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    Delegates at a plenary meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

    European Human Rights Defenders at Center of Corruption Claims

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    Europe's leading human rights organization, the Council of Europe, has been urged to investigate serious allegations of corruption over bribes given to one of its assembly members relating to voting over human rights issues in Azerbaijan, Sputnik has been told.

    Campaign groups, including Transparency International (TI), are calling on the Council of Europe — a separate organization from the European Union — to conduct a full investigation into allegations of corruption within its own oversight body, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

    The allegations relate to alleged payments to the Italian politician, Luca Volonte and PACE member, from representatives of the Azerbaijani government concerning a PACE vote on political prisoners in January 2013, and into the behavior of members of the Azerbaijani named as Elkhan Suleymanov and Muslum Mammadov.

    ​Volonte's lawyers, have said that: "the charges made, other than being unfounded in law, are not reflective of the investigation and are founded upon a highly erratic interpretation of the political relationships legitimately made and held by Luca Volonte with his colleagues in the Council of Europe."

    'Very Serious Issue'

    The allegation relates to the voting, within PACE, over reports into human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.However, Sputnik has been told that — in spite of an investigation by the public prosecutor of Milan — the Council of Europe should immediately launch a full investigation into the issue, or risk its integrity being compromised.

    "There is an ongoing investigation in Italy into one of the members of PACE [Volonte] that he allegedly took bribes from other members of PACE is exchange for voting in a specific direction regarding reports regarding the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, regarding political prisoners," Adam Foldes, advocacy adviser, TI, told Sputnik.

    "The Council of Europe is the most important human rights in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, is an institution of the Council of Europe. The PACE has many roles — one of these is electing the judges of the Strasbourg court.

    "They also prepare reports on human rights issue — like the situation of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. If some members of the parliamentary assembly are corrupted, then it's a very, very serious issue, which would require proper investigation and a review of the integrity systems of the Council of Europe," he told Sputnik.

    The allegations came to light after investigations by the European Stability Initiative (ESI) who alleged that Azerbaijan, among others, have unduly influenced, over many years, Council of Europe activities and votes on human rights issues, including by allegedly transferring huge sums of money and other favors to key parliamentarians.

    ​Foldes told Sputnik that, currently, there is independent body within the Council of Europe that could investigate such allegations.

    "Sanctions are totally inappropriate. IF a member of PACE is bribed, that person's voting right are restricted, but that's it. So that's not much and this case damages the credibility of this very important institution," he Foldes said.

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    bribery, human rights, corruption, Council of Europe, Transparency International, Italy, Europe, Azerbaijan
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