Anger as Queen bags ‘generous’ gift from dictator

As the Queen celebrates her Platinum Jubilee, she is facing calls to return a horse she recently received from a repressive regime - the third autocracy from which she has accepted such a gift.

2 June 2022

The Queen received an array of gifts at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in May 2022. (Photo: Phil Miller / Declassified UK)

The Queen is facing calls to return a gift she received from a foreign dictatorship last month.

Azerbaijan’s authoritarian president Ilham Aliyev sent Queen Elizabeth a horse named ‘Shohrat’ as part of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations at Windsor Castle.

Her Majesty said the gift was “very kind” and “very generous”.

Azerbaijan is the third repressive regime to award her a horse, adding to earlier equestrian gifts from the rulers of Dubai and Bahrain.

Republic, a group that wants to abolish the monarchy and replace it with an elected head of state, slammed the Queen for having a “cosy relationship where she receives horses from dictatorships”.

Republic spokesman Graham Smith told Declassified: “It doesn’t look good for a British head of state to be having these kinds of relationships with people who have very questionable records in office and who are repressing their own people. 

“I think it is distasteful and something that a different head of state might have chosen not to do. 

“I’m surprised the government hasn’t advised her to refuse these sorts of gifts but I assume that it’s something she’s very invested in – horse racing. 

“I think the best thing she could do is return the gifts and ask them not to offer her any more in the future.”

Caspian Sea

Sandwiched between Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan has been ruled by the Aliyev family for the last 30 years. 

Ilham’s father Heydar ran the country’s fearsome KGB during the Soviet era before becoming president amid the collapse of the communist system in the 1990s.

Since then the Aliyevs have opened the resource-rich Caspian Sea to British oil giant BP, Azerbaijan’s largest foreign investor. 

This has made their regime a darling of the UK’s Foreign Office, which set up a British consulate inside the offices of BP in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, and sent the SAS to train Azeri special forces.

“The support of the British state is crucial for BP to hold on to its assets in Azerbaijan.”

James Marriott is co-author of The Oil Road, a book about BP’s role in Azerbaijan. He told Declassified that energy reserves in the Caspian Sea are “a substantial part of the company’s portfolio and crucial to its ability to generate profit for its shareholders.”

“Part of the value of those assets depends on the pliability of the Azeri state agreeing to the contracts and upholding them.

“There’s always a threat in any oil contract that the state will turn against the corporation. So the support of the British state is crucial for BP to hold on to its assets in Azerbaijan.

Marriott said the Queen receiving a horse from Aliyev “is part of that process”, commenting that “Britain should have a much more critical attitude towards the Aliyev regime and be much more supportive of dissidents within Azerbaijan.”


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The Aliyev family network is widely accused of embezzling state funds and acquiring more than £400m worth of property in London, one of which was sold to the Queen’s crown estate in a £67m deal.

Arzu Geybullayeva is a journalist who runs the free speech group Azerbaijan Internet Watch. She told Declassified: “President Ilham Aliyev is not only notorious for his authoritarian leadership but he has also successfully managed to corrupt the whole governing system – [putting] cronies, oligarchs, and family members in high government positions.

“This dysfunctional approach to state-building and maintenance allowed the president and his aides to enjoy a lavish lifestyle, while the rest of the people have seen little to no change. 

She added: “Those who stand out and question the decision-making and the governance are often silenced.”

Geybullayeva, who studied at the London School of Economics, has received extensive death threats for her work and lives in exile for safety reasons. 

Commenting on Aliyev giving a horse to the Queen, she said: “I often do think about how the recipients of these gifts justify accepting them.”


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Horse show

Azerbaijan was one of the main sponsors of last month’s Royal Windsor Horse Show, where the Queen watched a glitzy display by riders from the country’s State Border Service.

Another supporter of the event was Oman, a repressive Gulf monarchy that fired tear gas at anti-corruption protesters last year.

Oman flew 99 horses to perform at the show, with its crown prince sitting near the Queen.

The horses came from Oman’s Royal Cavalry, an eccentric troupe which uses bagpipes, tartan and ex-British army riding instructors.

Oman and Azerbaijan appear keen to exploit the Queen’s love of horses, something that royal families in Bahrain and Dubai have long cultivated.

“The dictator of Dubai was a regular guest at the Windsor horse show until British judges found he had kidnapped his adult children”

Bahrain’s Prince Nasser attended the horse show, winning an endurance race there, despite being accused by pro-democracy activists of involvement in torture.

The dictator of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was a regular guest at the Windsor horse show until British judges found he had kidnapped his adult children when they tried to leave the family’s control.

The Queen had pledged to no longer appear in public with him, but this April her racing manager received a diamond encrusted gift from a company owned by Sheikh Mohammed.

The gift was exchanged in the Royal Box at Newbury Racecourse, a track heavily sponsored by the Dubai regime.

Buckingham Palace was asked to comment.