Rakhat Aliyev files revisited: who is helping him, where, why and for how much
I/The Anglo-Lebanese connection
Exiles from all exotic corners of the world living a lavish plush life are hardly an uncommon phenomenon in London’s uppity neighbourhoods any longer. Many of them come from places where the bulk of the populations’ misery stands in sharp contrast to the luxury displayed by their far more fortunate compatriots. Two Palestinian brothers known under their surname Hourani are exemplary rather than exceptional in this regard. What sets the two, raised in Lebanon and holders of US passports, apart from most (though not all) of their jungle barons is that their connections are heavily intertwined with the interests of one of the most notorious exiles-on-the-move from Kazakhstan known by the name of Rakhat Aliyev. First hiding out in Vienna, now in Malta and rumoured to be on the springboard to America, The tree-fold murderer, putschist and multi-billion embezzler has become the subject of investigations by the US Congress concerning his wheeling and dealing – with traces leading as far as Sudan. Aliyev’s bid for a refugee status in the United States could be thwarted by Barrack Obama’s latest bid to outlaw assault guns which are considered Aliyev’s favourite toys. But then, the billionaire victim of what he dubs Kazakh state repression might well find comfort in either Palestine or Sudan, where murder weapons are still more in vogue.
BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, KZW SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR
“Two brothers leading lavish lifestyles in London have attempted to secure lucrative oil contracts from Sudan’s sanctioned regime with a helping hand from the Palestinian Authority,” an English online information reel called The Commentator wrote on December 17 this year [http://www.thecommentator.com/article/2277/exclusive_palestinian_leadership_helps_break_sanctions_on_sudan]. “Issam and Devincci Hourani’s involvement with Palestinian Authority corruption surfaced at a hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs this summer, which heard that they were working with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ son Yasser Abbas on business deals all over the world, including in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, and Sudan. The Congressional Committee heard that US intelligence officials had established that Yasser Abbas worked with Devincci Hourani to pursue an oil business in Sudan called Caratube International Oil Company (CIOC), and that the two individuals received help from the Palestinian Authority Ambassador to Sudan to win three oil blocks on behalf of CIOC. CIOC, owned by Devincci Hourani, a US national, was prohibited by US federal law from engaging with the Sudanese oil industry due to US sanctions that have been placed on the Sudanese regime for its flagrant human rights violations related to the genocide in Darfur. It would appear neither Hourani nor his Palestinian enablers were deterred by Sudan’s atrocious human rights record however. […] The Commentator has learned that the brothers have used a flat worth ?7.5 million in the centre of one of the poshest neighborhoods in town, in Lowndes Square in Knightsbridge. Both Issam Hourani and his wife Gulshat are on the UK electoral roll at this address and the brothers use private jets to fly in and out of London, where they cavort in top luxury hotels and nightclubs.”
Issam Hourani is married to Gulshat Aliyeva, a younger sister of Rakhat Aliyev, Tengrinews reminded in a review on the issue two days later [http://en.tengrinews.kz/crime/Palestinian-authority-suspected-of-lobbying-for-Rakhat-Aliyevs-relatives-15368/]. The case concerning Devincci, like his brother a US citizen, refers to a company called Caratube International Oil Company (CIOC) which he owns. It is involved in the deals with Sudan – but also in a controversy regarding an oil field in western Kazakhstan after which the enterprise has been named. Devincci “”U.S. companies are prohibited by U.S. federal law from engaging with the Sudanese oil industry because the United States have placed sanctions on the Sudanese regime for its extremely poor human rights situation related to the genocide in Darfur. However Hourani chose to break the sanctions on Sudan,” Tengrinews reminded. “According to The Commentator, Congress was told that the Houranis both received Palestinian diplomatic passports, which according to the U.S. intelligence officials entitle them to travel with immunity. Diplomatic passports are reserved for diplomats and other important officials, such as ministers and heads of security services. Those who do not satisfy these positions can only acquire such a passport directly from the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, raising questions about his role in enabling the illicit deal by granting diplomatic passports to two individuals who are not even Palestinian citizens.”
“Devincci Hourani is a subject of investigation in Kazakhstan as well,” the news agency relates in its latest report. “In June 2012 Tengrinews.kz reported that Kazakhstan won an arbitration in Paris against Hourani. The dispute in Kazakhstan “was related to termination of the contract for exploration and production of hydrocarbons at Caratube field because of violations and failure to perform the contract terms by CIOC company, allegedly owned by Devincci Hourani, Kazakhstan’s Justice Ministry said. Issam Hourani’s marriage to Gulshat Aliyeva, a younger sister of Rakhat Aliyev, helped him navigate his dealings in Kazakhstan. Having secured the backing of the “high-powered” family member, Issam Hourani started accumulating capital in Kazakhstan, involving other family members and partners, including his younger brother Devincci Hourani.”
In the Aliyev case, there were two Houranis: Devincci and Issam – both of Palestinian origin and carrying US and UK passports respectively, and operating mainly in Lebanon. Apart from lobbyist activity, the Hourani brothers put their bets on courtrooms as well. On September 23 2010 US law firm Crowell & Moring LLP published a press release informing that it had “…filed a lawsuit on behalf of a U.S. citizen and his British brother whose multi-billion dollar business empire was seized by Kazakhstan. The brothers filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Washington-based consultant Alexander Mirtchev and his corporate affiliates, Krull Corporation, GlobalOptions Inc., and GlobalOptions Management Inc. The complaint alleges that Mirtchev and his affiliates supported and orchestrated Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in a politically-motivated campaign to expropriate the Hourani brothers’ investments in Kazakhstan and destroy their reputations internationally. […] The Hourani brothers had extensive investments in energy, food services, real estate, media and pharmaceuticals, and are upstanding business professionals who have a right to their investments and have earned their good name despite the best efforts of the Kazakh consultants to steal both.”
