Corruption investigation into German MP Axel Fischer again demonstrates why Council of Europe needs a permanent investigative body

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Germany should use its current Chairmanship to create anti-corruption safeguard

The German Bundestag yesterday lifted MP Axel Fischer’s parliamentary immunity over suspicions of corruption during his former role as delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The case is further evidence of the need for the Council of Europe to establish its own permanent body for investigating corruption among delegates and officials.

Prosecutors reportedly suspect Fischer of receiving payments from Azerbaijan in return for promoting the country’s interests. In 2017, the Azerbaijani Laundromat investigation showed how a network of slush funds financed such ‘caviar diplomacy’ through opaque payments to politicians across Europe. In response to public pressure, the Council of Europe mandated an ad hoc independent investigation into allegations of corrupt activity at its parliamentary assembly. However, after its mandate ended in 2018, criminal justice authorities have not followed up upon most of the investigation’s findings. These include suspicions that Pedro Agramunt, former President of PACE, was implicated in corruptive activities.

Adam Foldes, Legal Advisor at Transparency International, said: “National prosecutors have been slow or refused to investigate suspicions of bribery and money laundering. In several countries they have not picked up the threads at all, despite the fact that PACE and its national delegations have asked them to do so. The Fischer case is one of the very few exceptions where national authorities did their job. As long as there is no permanent investigative body at the Council of Europe, there is nothing to uncover or prevent similar cases in the future.”

The Council of Europe is the most significant institution for protecting human rights and the rule of law in Europe. PACE reports and resolutions have long served as important benchmarks for assessing the extent to which the Council of Europe member states live up to shared values, and for motivating governments in the European region to improve their practices. 

In 2019, investigative journalists reported that another former president of the PACE – current Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu – received questionable payments from Ukrainian politician Serhiy Lovochkin, via the notorious US political operative Paul Manafort. 

Hartmut Bäumer, Chair of Transparency International Germany, said: “We welcome the fact that, apparently, the German authorities are now comprehensively investigating the corruption allegations that arose in the Azerbaijani Laundromat affair. We have been demanding concrete consequences from the criminal justice authorities and politicians for years. It should not have taken this long. As the current Chairman of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe, Germany has the perfect opportunity to respond to the damage to its reputation caused by this scandal by demonstrating anti-corruption leadership, and pushing for the creation of a permanent investigative body at the Council of Europe.”

In March 2019, Transparency International Germany filed a criminal complaint against Bundestag member Karin Strenz and former Bundestag member Eduard Lintner for allegations of bribery and corruption of elected officials, in relation to their alleged roles in the Azerbaijani Laundromat affair. In January 2020, Karin Strenz’s parliamentary immunity was lifted in order to carry out searches of her home and offices.

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Transparency International Germany

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