This article was first published on Abzas Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.
Five years after its scheduled opening, Baku's InterContinental Hotel finally opened its doors in 2021. Attending the opening ceremony of the hotel were President Ilham Aliyev and the first Vice President, Mehriban Aliyeva. Two years later, Abzas Media, in an investigative story, looked into the ownership of the hotel as well as the history of the land where the hotel was built.
The story behind the land where the current five-star hotel was built dates back to 1950. At the time, the building was home to another hotel named “Janub.” Between 1950 and 1998, the building was state-owned. In 1998, it became an Open Joint Stock Company.
The trail got murky circa 2012. At the time, Azerbaijan was preparing to host the annual Eurovision Song Contest. That year, officials decided to demolish the old building and make space for new construction that could host the guests for the contest. That did not happen. The next potential opening was set for 2016 on the eve of the opening Formula 1 race in Baku. That also never happened.
Then, in September 2014, during the general meeting of shareholders, the owner of the majority of shares, a company named AZ-ORS, said there were not enough funds in the budget of the joint-stock company for them to privatize the land in the name of the joint-stock company. Minority shareholders agreed to privatize the land. Its market value at the time was valued at half a million Azerbaijani Manat. However, when the land was put up for auction, the details of the land's address and its size were purposefully blacked out.
The minority shareholders knew something was amiss. And that the reason why the address and the size of the land were omitted was specifically done to devalue the land during its auction. While investigating the story, Abzas Media obtained the electronic version of the auction announcement, where they were able to see the address and the size of the land — matching that of what was now the former Janub hotel — as well as the price for which it was finally sold on December 9, 2014. The investigation revealed it was sold for 340 times less than its market value.
Although there was no information available about who won the bid at the time, it was not hard to guess. With 99 percent shares, AZ-ORS was clearly the main beneficiary. AZ-ORS, to this day, is the owner of the land and the new hotel. The company's owner is a woman named Naze Shahverdiyeva. Shahverdiyeva is the sister of Beyler Ayyubov, the head of the Presidential Security Service.
Shahverdiyeva's wealth is not limited to the InterContinental hotel. She acts as a legal representative in at least two other companies according to the register of commercial legal entities — “Naida-S” and “Karamli Village Farm” LLC. She also happens to be the owner of Resant Hotel group, which includes 35 hotel and restaurant chains and other real estate properties across Azerbaijan.
Abzas Media's attempts to speak directly with Shahverdiyeva fell through despite a Resant Group employee telling the media outlet they could speak with Shahverdiyeva directly.
For years, there have been other exposés on the ruling family as well as other state-affiliated officials’ suspicious wealth, their lucrative business ownership at home and abroad, and the scale of graft in the country. Local journalists producing these investigations have been reprimanded for their work. Two months after this investigation was published, the director of Abzas Media, Ulvi Hasanli, and the platform's editor-in-chief, Sevinc Vagifgizi, were arrested on bogus smuggling charges and sentenced to maximum pretrial custody.