Rakhat Aliyev files revisited: who is helping him, where, why and for how much
III/The Maltese connection
Attempts by Kzakhstan’s “prodigal son-in-law” Rakhat Aliyev to manipulate authorities in his original Austrian refuge may have bought him time, but in the end it looks as though justice will have the last word – on paper at least. While it looks as if Aliyev now prepares the ground in the United States to find shelter against judicial investigations and cases against him, the ground in his present refuge of Malta also seems to get hotter and hotter underneath him. A case has been presented at a Maltese court of law by a rather unlikely plaintiff, namely former Kazakh prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin – himself frequently accused of having arranged numerous kickbacks and other business abuses while in office but never officially prosecuted for it. Now, the former politician has opted for a little patriotism, and brought forward a case – not directly against Rakhat ALiyev but against police for ignoring a complaint against Aliyev and thereby facilitating his acquisition of a residence permit on the island. The affair could shed more light on Aliyev’s financial manipulations involving hundreds of millions, possibly billions of dollars. But it could also push ALiyev to move to the next refuge where it could well be even more difficult to bring him to justice.
BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, KZW SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR
“The former prime minister of Kazakhstan and his two bodyguards have presented their final submissions to the Maltese court, which has to decide on whether the Maltese police must investigate former diplomat Rakhat Aliyev,” MaltaToday reported on January 4 this year. “Aliyev, 50, is accused by Akezhan Kazhegeldin of crimes against humanity when he detained, arrested and tortured under interrogation and while in imprisonment, his two bodyguards – Satzhan Ibraev and Pyotr Afanasenko – in an alleged act of political vengeances. […] The police had earlier in 2012 replied to Kazhegeldin’s lawyers claiming that the facts alleged ‘lacked the legal elements which constitute crimes against humanity required by Article 54 C of the Criminal Code’.” The newspaper, accused by the culprit of having been “financed” for witch-hunting him, quoted Kazhegeldin as stating: “This argument does not hold because the evidence presented proves sufficiently that the actions of Aliyev are indeed crimes against humanity. It has to be recognised that the systematic attack committed by Aliyev is considered as a crime according to Maltese law. Taking into consideration the cumulative effect of this series of inhumane actions, the number of people who suffered, the participation of the Kazakhstan secret service (NSC), and the territorial scale in which these crimes were committed, one can see clearly that these attacks were aimed at the removal of Kazhageldin and the political party he created.”
“Aliyev, 50, arrived in Malta with the help of Austrian financiers and their Maltese connections – lawyer Pio Vassallo among them – to set up a home for him and his family in 2010,” MaltaToday reminded in an earlier report published on December 30. “But the former son-in-law to Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev was being hunted down by those who claim he is responsible for numerous human rights violations. Soon, questions arose of how the Maltese government had awarded the millionaire a permanent residence permit, despite objections raised by the police due to a previous Interpol alert issued against him. The powerful family squabble between the President of the oil-rich nation of Kazakhstan and his powerful, exiled son-in-law even reached the island’s Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.”
A row between Aliyev and his initial lawyer made the two break up, but also attracted a lot of public attention to Kazakhstan’s champion bad boy’s overall dealings. “In the Maltese courts, a €2.4 million lawsuit was the subject of a bitter feud between Aliyev – who goes by the name of Rakhat Shoraz, and lives in Mellieha’s swank Santa Marija estate with wife Elnara Shorazova – and his former lawyer, Pio Valletta,” the article reminds. “According to the lawsuit, which is now the subject of an out-of-court-settlement, Valletta had called in former ministers Tonio Borg and Carm Mifsud Bonnici as witnesses: ostensibly to explain the difficulties he encountered in procuring a residence permit for Aliyev. In a list of services he rendered to the couple, Valletta charged them nothing short of a cool €150,000 because of the “difficulties” he encountered in procuring the permanent residence status, “due to the non-approval from the police authorities” on account of an Interpol alert that had been issued against Aliyev. […] Aliyev, who celebrated his 50th birthday on 10 December and can relocate to any place in the world, came to Malta some time in 2010 thanks to the permanent residence scheme that granted him a 15% flat tax rate for buying property. The property in question was one or more Fort Cambridge apartments in Tign?, the development owned by Gap Developments plc’s George Muscat and tuna-ranching magnate Charles Azzopardi.”
