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I have posted to www.fritztomongolia.blogspot.com with this information. Beware of the cops in AZ withing 150 km of the Georgia border. They are stopping motorcycle travelers and demanding cash to be let free with your paper work. This is the text of my post. Also see the blog of Tom Bosman who is in the UK to Mongolia HUBB travelers wanting travelers thread.
RUNNING THE GAUNTLET
Today was very special. And I want everyone to know that corrupt cops are still a fact of life in this part of the world. As you might recall, I have a friend, Tom Bosman, who is a couple days ahead of me. On Sunday he reported being shaken down for bribes 3 times after he crossed to Azerbaijan. They got about $150 from Tom and left him with nothing.
So for the past couple days I had been sweating the crossing into Azerbaijan. As it turns out my worries were not unfounded.
I prepared my throw away wallet with expired credit cards and expired driver’s license. I hid my cash. I started at 4:30 am to get a head start on the bad guys. It did not work. But I also practiced my talking points and negotiating sentences. And that did work.
Tom had reported being pulled over at 50 Km south of the Georgia - Azerbaijan border. At 51 Km there is a police station, and they also hassled Tom there. I was early and went through the police check point. But, just like clockwork as I got to 52 Km south of the border the lights came on and I was pulled over.
There was a guy in civilian clothes who got out on the passenger side, and a uniform traffic cop stayed in the car. I think the civilian was along because he spoke some English. The purported infraction was speeding 62 in a 40. That was pure fiction because I had been on the watch out for speed signs. Anyway I was put in the car and they asked for my documents. I gave them the bike papers, and the throwaway license. That was an error. The guy was bright enough to see the license was expired, and that did not help. He said the fine was $500 and we would go to the bank. All of this is taking place in Russian and pidgin English on his part.
He wanted the cash there, and I said no. I said write the ticket and I will pay at the official office. At that point he tried to kick me out of the patrol car and keep my license. But I just sat there and asked for my license back. Derek Welch and I had practiced the scenario a bit at his apartment. And it called for just sitting there and doing nothing except burn time. And burn time I did. I just started telling the guy that I was prohibited from paying any fine directly to a policeman, and that I would have to report that to the Consul.
After about what seems like a long time, but was probably not more than 3 or 4 minutes, he started writing numbers. I then told his civilian buddy that I could not pay a fine for an infraction to a policeman. But I could give a gift “friend to friend”. By now they wanted rid of me because I would not get out of the car; and when they insisted I put my wrists out and did the old “slap the cuffs on – take me in” routine. They wanted cash, not some old guy.
He kept pushing for $500. Finally I said “ I would make a gift of $50 friend to friend” and he bought that. I pulled the $50 I had already budgeted out of my pocket, took my license and handed over the cash. Then we all shook hands and bid each other good-bye after our successful negotiations.
So based on Tom’s experience I knew there was at least one more bad guy out there. I did not meet Tom’s bad guy. But I met my own. There was another checkpoint / police station 130 Km south of the border right where the M5 road turns into a 4 lane divided highway near Gyanja. I could have avoided this road, but I kept following the signs to Baku because me gps was giving me fits again.
When I got to the check point a guy pulled me over and wanted to check my blinkers, caution flashers, and paperwork. Then his buddy said follow me and they took me up to an office in the police station. At first it was just me and two guys. They explained that I was doing 78 in a 40 km residential zone. Once again, the accusation was fiction and just an excuse to work on a bribe. But it was a lot more comfortable negotiating in the office than in a patrol car. I just stalled and stalled. Finally two more guys came in and they explained that the fine was, now wait for it, $500. How coincidental is that?
By now I had some practice at this and was actually enjoying the game a bit. Then I pulled the old “slap the cuffs on” deal and the new guy said “No, No , No” No cuffs, no arrest, you have to give us your number. Once again this is in Russian and pidgeon English.
I started to laugh and said “now I understand, we have entered negotiations”. There was a lot of “Da,Da” . I said I cannot pay a policeman, but I could make a gift “friend to friend”. They really liked that idea, and then I said $50 (my budgeted amount). The first guy said 50 for each or a hundred. I pulled out $50 put it on the table and took my documents. No hand over, just pulled them back. Now everyone was happy.
But it does not end. I asked for tea. They said sure. So I was brought outside and served some tea, and given a couple of tomatoes and bread to eat. We all sat around and visited as “friend to friend” and they assured me my police problems were over.
So I left and went down the road, which is not the one I should have taken, to Baku. I pulled over and reloaded my cash and paperwork, because I had learned some new lessons and reinforced some of my skills from being a lawyer.
I never let them see my money. They had no idea how much I had, or where. I waited for exasperation to set in. I made them work for it. And I never said I was in a hurry. When asked I said I was here for 3 weeks, which is what my visa says, and that I would take a couple days to get to Baku.
I had no other run ins. And I really do not have a bad taste in my mouth about the country. I was treated no differently that lots of Georgians, because they had told me their Azerbaian cop war stories. So in the end it was just a toll charge with a little back and forth gamesmanship thrown in.
By the way – I tried to get photos of the cops “friend to friend”, but I only ended up with this $100 tomato.
Azerbaijan is the worst country in the area as for police asking for bribes.
When I crossed it in 2010 I only paid a 30$ "tax" at the border.
Police stopped us every 50-100 km on the road to Baku, but usually not switching off the bike, keeping my helmet on and starting speaking very fast in italian was enough to let us go...
Azerbaijan is nowhere near Europe. It is Asia 100%. As for the lame advice to just say "I do not have much money", it is obvious such persons have never been in police custody. And yes, it does get expensive.
This is not my first rodeo. I have dealt with cops and bribes throughout South America. But AZ is the most systemic and organized system I have encountered.
By the way - $50 per person is the going rate. That was the rate in Peru in 2009 and it seems unaffected by inflation.
I think Samy wanted to say that, in this forum, middle east sections is for "Topics specific to the Middle East countries, from Syria south to Yemen".
We can discuss if this one should be in Europe section ("Topics specific to Western and Eastern Europe, from UK to the Russian border, and south-east to Turkey.") or Southern Asia section ("Topics specific to Southern Asia, from Iran and Armenia east through Pakistan and India to China / Vietnam / Indonesia."), but definitely not in the Middle East one.
As for the bribes, brclarke just asked a question, withouth giving any advice: it's not nice to answer him the way you did.
As for the "police custody" and "$50 per person going rate", every experience is different from the other, but I can I assure you I never paied any bribe to the azeri police on the road: I even never get off from my bike.
I started speaking in italian and laughing at their requests, and it worked.
You had an experience different than mine, but this doesn't mean that everyone is going to have the same experience you had.
Some people are more skilled in get around the bribe requests and some other are less...
Anyway, I read from your blog you are out of the country now, so, enjoy the rest of your trip!
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