Rakhat Aliyev: Kazakhstan’s boogeyman spotted among the Knights

Some progress in the long-lasting search for Rakhat Aliyev, the former son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s head of state and minister, head of the National Security Council and prominent banker in his country of origin during his times of glory, seems to have been made after the government of Malta, his hiding place after having left his original place of exile Austria, facilitated an interrogation by Austrian judicial authorities. Austria has a case against him concerning abuse of political asylum, possibly to be extended to two murder cases, for one of which he has already been convicted in absentia in his country of origin. Further investigations underway in various countries concern his business network, built up during his time as ambassador first and as “political” exile later.

BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, KZW SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR

Rakhat Aliyev: Kazakhstan’s boogeyman spotted among the KnightsAliyev’s whistleblower in Malta has been no one less than Akezhan Kazhegeldin who was Prime Minister of Kazakhstan until he resigned in October 1997, ostensibly for health reasons. In reality, his resignation and flight abroad in April the following year have been connected with alleged embezzlement of tens, if not hundreds, millions of dollars through kickback transactions of state-held assets on the block in order to be privatised. He was later accused of laundering his personal “commissions” in tens of such deals through the purchase of real estate, in particular in Belgium. This time, however, though on paper still wanted for his abuses in Kazakhstan, he seems to seek reconciliation – which he might well obtain should he succeed in helping Rakhat Aliyev to justice, if not in Kazakhstan at least in Europe. Last year, the case of one of his bodyguards who accused Aliyev of having him had kidnapped and put under torture back in the 1990s was recognised by a court of law in Belgium where the victim has lived in exile ever since, thereby adding to the already impressive list of charges against the prodigal son-in-law.

“A wanted former top Kazakh government official sentenced to imprisonment for various crimes and ordered to pay damages connected with torture is currently living in an apartment in Amery Street, Sliema, The Sunday Times of Malta reported on December 11 last year. “However, despite diplomatic pressure on Malta to arrest Rahkhat Aliyev and bring him to justice, government officials explained the former diplomat entered Malta legally together with his wife, an Austrian citizen. And there is also no official extradition request from Kazakhstan or Austria. Allegations that Malta is ‘hosting’ a wanted criminal are being made by Akezhan Kazhegeldin, a former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan and his lawyer Lothar de Maizi?re, who was the last democratically-elected East German Prime Minister. Both former politicians told The Sunday Times that according to the latest information from the Austrian Interior Ministry and Interpol, Mr Aliyev is currently living in Malta. This information was later confirmed by a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry who said Mr Aliyev is married to an Austrian citizen, has an Austrian residence permit, and had entered Malta legally.”

“All we are seeking is justice,” the Maltese paper quoted De Mazi?re as stating. “We were given information that Mr Aliyev is being hosted in Malta. If this is true, Malta needs to clear its name and bring this person to justice,” with Kazkhgelding adding “Mr Aliyev is super-rich and he can get around legalities.” “Mr de Maizi?re claimed the Austrian authorities were turning a blind eye to the case as Mr Aliyev had made many “influential” friends in the Austrian capital,” the article continues. “In various meetings with top politicians in Brussels, including powerful MEPs, both Mr de Maizi?re and Mr Kazhegldin encouraged them to put pressure on Malta to take steps against Mr Aliyev. German MEP Elmar Brok, former chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has even sent a letter requesting information to Foreign Minister Tonio Borg. However, it seems the case is turning out to be quite complicated. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry confirmed Malta has received complaints about Mr Aliyev but said no action can be taken against him. Confirming that the ministry investigated the allegations, the spokesman said it results that Mr Aliyev has a residence permit issued by the Austrian government and he is also married to an EU citizen and therefore enjoys freedom of movement and residence as the spouse of an EU citizen who is exercising a treaty right and the right to reside within the EU. The spokesman made it clear that if an extradition request is issued, this “will be processed in the usual manner”.

Born in 1962, Aliyev married into the presidential family towards the end of the XXth Century, which allowed him to spearhead into the upper ranks during the first half of the current decade. By 2001, he found himself at the helm of Nurbank, one of Kazakhstan’s top-10 commercial banks, as well as the National Security Council. As reported earlier, on the eve of his downfall Aliyev would appear to have built up an extremely well-organised group of criminals ready to take action whenever the word would come, the agency was later to reveal. The movement by and large consisted of professionals working in Kazakhstan’s intelligence services. The group was strictly hierarchic: orders were carried out without hesitation and without questioning including “extreme action”. The final aim was to overthrow the government, and 16 members of the gang were eventually convicted for taking part in the conspiracy – even though the main culprit Aliyev by that time had escaped with no intention to return.

Aliyev’s possession of Nurbank provided him with an instrument both to finance his coup, set for spring 2007, and to have enough cash at his disposition to maintain his position in its aftermath. But as can be concluded afterwards, the bank was also his weak spot, and it can more or less safely be assumed that he wanted to get rid of those executives whom he suspected of being too loyalist to fit in to his plans. This consideration proved fatal for two of them, whose heavily-mutilated bodies were found alongside a country road not far from Almaty in late summer 2011 – four years after the murder took place. They were identified with the help of German expertise, called in to do the necessary DNA tests.

