Azerbaijan leaves transparency group after membership suspended

BAKU (Reuters) - Oil-rich Azerbaijan has left the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) after a prominent international coalition suspended the ex-Soviet country’s membership, the executive director of the Azeri state oil fund SOFAZ said.

EITI is backed by governments, corporations and financial institutions and aims to promote open and accountable management of natural resources.

The coalition suspended Azerbaijan’s membership in the coalition at a board meeting on Thursday because of its concern about limits on civic freedoms in the South Caucasus country of about 9 million.

Azerbaijan considered that decision as “unfair” and left the coalition.

“We consider the board’s decision on suspension of Azerbaijan as an unfair one,” Shahmar Movsumov said in a statement.

“It is with a deep regret I have to officially announce that Azerbaijan is leaving EITI.”

In 2015, EITI downgraded Azerbaijan to “candidate” from “compliant” country. In October last year, the EITI board said Azerbaijan had made meaningful progress, and retained its candidate status, but added that the country needed to do more to improve transparency, a key international benchmark that makes the country more attractive to foreign investors.

Movsumov said the EITI’s mandate had been “significantly shifted far from transparency and accountability in extractive sectors” and the organization “failed to stick to its original mission and objectives.”

He added that Azerbaijan would continue to disclose all the information related to revenues received from extractive industries to the full extent.

Azerbaijan’s presence in the EITI was important for international investors and banks attracted to its oil and gas sector.

Oil and gas account for about 75 percent of Azerbaijan’s state revenues and 45 percent of gross domestic product, so the slump in crude prices since mid-2014 has hit the country particularly hard.

Reporting and writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Bill Rigby