Viktor Khrapunov’s caprices: one flew over the cuckoo’s clock/II
Can money having been stolen in Kazakhstanand ending up in Switzerland be considered the bait of a criminal act committed on Swiss territory? This is the question over which lawyers in months if not years to come will have to twist arms and pull ropes. Preliminary results of an ongoing judicial investigation into the wheelings and dealings of former Almaty mayor Viktor Khrapunov have revealed a number of business connections through strings of both domestic and offshore companies in the style of his son’s spouse’s father Mukhtar Ablyazov. Some of them had already been identified in media reports. But names and locations of mailbox and camouflage companies also point at Switzerland as Khrapunov’s main haven to stack his embezzled funds and collected “commissions” years before he ended up on the bank of Lake Geneva himself: a well prepared network to cache assets’ and funds’ ownership and keep them out of reach for Kazakh authorities trying to recuperate lost paper and cash. A recent global request for Khrapunov’s arrest and subsequent extradition to Kazakhstan was issued in late February this year.
BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, KZW SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR
Viktor Khrapunov, Almaty’s one-time mayor who reputedly snatched a handsome couple of hundreds of millions in Swiss francs from the former Kazakh capital’s community in his back pocket when he waved goodbye to end up on the banks of Lake Geneva where he resides today, is now un the search list of Interpol on the request of the authorities of his country of origin. Though taken at the expense of the city of Almaty and a number of private investors in the former capital, the money should be considered having been laundered on Swiss territory – which makes his case open to eventual prosecution in Switzerland proper. This is driving Kazakh prosecutors to prove the fact that money has been embezzled from public funds through inappropriate “privatisations” of property never meant to be privatised to begin with – and undervalued in the process, only to see its value being upgraded through a network of mailbox companies on the spot. Eventually, the cash ended up in Switzerland at the bank account of Viktor Khrapunov’s spouse in volumes exceeding the original purchasing sum by hundreds of per cents.
Among the cases popped up during recent investigations is the one of a nursery school downtosn Almaty which was put on sale by the municipal property management office through the Almaty Territorial Committee for State Property and Management, the chairman of which, a certain K. M. Biskultanov, is now believed to have been an accomplice in the scheme. It all started back in 2001, when the centre, built in Soviet times and in dire need for renovation, became the object of a privatisation tender issued by Biskultanov’s office. There is doubt today whether the plot could be privatised under the law to begin with. Whatever the case, the winner of the tender would be obliged to pay up for a bill amounting to 464.9 million Kazakh tenge (about 4 million US dollar at the time) for repairs and refurbishing.
The knack in the process was soon to become clear. The tender was won by a company called KazRealIncome LLP, general director of which would turn out to be a certain Mrs. A. A. Sadykbekova – a name that also appeared in the higher echelons of the Almaty City administration. A complicating factor, though, was that there had been a contender in the tender in the form of a polyclinic called Baynalys. The latter suspected a kickback and tender information leaks, resulting in a fake valuation of the plot, and took the case to court. After the court had been dragging its feet (pressed?) for more than two years, the municipality considered the case expired and ordered the property transaction to KazRealIncome. Within a month after the transfer, the latter sold the property to another company called Karasha Plus LLP. It would appear later that Karasha belonged to Gulnar Ilyasova, the sister of Viktor Khrapunov’s spouse Leyla. General director of both RazRealIncome and Karasha was a certain A. U. Karimsakov.
Within two days following the transaction, reportedly worth 52.1 million tenge, without even mentioning the sum needed to be paid for the renovation, the plot was re-sold to another company called Building Service Company LLP, owned and headed by Almaty’s First Lady Leyla Khrapunova, for the same price. This only enriched the latter firm’s property to a total exceeding 2.5 hectare of blue-chip land downtown Almaty. By the end of 2003, Building Service Company LLP was sold for just over 2 billoion Kazakh tenge to another company the name of which has yet to be disclosed. It would appear, though, that the payment for the purchase ended up on a Swiss private bank account on the name of no one less than Keyla Khrapunova.
If one follows recent British jurisprudence concerning Mukhtar Ablyazov, who hid billions of pound Sterling on British territory (including the British Virgin Islands) which originally came from loans granted by his one-time bank BTA based in Almaty, while diverting the rights to collateral to other parties, part of which were located in the Russian Federation while others had administrative homes in Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Switzerland and elsewhere. British courts of law in the course of proceedings brought in by BTA’s present-day management on behalf of the state have recognised jurisdiction under British law over the right, if BTA can prove its lawful claims, to return cash and assets back to the lender to compensate the bank for its losses.
But whether or not eventually the scheme, along with dozens of similar cases, makes the “Swiss Connection” plausible enough to make the offences liable to prosecution by Swiss authorities remains to be seen. Jurisprudence concerning such cases in Switzerland remains recent and relatively scant. Verdicts have been mild enough to view them as almost encouraging, as in most other European countries. Moreover, there is the danger that the victim, in this case the city of Almaty, might be forced to turn to negotiations to obtain a settlement rather than bringing the casу properly to justice.
“There were 52 cases of white-collar crime brought before Swiss courts during the past year involving losses of CHF 365 million,” a report written in early 2011 by KMPG’s Swiss branch read. “Figures show that multiple defendants are standing trial in many of these cases and also that many suits entail accusations of professional fraud or gang-related money laundering. Compared to the previous year, 2010 saw a slight drop in the number of cases being brought to trial which are relevant for the KPMG Forensic Fraud Barometer: This number declined from 57 in 2009 to 52. There has also been a decline in terms of the amount of losses sustained: the previous year’s total of CHF 1.5 billion was largely attributable to the biggest case of organized crime and money laundering ever to have been brought to trial in Switzerland. The criminally relevant damage in 2010 came to a total of just under CHF 365 million. One reason for this decline could lie in the fact that many of the victimized companies are increasingly reaching damage restitution agreements with the employees who committed the crimes and refraining from bringing criminal charges against them. […] The KPMG Forensic Fraud Barometer only examines the tip of the iceberg. According to surveys conducted by KPMG, judicial authorities are only called in on some 20% of all cases. Of these, many are not sent to court and are instead either handled in summary proceedings without trial or abandoned for lack of evidence. White-collar crime can easily drive companies to the brink of bankruptcy. It is important that businesses are aware of this and, accordingly, take preventive measures on time.”