaurant, he ordered Azer Asgerov to destroy my restaurant. Ali Asadov, Rashad Mammadov and Azer Asgarov are all partners. I have repeatedly reported on their criminal actions to the Presidential Administration. How can I write something I don’t know for sure to the president?”
Ramiz Zeynalov claims his restaurant was destroyed illegally, without a court order. One of the interesting aspects of the ongoing trial is the fact that the demolition of Zeynalov’s restaurant was allegedly carried out by Azimport. This court reviewed the tender documentation for the below projects between the company and the Khazar District Executive Power: renovation works on buildings along the Baku-International Airport named after Heydar Aliyev-Zagulba (5th stage) in 2011, construction and renovation works on buildings along the International Airport named after Heydar Aliyev-Mardakan-Zagulba (9th stage) located on the Khazar district area in 2012, renovation of school #26 located on the highway of Buzovna in Khazar district as well as renovation of a park located in Qala district, on the right side of the Baku-Mardakan highway.
Interestingly, Azimport provided the court with a copy of a not-certified tender contract with the company head’s handwritten note saying “same as the original” instead an actual contract or at the very least a certified copy of it. Moreover, the contract did not include the agreed upon contract.
According to Article 89.3 of the Civil Procedure Code of Azerbaijan, either original or certified copies of evidence must be presented in court during legal proceedings. If only a part of the document is related to the case, then a certified excerpt must be presented to the court.
It is noteworthy that no official data was identified in the State Procurement Agency’s regarding the projects listed in the court in those years.
Plaintiff Ramiz Zeynalov alleged that Supreme Court judge Vafaddin Ibayev withheld some documents in the case file to dismiss the case upon Ali Asadov’s request.
In response to these accusations, the judge Vafaddin Ibayev only said the following: “We do not comment on such allegations.”
The real estate agent who has worked on the aforementioned building said the following on the condition of anonymity: “I know both Ramiz Zeynalov and Ali Asadov. They both live in Buzovna. However, I haven’t spoken to Ramiz Zeynalov regarding Ali Asadov’s wish to buy his land.”
Khazar district Executive Power simply did not respond to questions about these accusations.
“Ali Asadov controls our work”
Azer Asgerov responded to the accusations that Ali Asadov is the beneficial owner of Azimport by saying: “I personally know Ali Asadov. However, it is not true that he controls our company. What is to our company for Ali Asadov to control it? The case is simply that he supervised our New Boulvard and Flag Complex projects. Ali Asadov supervised not only our company but the work of other construction companies as well. That was the only time when he supervised my work. He looked into whether construction works and architecture were in place. He checked whether we met the deadlines or not.”
When asked about why Asadov supervised any of the referenced projects, Asgerov simply replied, “ I don’t know.” He later hung up on us saying that we need to come to his office for the rest of the interview. However, when we went to Azimport for the interview, the security guard told us Azer Asgerov was not there.
The Presidential Administration official does not respond
When asked to comment on the accusations, presidential spokesman Azer Gasimov said: “I don’t have any information on the matter. I can’t comment.”
As per the registry of the Central Elections Commission’s official website, both Ali Asadov and Azer Asgerov are likely to be neighbors. As it appears on the website, their first and last names, as well as patronymic names match. Their registered addressed differ by only two houses.
When we went there to check the address, it became apparent that their residential building was close to Azimport’s office. So, neighbors who wished to remain anonymous confirmed that Ali Asadov lived there. Another neighbor who also spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Ali Asadov lives here. The building Ali Asadov lives in is close to the one that belongs to Azer Asgerov. I know that the company Azimport is in that building too. However, I don’t know whether he has an apartment in this building or not. In any case, the building belongs to Azer Asgerov.”
Another neighbor said that the now imprisoned Rashad Mammadov, one of the co-founders of Azimport, lived somewhere nearby as well.
claim that Ali Asadov, Azer Asgerov and Rashad Mammadov were all partners.
One of the complaining construction workers said that the building Ali Asadov resides in was built by Azimport as well: “The building Azimport company is located in entirely belongs to the company. There are their hotels and beauty salons, as far as I know these buildings used to belong to Rashad Mammadov. I suppose Azer Asgerov has an apartment of his own over there as well.”
Shanghai project workers also say that the president and the first lady came to the site personally and liked their work: “We completed the job. We watched how much the president and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva liked our work on TV. They even called this area Baku’s Bodrum.”
According to the law of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Civil Service, government officials are not allowed to engage in private businesses.
SOCAR commented on the disputed “Shanghai” project last December by saying that they would make payments to Azimport partially over time.
Meanwhile, unemployed construction workers say: “We are ashamed to look into our families’ faces, as we are not even able to earn enough for bread.”