The facts behind the allegation appeared to look somewhat different, though. Among the “extensive investments” referred to was the concession for the Caratube oil field located in the west of Kazakhstan. The field had been discovered by the Soviets in the 1960s but left idle ever since but for a few test wells. Caratube (Karatobe) was supposed to contain 90 million tonne of oil, of which, however, with currently available technology only 31.5 million tonne, or in the order of 23 million barrels, could be recovered – representing less than one-third of the world’s daily consumption – but still in the order of 2 billion US dollar in end sales according to current trends on the oil market, with Kazakhstan’s Ural benchmark having traded at an average of a hundred greenbacks per barrel in most of 2010 and 2011. The Caratube drilling concession had been given in May 2002 to an enterprise by the name of Caratube International Oil Company, registered in The Netherlands and presumed to be Canadian-owned. The real owner, however, would appear to be Devvinci Hourani, a Lebanese whose brother Issam was, and assumedly still is, married to the sister of no one less than Rakhat Aliyev. As for the “investments”, money was painfully lacking.
As early as 2004, it became clear that neither Caratube International nor its nominal Canadian parent company Aurado Energy had the financial reserves to cope with the challenges – nor did it show much capability to raise the necessary funds up-front. On July 9, an attempt to raise the modest sum of 12 million Canadian dollar was being trumpeted – followed by mysterious silence ever since. “Aurado Energy Inc. reports that Banque Cramer & Cie. SA of Geneva, Switzerland has arranged for the account of certain of its clients the private placement of 75,000,000 Units at C$0.16, with each Unit consisting of one common share and one 5-year common share purchase warrant exercisable at C$0.19 per share, for total proceeds to the Company of C$12,000,000,” a press release published the same day read. “A finder’s fee is payable on the placement. The private placement has been approved by the Toronto Stock Exchange (the “TSX”), with the completion of the transaction subject to satisfaction of usual and customary conditions imposed by the TSX for transactions of this nature.”
Apart from the fact that the sum sought for would hardly be enough to pay routine costs on the spot in Kazakhstan and never come anywhere near the money needed for further drilling operations, it did demonstrate that the venture’s cash base mainly consisted of thin air. In the course of 2006/’07, authorities began to suspect that in spite of the company’s claim that no so-called profit oil had been produced, Caratube International was in fact selling crude on the open market by proxy. Suspicions of non-commitment eventually led to the withdrawal of its licence in January 2008. During the year that followed, the enterprise nevertheless managed to lay its hands on close to 10 million US dollar cashed in despite the cancellation, while salaries and other bills were left unpaid, according to a report published later by Central Asia Online on February 21 2011.
Caratube was just one example of the way Rakhat Aliyev’s proxies carried out their business. The Hourani brothers were also to claim in later years to have lost a chicken farm in the northeast of the country, worth up to 7 billion US dollar (if one puts the value of a chicken at 2 dollar a piece, this would mean in the order of three-and-a-half billion chickens huddling up together on a single farm). Moreover, they were to claim considerable sums for what in legal terminology is known as immaterial damage. Furthermore, suspicions existed that the Hourani hoax had been little more than one of Aliyev’s instruments to leverage as many Kazakhstan-located assets’ value abroad as could could get, through a method that strikingly reminds one of Mukhtar Ablyazov’s fund and collateral split and diversion schemes.
Finally, there was the mysterious “suicide” of Anastasia Novikova, the Russian immigrant in Lebanon whose mutilated corpse was found on the outskirts of Beirut on June 19, 2004. As noted earlier, her husband was Danyar Yesten, a Kazakh migrant and cousin of Rakhat Aliyev, whose sister with her husband also lived in Beirut – and that husband would appear to be no one less than Devincci Hourani’s brother Issam. Part of that truth behind the crime must have been the fact that Anastasia was a journalist by profession and as she must have been acquainted with information that was as sensational as it was embarrassing for her dear relatives, she could as well be considered meat to be wasted by people little known for their consideration.
Issam Hourani, according to the October 2009 publication, was in charge, on behalf of Aliyev, of a number of mailbox enterprises names of which included Global Trading Company, Imperial Sugar Co., World Media Corporation, Global Media Distribution – all based in Lebanon. Apart from these, Hourani supervised a number of offshore firms such as Atlantic Partners Corp., and Global Futures International, both based on the British Virgin Islands, and Sugar Inpex, based in Austria. According to the report, transfers of cash in name for goods and services that only existed on paper in the order of 10 million US dollar each day used to be funneled out of Kazakhstan, mainly through Nurbank which Aliyev controlled, for a period between three and four years. It is all too likely that the murders of two of Nurbank’s executives as well as that of Anastasia were meant to prevent eventual whistle-blowers from whistling. Today, a fresh squad of whistleblowers is queuing up – even though the outcome of proceedings they are about to trigger leaves a lot to be guessed for the upcoming year and probably beyond.