Prince Andrew row intensifies as he lobbies for Azerbaijan

March 9, 2011

On Monday, as a storm of bad publicity raged around him, Prince Andrew lobbied an MP to help increase British business with Azerbaijan, the central Asian autocracy accused of torturing protesters, it has been emerged. Despite growing concern over his willingness to establish business links with foreign dictatorships from the Middle East to central Asia, the Duke of York met Mark Field, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Azerbaijan, at Buckingham Palace and asked for support in parliament and Whitehall for the benefits of British investment in Azerbaijan. “He wants to raise the profile of the all-party group and wants us to make the case in parliament and to the business secretary of the business opportunities out in Azerbaijan,” Field told the Guardian yesterday. “He feels it is a cinderella country that has tremendous opportunities.”

The duke, who acts as the UK’s special representative for international trade and investment, is understood to be planning a trade visit to Azerbaijan in June, his eighth since 2005. He has been there three times since 2008 in a private capacity and otherwise has travelled there on behalf of UK Trade and Investment, the government’s export promotion arm. He is often described as “the dear guest” by local media and his last visit in November, when he had dinner with President Ilham Aliyev, came just weeks after international criticism of the conduct of the country’s parliamentary elections. Amnesty International has called on the Aliyev regime to stop torturing activists demanding reform. Last year a coalition of human rights groups said Aliyev had achieved stability only by “a total crackdown on the political opposition, stifling the independent and opposition media, and curbing fundamental freedoms”.

Field said: “One of the things he [Andrew] talked about was his feeling that a place like Azerbaijan is somewhere of great opportunity, and the more British politicians and businesses engage themselves with their counterparts in Azerbaijan, there will be material benefits.” The duke’s apparent lobbying of MPs and peers through Field comes despite calls for him to stand down as UK trade envoy over his links to convicted the billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his decision to host Sakher el-Materi, the son-in-law of the deposed Tunisian leader, to lunch at Buckingham Palace just three months before the north African regime was toppled. It will raise fresh questions about whether Andrew is using his role to act in the interests of British business or in the interests of the foreign leaders the government pays hundreds of thousands of pounds a year for him to visit. Field said he did not think that the duke was acting in the interests of the Azerbaijan government during the meeting on Monday.

He saw the meeting as the prince gathering business opportunities for British companies. Andrew was “relaxed and in good humour”, he added, despite discussing “some of the headlines of the day”. Buckingham Palace also that denied the duke was in any way acting in the interests of the Azerbaijan government. “The job works in two ways,” said Andrew’s spokesman. “He tries to identify opportunities for British businesses in overseas markets. Equally it is to sometimes attract inward investment into the UK. “It is entirely appropriate that the Duke of York should try and identify business opportunities for British businesses in Azerbaijan, a country in which the British government operates.” The London Evening Standard quoted a royal source as saying the Queen had given Andrew, said to be her favourite son, her full backing.

Prime Ministers Questions

“References to the members of the Royal Family should be very rare, very sparing and very respecful”

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