Rakhat Aliyev files revisited: who is helping him, where, why and for how much
II/The Austrian connection
If it was a hoax, it was not really funny. After initial impressions that confidential information from prosecutors concerning court verdicts in Austria was indeed erupting, it has now become clear that a public verdict by a public court of law has been jumped upon by those who felt themselves losers in the game. The verdict concerned a request by the government of Kazakhstan to extradite former minister, security chief, banker and presidential son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, convicted to 40 years behind bars in all at home for double murder, kidnapping, torture, staging an armed coup, abuse of funds and goods – and what else. The request was turned down by the court – but irregularities have popped up time and again ever since, thereby raising fears that the verdict has been based on an Austrian government decision made in astounding haste at the time to grant Aliyev asylum, residence and citizenship. In all: plenty of material for a new chapter in the Aliyev-thriller – even though the material making headlines today appear to be by and large misleading.
BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, KZW SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR
Downtown Vienna, there seems to be, and probably is, a cozy pub named Schwarze Kameel (Black Camel). Once or twice a week, a peculiar company used to gather around the drinking table there, taking tough and secretive business. The company included two men identified as Martin Standl and Christoph P?chinger, owners and managers of a so-called “litigation-PR” firm called Suevia, based in Vienna. The key figure, however, despite the fact that he is not believed to have joined the company often, if ever at all, was of quite different stature, and no one less than Christian Pilna?ek, one of Austria’s most powerful state officials since he waves the sceptre over all state prosecutors on behalf of the Ministry of Justice’s penal department. As for P?chinger and Standl, both men had ranked high in the ministry’s echelons at the time of justice minister Karin Gastinger, before they opted for private business. Very private indeed – but with high-risk public sector affiliations at the same time.
This is the scene set by Austria’s daily paper Kurier in what now appears to be a set-up with the aim to discredit the lawyer of the two murdered bankers’ widows, Dr. Gabriel Lansky. According to the newspaper, Pilna?ek, who was in regular contact with his two drinking table interlocutors with the latter two having his private mobile telephone number at their disposition, frequently discussed topics of the day – including the Aliyev case which is high on Austria’s agenda these days since the former ambassador of Kazakhstan is now confronted with murder investigations in his first choice of refuge location – an investigation that may well spread over most of Europe in the upcoming year.
Pilna?ek in a reaction on request of the newspaper admitted to know the two “PR” men and to have discussed the issue with them, but always refraining from getting into detail outside what had already reached the public domain. Therefore, he dismisses the allegation made by the paper that he would have passed on information to Dr. Lansky concerning a court verdict dated June 16 2011 in which the (second) request from the Kazakh justice ministry to extradite Aliyev to his country of origin was being dismissed. The Kurier’s article does not mention Lansky’s name but alleges that Pilna?ek’s private mobile number had been previously passed on to “the head of a major law office in Vienna” – pointing at Lansky – who appeared to have known the verdict instantly and went public with a fulminating protest against it the very next day.
The accusation is hilarious enough in itself since such sessions and the verdicts included in them are public to begin with – but despite this Aliyev’s lawyer, Dr. Manfred Ainedter, has now filed a complaint against X, clearly pointing at Pilna?ek, for having passed on classified information, and clearly pointing at Lansky for having received and used it. Lacking sound legal arguments, Ainedter’s move looks like an attempt to keep up noise while his client can use the overall distraction to escape from his new hideout of Malta once more. According to some reports, he is currently cruising the Mediterranean on his private yacht, which is believed to be seaworthy enough to eventually bring him safe and sound – and undetected – across the Atlantic to the Americas.
But according to Lansky’s office, there is still more behind the fight over the fate of the Man who would be Chief in far-off Kazakhstan. The reason why particularly the Kurier lashed out with what seems to be a blown-up would-be affair at best, lies in the fact that its present-day chief editor Helmut Brandst?tter used to earn more than handsome fees for lobbying and publicity campaigns on behalf of Rakhat Aliyev before he took on his present-day job through his PR agency Brandst?tter Business Communications. This was revealed by a rival newspaper, ?sterreich (Austria) on July 5 2012 – shortly after a criminal case had been filed against Brandst?tter. The latter reacted by suing ?sterreich’s chief editor. The judicial fight ended with Brandst?tter biting the dust, but appeals from both sides are still hanging in the air.
Today’s proceedings might well appear to be a tip of the iceberg where investigations into Aliyev’s movest and tricks in Austria are concerned. Even though the culprit himself will be likely to be on the run, it will be interesting to see what his one-time “friends” in case a few of them crack and speak out, will have to report. In particular the funding and fund embezzlement of his campaigns deserves more light to be shed on them. Rakhat Aliyev, from 2010 on living under the name Shoraz, after the maiden name of his assistant Elnara Shorazova whom he married shortly after his forced separation from Dariga Nazarbayeva.
As noted before, Aliyev’s new father-in-law, Muratkhan Shorazov, was to become his new business associate – also living in Vienna, according to a report dated March 11 2011 in the Kazakh electronic news wire Nomad. By that time Shorazov’s own enterprise, known as Orman, had swallowed most of the business interests of Aliyev’s A.V. Maximus Holding, and together they had merged into a new holding called AGRC. The article concluded, however, that Shorazov kept trotting on slippery grounds, and that, as numerous former associates of the Man who would be Chief could confirm while others were no longer alive to confirm it, could be pretty dangerous. For Kazakhstan, the danger to its security seemed to have been neutralised for the moment into the second decade of the new century. Whether it had been entirely eliminated, time would tell.