So far, authorities have turned a blind eye on attempts to bring Aliyev to justice in Malta or even to question the legality of his presence on the island. Last November, efforts by Pyotr Afanasenko and Satzhan Ibraev who used to be bodyguards to former Kazakh prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, and who claim they were subjected to torture under interrogation and in prison back in 2000, in attempts to make them “confess” that Kazhegeldin had planned a coup d’?tat against President Nursultan Nazarbayev – then father-in-law to Aliyev – have also fallen on deaf ears. In reality, it was Aliyev who conspired against the Kazakh state and government – but that would only come to light much later with the perpetrator sitting high and dry in Austria.
“The deputy Attorney General said Malta was ‘out of jurisdiction’ to investigate complaints of alleged human rights violations made against the former Kazakh diplomat and multi-millionaire exile Rakhat Aliyev, who is believed to be living in Malta under a residence permit,” a report published by Malta Today on November 15 last year read. “Donatella Frendo Dimech was appearing for the Commissioner of Police in a challenge brought against him in the court of Magistrate Antonio Mizzi by Kazakh national Pyotr Afanasenko, who claims he was tortured under interrogation and in prison on orders of Aliyev during the latter’s tenure as deputy head of the Kazakh secret service. Aliyev is being represented in Malta by defence lawyer Joe Giglio. Frendo Dimch said Commissioner of Police John Rizzo had been ‘hounded’ to proceed against Aliyev, who is married to Austrian national Elnara Shorazova, and lives in Malta under the surname Shoraz. Afanasenko’s lawyers in Malta have repeatedly called on the police to investigate Aliyev, but the police has so far refused to proceed, which is why a ‘police challenge’ was filed in the Maltese courts. […] Deputy Attorney General Donatella Frendo Dimech’s replica was again quite charged as she argued that Austria too did not extradite Aliyev because of the human rights situation in Kazakhstan. The investigations in Austria concern matters under their jurisdiction, she said, adding that if Kazakhstan was truly concerned about ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ then Astana should file the matter before the ICC at The Hague who would investigate and decide on arrest and extradition.
Five days later, Aliyev managed to make headlines once more. “The elusive former son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev made a rare appearance in the Maltese courts this week to answer to letters rogatory from Austrian prosecutors, who are investigating his involvement in the death of two Nurbank bankers in 2007,” Malta Today wrote on November 20. “Accompanied by his wife, Austrian citizen Elnara Shorazova, Aliyev entered the courtroom of Magistrate Claire Zammit Stafrace for his deposition. The day before on Thursday, the former prime minister of Kazakhstan complained in a Maltese court that the Commissioner of Police was refusing to investigate his political rival Aliyev, who has sought refuge in Malta” In the newspaper’s words, Aliyev appeared “stunned” at being approached by a MaltaToday journalist on the day of the court case. “When the time comes I will talk, but not now,” the paper quoted Aliyev as snapping. “What I can say is that MaltaToday is a newspaper which has chosen to persecute me and is being financed by people who have clear intentions. I had told this to your owner. I had met him. Your paper is not objective, and I am talking to my lawyers to sue you for defamation. This cannot go on.”
But of course it could, and so it did. “The former prime minister of Kazakhstan and his two bodyguards have vowed to seek justice in the European Court of Human Rights if the Maltese courts do not accede to their request to have the police investigate an allegation of human rights violations by multi-millionaire Rakhat Aliyev, currently living in exile in Malta,” Malta Today wrote on November 25. “ Their lawyer, Lothar de Maizi?re, came to the island earlier this week to hold meetings with representatives from the government and the opposition, explaining why the accusations by Akezhan Kazhegeldin, 60, and bodyguards Satzhan Ibraev and Pyotr Afanasenko, should be investigated by the Maltese police.” In his statement, the now 72-years-old last PM of the German Democratic Republic slammed the attitude of the Maltese authorities. “I obviously disagree with the Attorney General’s position that there is no jurisdiction, which is why I will wait for the judge’s ruling, and will exhaust all remedies available before taking this case further and into the European Court of Human Rights. “I know this is difficult: but the investigation of gross violations of human rights applies to any European country. It would be embarrassing for Malta if we were forced to go to Strasbourg,” De Maizi?re was quoted as declaring.
