The Aliyev files: murder charges officially pressed close to New Year’s eve

The year 2014 has been one of high expectations regarding the chances that Kazakhstan’s two most notorious former high-placed officials turned criminal could finally be brought to justice in a foreseeable future. The case of former thieving banker, more than one-time kidnapper and murderer Rakhat Aliyev has proven to be the most laborious one – and getting more laborious by the day as proceedings drag on in the upper echelons of Austria’s justice system. At the time of writing, it just became known that his detention has been prolonged for another two month starting on December 29. All proceedings that should lead to bringing charges have been meticulously observed – including one proceeding regarding a so far unnamed witness but except for one wildcard in the process: the signature of the Minister of Justice Wolfgang Brandstetter, who also happens to have been Aliyev’s lawyer and protector for long years and could well be dragged into painful procedures as soon as the trial goes ahead. And even though according to the very logic of the course of justice he has finally signed and sent the “hot” document, lots of traps and loopholes remain in place during what promises to be a long and complicated court case.

BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, WRITER, NEWS ANALYST

The Aliyev files: murder charges officially pressed close to New Year’s eve“The former Kazakh ambassador Rakhat Aliyev, whom the Austrian justice department wants to put on trial for a twofold murder in his home country, has to remain in pre-trial detention,” a report by  the Austrian national news agency APA posted in Die Kleine Zeitung on December 29 [http://www.kleinezeitung.at/s/politik/innenpolitik/4628154/ExBotschafter_UHaft-fur-Aliyev-verlaengert] was to read, referring to the Vienna federal state court for penal cases, which made the decision to prolong the defendant’s detention for another two months on December 23. “Defence lawyers on behalf of Aliyev had filed an objection against the decision, on which only the superior federal state court can decided, the court’s spokesperson Christina Salzborn said further – pointing out that detention pending investigations in such serious criminal cases as murder is obligatory. From informed circles it has meanwhile been learnt that the interrogation of witness Lev N. has been carried out, as required by the justice ministry’s committee of wise men. With that, the last condition for the filing of charges in the Aliyev case has been fulfilled. State Prosecutor spokesman Thomas Vecsey told APA on Monday that regarding this there is no new information. Observers count on charges being filed within the next few days.” They were indeed on the very edge of the new year, as the national Austrian daily Der Standard [http://derstandard.at/2000009893192/Mordanklage-in-Causa-Alijew-eingebracht] first reported on December 30. A judge had been appointed as well, but on the content of the charges neither the court nor the prosecution could comment, since at this stage only both parties’ lawyers were privy to the complete document.

In an earlier lengthy article published on December 12, Kazakhstan’s leading periodical Vlast, [http://vlast.kz/article/pervye_sudebnye_slushanija_v_avstrii_po_delu_rahata_
alieva_mogut_projti_v_pervoj_polovine_2015_goda_advokat-8755.html], part of Russia’s Kommersant media group, quoted Anna Zeitlinger, legal consultant at the chancellery of Gabriel Lansky which defends the interests of the two widows of Aliyev’s murder victims, as observing that Aliyev’s lawyers are in fact fighting with their backs against the wall. “Aliyev discredits the investigation files but does not contest the murders he is being charged with,” in the legal assistant’s words as quoted in the article. “I can confirm, in line with what our media have reported, that the Viennese State Prosecution will press charges in the nearest future against Rakhat Aliyev, Alnur Mussayev and Vadim Koshlyak,” in Zeitlinger’s words. “But authorities on the Prosecution’s behalf have not yet been cleared to give official comments on the issue to the press. […] The official file as submitted by the State Prosecutor was approved but we still do not know which aspects are included in it. We can only assume that Rakhat Aliyev is being charged with twofold murder.”

