Turkish-Born Lobbyist & NonProfit Head Pleads Guilty To Concealing Foreign Funding Of Congressional Trip


A Turkish-born American lobbyist and head of a Texas-based non-profit pled guilty on Monday in a scheme to conceal the fact that a 2013 Congressional trip to Azerbaijan was funded by the Azerbaijan government.

According to the Department of Justice, Kemal Oksuz, aka "Kevin Oksuz," 49, pleaded guilty to one count of devising a scheme to falsify, conceal and cover up material facts from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics.

According to the DOJ press release:

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According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea, Oksuz lied on disclosure forms filed with the Ethics Committee prior to, and following, a privately sponsored Congressional trip to Azerbaijan.  Oksuz falsely represented and certified on required disclosure forms that the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasions (TCAE), the Houston non-profit for which Oksuz was president, had not accepted funding for the Congressional trip from any outside sources.  Oksuz admitted to, in truth, orchestrating a scheme to funnel money to fund the trip from the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), the wholly state-owned national oil and gas company of Azerbaijan, and then concealed the true source of funding, which violated House travel regulations.

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A five-count indictment was returned earlier this year in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and ordered unsealed in September.  Oksuz was recently extradited from Armenia where he was detained by authorities, pursuant to a warrant that was issued for his arrest.

“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.

Oksuz's international warrant for his arrest was issued earlier this year.

After being arrested in Yerevan, Oksuz has appeared under investigation of Armenian law enforcement agencies in suspicion of tax evasion and later extradited to the US.

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.

The Houston Chronicle adds information about other congressional members who were participants on the trip.

The House panel eventually exonerated all 10 U.S. lawmakers who took the trip, saying they had been misled about its true sponsors and that they didn't "knowingly" break any law or House rules.

Among those Oksuz allegedly misled about the trip were Houston Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee and Ruben Hinojosa, a border district Democrat who has since retired from Congress.

Two Houston-area Republicans also made the government-funded trip: U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, who is retiring next month, and former Congressman Steve Stockman, who was sentenced last month to a 10-year prison term in an unrelated fraud case.

All but Stockman, who could not be reached for comment, told the Chronicle in 2015 that they had no advance knowledge that the state oil company had funded the conference. Poe’s office maintained that he contacted the House Ethics Committee to self-report the allegations initially raised in a Chronicle investigation.

While the lawmakers denied prior knowledge of the state oil company’s involvement, investigators said there were ample signs of the conference’s true underwriter, including banners and placards with the firm’s logo. Photos and programs pointed to its involvement.

About three dozen congressional staffers also attended the conference, which attracted widespread attention because of the involvement of top Obama administration officials and Azerbaijan’s interest in winning congressional support to avoid U.S. sanctions aimed at Iran, its partner in a multibillion dollar Caspian Sea national gas project.

SOCAR has denied that it had "secretly" played a role in the conference in Baku in 2013.

During the investigation in 2015, the firm said, “At no time did SOCAR hide from the attendees of the conference our involvement.  SOCAR’s logo and name was presented prominently in Baku at multiple events. SOCAR has never been under investigation in this matter because the responsibility for disclosing SOCAR’s financial support for the conference fell to those who were the trip’s sponsors.”

Roll Call points out:

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.

Oksuz is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 11, 2019 before U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan for the District of Columbia.

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