There is little doubt, though, that the Maltese authorities will keep dragging their feet from an affair they clearly consider politically contaminated for some time to come. Like in Austria, the Aliyev case, or rather string of cases, could well open a Pandora’s box the effects of which could stretch far beyond the cases as such and rattle Malta and its powers-that-be in more than one dimension. Thus, apart from two murder cases – the scenes of which have been Almaty and Beirut respectively, hundreds of millions if not billions of stolen money from the state coffers of Kazakhstan and from those of Aliyev’s one-time bank Nurbank in Almaty are believed to have been scattered by Aliyev on accounts of a string of offshore mailbox companies after the model used by Mukhtar Ablyazov, former major shareholder and head of Kazakhstan’s troubled BTA Bank. The financial side of the story has come under the attention of Austrian politicians – though not the most civilised ones themselves – who think that part of the money could be traced through Malta, where, naturally, the search has not gone unnoticed either.
“New allegations of money laundering and questions about Rakhat Aliyev’s company interests in Malta have been made in a new complaint against the Kazakh exile, to the State prosecutor in Vienna,” Malta Today reported on July 10 last year. “The accusations come from an unlikely quarter – the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FP?) – which has pounced on revelations in the Austrian press that Aliyev’s cash is funding a new real estate project for media houses in the St Marx quarter of Vienna. The FP? filed an official complaint against Aliyev – a former Kazakh diplomat now living in exile in Malta – to investigate the origins of the funds that his company AV Maximus used to finance the holding company that owns Media Quarter Marx. Media Quarter Marx is 60% owned by the City of Vienna, while the rest is owned by VBM GmBH – the company which loaned cash from Aliyev’s AV Maximus. The FP?’s demands include tracing the whereabouts of Aliyev’s fortune, after Malta’s money laundering investigators, the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, were alerted to Aliyev’s interests in Malta. According to information seen by MaltaToday, the FIAU was told that AV Maximus’s shareholding was transferred to a company set up in Malta under the name A&P Power, now renamed Zurich Asset Management. A&P Power was set up for Aliyev’s Austrian wife, Elnara Shorazova, to transfer the sum of €2.4 million from another Austrian firm Veitlissen. According to court documents in a case Shorazova filed against her former lawyer, Pio Valletta, A&P Power was renamed Zurich Asset Management, while the ultimate beneficial ownership was vested in A&P Power Holdings, another company based in the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts and Nevis.
In spring last year, the alarm had been ringing for the first time in Malta as German MEP Elmar Brok, former chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter requesting information on Aliyev’s permanent in Malta to Minister of Foreign Affairs Tonio Borg. No reaction seems to have come – at least officially. As for Borg, then a candidate for a position on the European Commission which he was to obtain in the winter, was later to be accused of having taken bribes, along with other unnamed officials, in order to grant Aliyev a residence permit without looking to deeply into the files, media in Brussels were to report on November 8, thereby igniting just one more time-bomb related to Rakhat Aliyev.
“Members of the European Parliament are slated to grill Tonio Borg, the replacement candidate for John Dalli as Malta’s EU Commissioner in Brussels, about his ties to Rakhat Aliyev, a former Kazakh ambassador to Austria suspected of human rights abuses and involvement in the murder of two bankers,” EurActiv.de reported on November 8. “[…] The European Parliament, the European Commission, Eurojust, the EU judicial cooperation unit, and other EU judicial authorities have long been aware of legal cases involving Rakhat Aliyev. Aliyev, a former Kazakh vice foreign minister and ex-ambassador to Austria, faces accusations of human rights abuses and torture and is suspected of involvement in the murder of two bankers. His name has also been cited in various money laundering affairs in several European countries.”
While moving to Brussels, Borg took little time to cry wolf and shed crocodile’s tears over the allegation. “Dr Borg told The Times it was the first time he heard the bribery allegations and he had never met Mr Aliyev,” The Times of Malta was to write referring to his reaction, and adding that he was prepared to take legal action: “This is crazy. No one in my life ever made such allegations,” the paper quoted Borg as exclaiming. “I have been in politics for so long and that someone even thinks I would take one cent for something I do is slanderous and pushed by people unhappy with my nomination. I am very, very hurt… it is absolutely preposterous.” In reality, he has more reason to rejoice than to regret. Initial attempts to prevent his appointment were doomed to go up in smoke overnight.