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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Former Azeri Oil Boss Denies Wrongdoing

GAZAKH, Azerbaijan -- The longtime head of Azerbaijan's state oil company on Tuesday denied bribery accusations leveled in a U.S. indictment charging three men with offering hundreds of millions of dollars to top officials in the former Soviet republic.

Irish citizen Viktor Kozeny and Americans Frederic Bourke Jr. and David Pinkerton were indicted in New York last week on federal charges.

They were accused of trying to buy off top Azerbaijani officials to get favorable treatment in oil deals.

A U.S. attorney said hundreds of millions of dollars were promised and tens of millions actually paid in the scheme in the late 1990s.

Natik Aliyev, who has headed the Azerbaijani state oil company, Socar, since 1993, denied the bribery accusations and said he did not know Kozeny. "I don't even know what he looks like," Aliyev said.

U.S. authorities alleged Kozeny sent planeloads of cash from Switzerland to Azerbaijan in an attempt to buy up a state oil company when Azerbaijan began privatizing some of its state-owned enterprises in the 1990s, but failed to gain control.

Aliyev said that Azerbaijan's leadership had never considered privatizing Socar, and that the government privatization program stipulated that the state oil company and its production subsidiaries be privatized only by a special presidential decree.

"The president of Azerbaijan has been announcing since 1994 that oil is the property of the people and that Socar would not be privatized in the near future," Aliyev said.

Longtime Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev was succeeded in 2003 by his son Ilham Aliyev.

Mark J. Mershon, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York office, said last week that it appeared "corrupt Azerbaijan officials scammed the scammers," claiming they took bribe money but never delivered.