Her son, Aykhan Mammadov, says he believes Babayeva was poisoned and has accused Ahmadova of slipping a slow-working toxin into his mother's food during a dinner in Baku last autumn, just days before the first video was released. Mammadov said Babayeva soon fell ill and was sent to Istanbul for treatment, at Ahmadova's insistence. Ahmadova, he believes, knew about the videos and wanted to remove Babayeva in order to appease Mehdiyev.
"She told my mother to go to Turkey for a while so things could cool down. Days passed, more days passed, and now my mother is dead," Mammadov said. "Gular Ahmadova called her every day and said that she had talked to Ramiz Mehdiyev and that everything was going to be fine. She was staying with Gular Ahmadova's friends. She couldn't go out by herself. They accompanied her everywhere."
Ahmadova rejected the allegations, describing Babayeva as "sick" and "frightened" and said she refused to comment on "silly things."
But with the impact growing in "Gulargate" -- as the video scandal has come to be known -- Ahmadova has become the latest figure to fall under suspicion. She has been stripped of her ruling-party membership, and this week was placed under house arrest in connection with her appearance in the Abdullayev video.
It remains uncertain whether Mehdiyev himself will fall under scrutiny. A longtime member of the Azerbaijani elite, Mehdiyev was a close ally of the country's first long-term post-Soviet president, Heydar Aliyev, and is credited with personally orchestrating the controversial handover to his son, Ilham, in 2003. As kingmaker, Mehdiyev -- who serves as the chair of the state anticorruption commission and wields near-absolute control over Azerbaijan's internal affairs -- has long been seen as politically untouchable.
But he is also viewed with contempt by the formidable Pashayev clan of Aliyev's wife, Mehriban, whose members are rumored to resent his old-school grip on Azerbaijan's domestic affairs. Abdullayev says he has personally appealed to Mehriban Aliyeva for support in his campaign against Mehdiyev. This, combined with the heavy coverage of Gulargate in pro-government media, has fueled rumors that the Pashayevs are actively seeking the chief of staff's ouster.
The scandal comes just months before Azerbaijan heads into an October presidential election in which Aliyev is widely expected to stand for -- and win -- a newly constitutional third term. The publication of politically damaging videos ahead of the vote is reminiscent of last year's parliamentary elections in Georgia, where the ruling party of Mikhail Saakashvili was rejected by voters angered by a series of shocking prison-abuse videos released by an opposition supporter. Azerbaijan's beleaguered opposition, sensing a rare opportunity to chip away at the Aliyev monolith, have already sought to capitalize on Gulargate. The Public Chamber, a gathering of the country's mainstream opposition groups, has publicly called on the government to investigate Abdullayev's claims.