YEREVAN — The former head of a Turkish American lobbying group that had cooperated with Azerbaijan’s government has been detained in Armenia on an arrest warrant issued by U.S. law-enforcement authorities.
Kemal (Kevin) Oksuz used to run the Texas-based Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians as well as the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan. The two groups came under scrutiny after organizing in 2013 an all-expenses-paid visit to Azerbaijan by 10 members and 32 staffers of the U.S. Congress.
The Washington Post reported in 2015 that the trip was secretly funded by Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company SOCAR in violation of U.S. congressional rules. Citing a confidential report by the U.S. Office of Congressional Ethics, the paper said that through the groups headed by Oksuz SOCAR spent $750,000 for that purpose.
The report led the Ethics Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to launch an inquiry. Oksuz reportedly refused to testify in the probe.
The Armenian police revealed on Thursday that Oksuz subsequently moved to Armenia and set up a company there. In a statement, the police said that U.S. law-enforcement authorities issued an international arrest warrant for him on August 23.
The American citizen of Turkish descent is wanted in the United States for lying to the House Ethics Committee about foreign funding received by his organizations, the statement said, adding that he was arrested in Yerevan on Wednesday.
The police also released a short video of Oksuz’s first interrogation. Oksuz was shown admitting that SOCAR, which is closely linked to the Azerbaijani government, covered the travel expenses of the U.S. officials and gave them expensive gifts in 2013. “That may have been corruption, I don’t know,” he said.
It was not clear why he decided to relocate to Armenia, a country that has strained relations with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. Oksuz admitted that just like other Turkish American activists he had lobbied the Congress against recognizing the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
“The Armenian Diaspora [in the United States] is strong and does a good job,” he told the police. “The Azerbaijani lobby is nothing. They only spend money on lobbying but achieve nothing.”
Reporting on Oksuz’s arrest, the pro-government Turkish newspaper “Sabah” referred to him as a “high-ranking” loyalist of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric facing coup charges in Turkey. The paper also called his Turquoise Council of Americans a “Gulenist umbrella organization.”
Thousands of Gulen supporters have been jailed in Turkey since a failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.