Three current and one former members of the Texas Congressional Delegation are under an ethics investigation, along with six others, in connection with an all-expenses-paid luxury trip to the Caspian Sea, financed by an Azerbaijan state-run company. The trip, and other lavish gifts, were allegedly part of an effort to influence U.S. policy.
The ethics investigation is focused on a 2013 junket in which ten members of Congress traveled on the dime of Azerbaijan state-run oil giant SOCAR. In order to pay for the travel, while concealing the nature of the funds, SOCAR allegedly funneled $750,000 through non-profit corporations in the United States, as the Washington Post reported.
The Texas Reps. include Democrat Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, along with Republican Congressman Ted Poe, plus former Republican Congressman Steve Stockman.
Hinojosa and his staff received hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses, silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000 apiece. Airfare for the congressmen and their wives cost $112,899, WaPo reported.
The non-profit corporations filed false statements with Congress, swearing they were sponsoring the conference. However, information has been turned over to the House Committee on Ethics concerning violations of congressional rules and federal law prohibiting foreign government from influencing U.S. policy. Investigators were not able to determine if the representatives abused their offices to benefit SOCAR.
SOCAR and other companies have sought exemptions from U.S. sanctions imposed in Iran, in order to construct a $28 billion gas pipeline project in the Caspian Sea. The pipeline would offer an alternative to Russian gas.
The representatives claimed to have no knowledge of how the trip was funded. However, as the report published by the Washington Post explains, “a person’s ignorance of the true source of travel expenses is not an absolute shield from liability for receipt of travel expenses from an improper source.”
This article has been updated.