The chairman of the board of A.V. Maximus was a certain Christian Leskoschek, about whom little else ever became known. A lot more, however, was to become known of the holding’s president of the board administrators – for Adolf Wala was no one less than the former director-general of the National Bank of Austria, a post he had held between 1988 and 1998, after which he became its president until he retired in 2003. Retired? Two most revealing articles in Austria’s leading daily Der Standard dated July 26 and July 31 2009 were to tell a most fascinating story. Not only did Wala hold the post of managing director of ASTA, in which he owned 90 per cent with the remaining 10 per cent in the hands of Aliyev’s A.V. Maximus. He also remained in control of OeNB Immo-Gesellschaft which he had founded back in time. In 2007, he helped A.V. Maximus to establish a new real estate company under the name Howa Projectentwicklung GmbH, under nominal director of a lawyer named Peter Jandl.
On June 1, 2007, the Austrian business magazine Format reported that two major-size Austrian banks, the Bank Austria Creditanstalt and Raifeissen International, had been “showing interest for some time” in purchasing Nurbank of Kazakhstan, then still firmly under Aliyev’s control. In a comment to the magazine, Aliyev claimed that talks had already been going on for a period of five years, and the sale was due to take place before the end of the year. As for Wala, once affairs started popping up in the public domain, he remained on the defensive and claimed that he never had anything to do with negotiations concerning the sale of Nurbank, and that he never had any relation whatsoever with any state security organisation. He would also claim that he resigned from all functions within Maximus’ conglomerate as soon as the news on Aliyev’s troubles at home had broken.
On November 29 2009, FPO Parliamentary Werner Neubauer filed a long list of questions to state intelligence director Peter Gridling. After the latter declared that security rules forbade him to answer, the MP addressed the same questions to the Federal Interior Minister. The reason was the publication, in fall that year, by the Austrian weekly magazine NEWS that on 24 May 2007, one day before he was sacked as ambassador, Rakhat Aliyev signed a contract with a public relations firm called Red Carpet Opinionleader Consulting, brought to him on recommendation of Adolf Wala, with the aim to lay and maintain close contacts with state ministers and top civil servants in order “to get insight and influence in key state decisions” – in the article’s words. One of the contacts mentioned was a top official at the interior ministry called Christian Switak, under cabinet minister G?nther Platter. Red Carpet would be supposed to have received the handsome amount of 499,200 US dollar as an advance fee for the job the same day. With the judicial struggle on Rakhat Aliyev’s extradition to Kazakhstan, where in the meanwhile he had been convicted in absentia to 40 years in prison for a long list of offenses including fraud, embezzlement, abuse of office, kidnapping, murder, consipracy against the state and what else, still in the air, all attempts to seize the stolen money supposedly absorbed by his business empire abroad were poised to remain vain.
It was to appear later on, though, that Aliyev’s moves to mobilise political uppity must have triggered a backlash against him through people working for his victims – notably the security people who got under pressure while Aliyev was still at an early stage of his career under the cabinet of Akezhan Kazhegeldin from 1994 to1997. It was then when one of the guards involved, Pyotr Afanasenko, assumedly fell into the hands of Aliyev in the service of the latter’s coup attempt in 2002, and, having been under torture as a warning, forced to cooperate. As known, the coup fell through, but while Aliyev apparently got away with it and was shelved as ambassador to Austria, Afanasenko together with a number of others went behind bars, only to be pardoned after having served a year and seven months. Having found refuge in Belgium, Afanasenko sought justice against Aliyev with the help of Lothar de Maizi?re, the last prime minister of East Germany and now a private lawyer who still loves the limelight.
The abuses inflicted on Afanasenko were recognised by an Austrian court of law which condemned Aliyev to payment of a minor sum. But the verdict also represented a ticket to Brussels’ EU echelons with the ultimate aim to nail the Austrian government on the irregularities committed at the time in connection with Aliyev’s residence and political refugee status in the country. This, in turn, should make other host countries in Europe and beyond think twice before having to cope with a similar pitfall. “Rakhat Aliyev has lost a case for the first time since he has been hiding in Europe,” the Kazakh news agency Tengrinews reported on September 14 2010, quoting the Kazakh daily Novaya Gazeta. “The case was won by Pyotr Afanasenko, former bodyguard of ex-Prime-Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. Afanasenko received Belgian citizenship in May this year and filed a lawsuit to the Vienna regional court demanding Aliyev to compensate moral damages in the amount of 7,000 euro,”
But the affair would appear to stretch a lot further than just that. “This decision gives Afanasenko a right to send claims to respective European authorities asking to search for Aliyev’s property at the whole territory of the European Union and demand it to be arrested for the purpose of fulfilling the court’s decision,” Tengrinews reported further down its article. “Schermayer sent a request to Viennese court asking it 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. […] 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. This decision gives Afanasenko’s lawyers a right to apply to banks and other EU member-countries with a claim to act upon the decision of the Austrian court, including to those in Malta, where Aliyev has moved, according to his lawyers.”
Everything suggests that the upcoming year will show exciting developments shaking up authorities not just in Kazakhstan and in Austria, but probably in Malta where similar irregularities have been spotted in Aliyev’s permit to stay, and possibly Germany and Switzerland where multi-hundre-million and possiblt multi-billion money laundering operations by Aliyev appear to have taken place. In Austria, his former diplomatic immunity has been lifted pending an investigation by the Austrians concerning the murder of two top executives of Nurbank, formerly Aliyev’s, for which he could be apprehended and held in preventive detention if caught anywhere within the Schengen zone for European security. Originally, the culprit fled Austria to Malta in clear comprehension, from where he is now thought to be on his way to the USA in his private yacht – making him a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records as the richest boat refugee ever. It could make sense: Aliyev is also reputed to love assault guns…