Politics

Justice Department Issues Indictment for 2013 Congressional Trip to Azerbaijan

Feds allege nonprofit concealed that trip was funded by foreign government

A 2013 congressional delegation trip to Azerbaijan has resulted in an indictment being handed down to the head of the nonprofit, whom the government alleges concealed the source of funding for the journey. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Justice Department has issued an indictment of former non-profit head Kevin Oksuz for his role in a plot to hide the fact that a 2013 congressional delegation trip to Azerbaijan was funded by that country’s government.

According to the indictment, which was unsealed Monday, Kevin, also known as Kemal, Oksuz allegedly lied on disclosure forms filed with the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics prior to, and following, a privately sponsored congressional trip to Azerbaijan. Oksuz ran a Houston based nonprofit that he is accused of using to funnel money to fund the congressional trip from an oil company controlled by the Azerbaijan government.

“No House Member or employee may accept the payment of travel expenses … from a private source to participate in a trip … without prior written authorization from the [Ethics] Committee pursuant to these regulations,” according to the Ethics rules on travel.

The House Ethics Committee in 2015 determined that there was “no evidence” that 10 lawmakers and more than 30 aides “knowingly violated” congressional rules during a 2013 trip. Privately sponsored travel by House members and staff is regulated by the House Ethics panel.

Nonprofit groups are allowed to sponsor “educational” trips for lawmakers and staff, but the Ethics Committee must review the itinerary, which they did for the May 2013 trip. Nonprofit groups must also certify that they are the source of the funding for the trip. That is where Oksuz went outside the law, according to the indictment.

Oksuz submitted falsified Trip Sponsor Forms to the Ethics panel that stated that his nonprofit Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasions had not accepted any other funding to finance the trip, the DOJ alleges. The indictment says that Oksuz accepted funds from the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic, a consulting firm based in Azerbaijan, and the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan. 

Oksuz was indicted on five counts, including “devising a scheme to falsify, conceal, and cover up material facts from the Ethics Committee” and four counts of making false statements to Congress. He is an American citizen and was “recently detained by authorities in Armenia,” according to DOJ. 

The Justice Department considers Oksuz a fugitive, according to a release, and there is an outstanding arrest warrant for him.

Members who participated in the trip included Democratic Reps. Yvette D. Clarke of New York, Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Rubén Hinojosa of Texas, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gregory W. Meeks of New York, plus Republican Reps. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma (who has since left Congress to become NASA administrator),  Leonard Lance of New Jersey and Ted Poe of Texas.

The Ethics Committee made the members and staff return the gifts they received, which included rugs and crystal tea sets.

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