Texas congressman charged with taking bribes from Azerbaijan oil and gas firm

Rep. Henry Cuellar, wearing a blue suit and holding a piece of paper at a committee hearing.


Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar and his wife deny the charges but were indicted Friday on charges of taking $600,000 from an energy company in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

The indictments accused them of conspiracy and bribery and were the result of a long-term Justice Department investigation into ties between US business leaders and the nation of Azerbaijan. Each faces 14 counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery of a federal official, money laundering and violating the ban on public officials acting as agents of a foreign principal.

The indictment accused the two of taking the $600,000 in bribes from the Azerbaijan-controlled oil and gas firm and a bank in Mexico between 2014 and 2021. Rep. Cullar allegedly took the money and in return promised to advance the country interests and the bank in the U.S. He also reportedly agreed to influence legislation for the country and deliver a pro-Azerbaijan speech on the floor of the U.S.House. At one point, he was co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus.

The indictments came two years after federal agents raided his home and campaign office in Laredo, Texas

The Los Angeles Times reported a Texas-based shell company owned by Imelda Cuellar and two of the couple’s children received the payments. The company received payments from the oil and gas company of $25,000 a month under what prosecutors called a “sham contract.”

“In reality, the contract was a sham used to disguise and legitimate the corrupt agreement between Henry Cuellar and the government of Azerbaijan,” stated the indictment which also claimed that Imelda Cuellar sent a phony invoice to the oil and gas firm’s office in Washington, D.C..

“In fact, Imedla Cuellar had performed little or no legitimate work under the contract,” the indictment alleged.

The Times further reported that in 2013, Rep. Cuellar visited Azerbaijan and two years later announced an agreement between a group named Assembly of Friends of Azerbaijan and a Texas University. The purpose of the agreement was reportedly for a collaboration on oil and gas research and education.

On Friday, Rep. Cullar and his wife surrendered to authorities and the congressman issued a statement saying he and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, “are innocent of these allegations.”

In the statement, he said everything he has done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas, adding he and his wife, “requested a meeting with the Washington DC prosecutors to explain the facts and they refused to discuss the case with us or to hear our side.”

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said as a result of the indictments, Rep. Cuellar will take leave as Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. Cuellar won his unopposed primary in March and is running for re-election in November.

The organization promoted by Rep. Cuellar, the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan was reported to be based in Houston, Texas after it was incorporated in 2012. The largest energy company in Azerbaijan was SOCAR, State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic  and used AFAZ as a conduit to fund a 2013 energy conference for high-level former White House officials and members of Congress which was reviewed by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

In 2014, Rep. Cuellar joined Elin Suleymanov,the Ambassador of Azerbaijan in a student TV interview where the Congressman promoted the country’s oil and gas operations.