The double murder Aliyev has been tried and convicted for dates from early 2007. On January 31 Nurbank executive Zholdas Timuraliyev, in the company of the deputy head of the bank’s financial administration Aybar.Khassenov, was invited to the main office of Nurbank on 38 Dostyk (still known under its former name Lenin) Avenue. On the IXth floor, where the executives held office, they were locked up in a small meeting room and once more tied up. After midnight, the two men were dragged into a van waiting outside, and driven to Aliyev’s residence, where they were locked up in a storage room. On February 4, Khassenov was brought to the outskirts of the centre of Almaty. Separately, Timuraliyev was brought to Druzhba, a village outside Almaty, where he was told to make a similar phonecall to his wife. On February 9, a Toyota Land Cruiser brought the two victims further into the countryside, to a place undetected by authorities so far. What is known is that they were given inections with lidocaine, which brings the blood pressure down to lethal levels within hours. It was found in their bodies which were discovered years later.

“The estranged former son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s president was charged with murdering two bankers,” The Associated Press reported on June 16 last year quoting prosecutors. “Rakhat Aliyev was sentenced in absentia to 40 years in jail in 2008 on charges including attempting to overthrow the government. Aliyev has managed to defy demands for his extradition from Austria by arguing that he would be denied a fair trial in his home country. General Prosecutor Askhat Daulbayev said Aliyev will now face a new trial. He has already been convicted on charges of kidnapping the two bankers, who authorities say were abducted in early 2007 after becoming embroiled in a commercial dispute with Aliyev. […] Kazakhstan hopes the prospect of a new criminal prosecution could persuade the Austrian authorities to relent and hand over Aliyev and his accomplices.”

But the blood on Aliyev’s hands appears to be older than just that. A second murder case dates from the middle of 2004. In early morning of June 19, police spotted a mutilated corpse on the outskirts of Beirut. Their diagnosis: “accident, possibly suicide”. Not to the satisfaction of relatives, however, who were to cry wolf over what they denounced as a deliberate cover-up. Photographs in their possession would show body mutilations almost beyond recognition and they wonder how it could have been that a medic in the service of the local court of law, Asem Haydar, could have stated to have observed “no signs of violence inflicted” to the victim previous to her death. It would probably have blown over but for the identity of the victim. But Anastasia Novikova, a Russian immigrant in the one-time war tub, was more than just a victim. Her husband was Danyar Yesten, a Kazakh migrant and cousin of the man whose name sends shivers through many a spine in his country of origin: Rakhat Aliyev, whose sister with her husband also lives in Beirut. Crucial question: whose was the unborn baby Anastasia carried in her belly? Her lawful husband, Aliyev would claim. Aliyev’s – according to the victim’s parents.

Apart from both murder files, hundreds of millions if not billions are known to have been diverted from their legal circulation by Aliyev and accomplices both before and during his stay in Austria. Investigations there, as well as in Switzerland and Germany, are dragging on, though, without much details about the culprit’s financial dealings and the network through which they have taken place having reached the public domain so far. What did become known is that Aliyev’s first (as far as known) private holding was founded on August 3, 2004 under the name Schwarcz & Co, with the address Schellinggasse 7, Vienna. On March 21, 2007, the name was changed into A.V. Maximus Holding AG – soon after which it started moving frequently from one address downtown the capital to the other. Its main activity was posted as “real estate property and management”. But the enterprise controlled other several other companies including a movie and television programme production firm called Speedy-Funk, a company called Armoreal Trading GmbH, an asset management firm called ASTA GmbH, and a non-profit foundation called Global Sugar Privatstiftung, according to an Austrian directory called BusinessABC. Through Armoreal, Aliyev controlled Germany’s Metallwerke Bender. Maximus also had a Swiss branch under the same name located in Geneva, and another offshore firm under its name on the British Virgin Islands.

One more enterprise within A.V. Maximus’ conglomerate used to be Vienna-based START Managementconsulting GmbH, the name of which popped up only lately, after in the middle of May this year the Football Federation of Kazakhstan had filed a case against it at the Chief Prosecutor of Austria’s office. Aliyev, who was the FFK’s chairman in his glorious days, had put all financial interests of the Federation, including incoming money from sponsors and payments for foreign players and trainers, under the management of START, according to the plaintiffs. They claim that between March 2006 and January 2007 alone, in the order a million euro in sponsor money has been paid to START that never reappeared in the accounts. All the same, in early 2007 the contract between the Federation and START was renewed, along with two transfers, one of 32,000 euro and another one of 371,000 euro, to the account of the Austrian enterprise. On Novmber 18, 2009, START was liquidated.

Investigations into the entire transnational network started almost three years back in time – but little progress has been noted in them ever since. Over the summer of 2010, the Viennese court received the request “… to order banks and property-registering authorities to present information on the accounts and property of Rakhat Aliyev and freeze all the transactions related to them,” in the words of the Kazakh news agency Tengrinews, quoting the local newspaper Novaya Gazeta. “On September 12 the court made this decision and issued an order of enforcement for 20 Austrian banks, including Raiffeisenbank and UniCredit, as well as for tax authorities of the regions of Vienna where Aliyev might own property.” Swiss and German public investigators pledged to start investigating the underground embezzlement network belonging to Rakhat Aliyev and associates well over a year earlier. So far, nothing in terms of even provisional results has reached the public domain.

What has been known for some time is that not long before his flight from Austria, Rakhat Aliyev changed his name into Shoraz, after the maiden name of his assistant Elnara Shorazova whom he married shortly after his forced separation from Dariga Nazarbayeva. His new father-in-law, Muratkhan Shorazov, is his new business associate – also living in Vienna, according to a report dated March 11 2010 in the Kazakh electronic news wire Nomad. Shorazov’s own enterprise, known as Orman, has swallowed most of the business interests of Aliyev’s A.V. Maximus Holding, and together they have merged into a new holding called AGRC. It can be assumed that in the meantime, traces of these firms have been wiped out and new cover-up enterprises have taken their places, either on the spot or on different locations.

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