According to Vlast, investigations leading to the draft charges now only waiting to be signed by justice minister Wolfgang Brandstetter and sent to court also include a third, earlier murder case located in Beirut, and a web of offshore mailbox firms in a number of EU member states including Austria and the Caribbeans through which Aliyev and consorts have tried to launder hundreds of millions in euro of embezzled and extorted funds from Kazakhstan. After having been cleared by the so-called committee of wise men appointed by Brandstetter, and in Vlat’s words “consisting of three highly-qualified Austrian jurists” – without naming them – as well as the national ombudsman for human rights, the minister should sign the “hot” document before the end of the year. Also according to Vlast, “… over the new year a time table for further proceedings is supposed to be ready […] after the [court’s] acceptance of the charges and the completion of objection procedures in case objections will be filed.” The first hearings in this case can be expected “already in the first half of 2015,” the report reads.

Observers hope that once proceedings in the courtroom finally take off, the endless smear campaigns by Aliyev’s lawyers, which has led to a string of tit-for-tat complaints in front of civil courts between lawyers on behalf of both sides, can be expected to cool down. “There is an ongoing campaign in process with the aim to discredit the materials that came out of the investigations by both Kazakh and Austrian authorities,” Zeitlinger is quoted in Vlast’s report as noting. “But I have heard nothing new from the side of the defence, we have seen nothing new at all through the last half year. We are convinced that the defence’s position will not hold, and the longer we look at it, the more obvious that becomes. And that is not just our position, but those observations are shared by investigators and prosecutors alike.”

According to Zeitlinger, the so-called “political trump card” in the defence’s argumentations have become more and more overshadowed by the gruesome facts through the years – even before Aliyev’s arrest. “Having observed the chronology of events and facts gathered, plaintiffs have come to the conclusion that the suspects’ declarations that they are supposed to be politically persecuted remain unfounded, nor do they see any assessment of reality in the defence’s arguments. And the most important thing is that the suspects’ argumentation in no way contests the murder charges and their justification,” in Zeitlinger’s words as quoted in the article.

In a report posted the same day by the two widows’ lobby Verein Tagdyr from the leading Austrian daily Die Presse [http://www.tagdyr.net/7190/fall-alijew-30-millionen-dollar-als-mordmotiv], tried to anticipate, retrospectively, on the Almaty murders’ motive. According to the report, “financial” rather than “political” motives are supposed to have been behind the twofold murder back in January 2007. The paper mentions a “30 million dollar dispute” involving a loan by Nurbank of that lump sum to an enterprise belonging to Aybar Khasenov, who was absent at the first confrontation over the issue but was little later to become one of the murder victims. The paper’s assumption, though, is only a small part of what happened, and which put the affair in a far more complex perspective.

As we reported as early as years ago. on January 18, 2007. Zholdas Timuraliyev, the deputy chair of the board of Nurbank, the seventh-largest bank in Kazakhstan, and the head of the bank’s administration official Abilmazhen Gilimov are about to make their way to the airport of Almaty for a business trip to Kiev, where they were to represent the bank’s president and majority shareholder Rakhat Aliyev. On their way, the two travellers receive a phone call from Aliyev, calling for an “urgent meeting” at the airport before their departure. He claimed that he had heard that their plane was delayed (nothing unusual) and offered to come to the airport to meet them. The meeting was to take place, but not in any way the two officials could have imagined. Once at the airport, they were taken to a discrete room in the security zone, where Aliyev and one of his men of confidence, Vadim Koshlyak (now also in detention in Austria as Aliyev’s co-suspect in the case), were waiting for them. The room was locked, Timuraliyev and Gilimov handcuffed and tied up, and it was only after some severe beatings that they heard what they had rolled into. Gilimov was demanded to render his stock in Nurbank at face value: 23,300 common shares at a price of 10,000 tenge, or about 30 euro at the time, “voluntarily”. As for Timuraliyev, he was to extort the business centre Ken Dala from its nominal owner, a certain Bolat Abdullayev, for a bargain price of 4.35 billion tenge, against the building’s par value of 14.75 billion, and hand it over to Aliyev. The two victims were ominously reminded of the risk they and their families would take by not complying. The two gave in – but while for Gilimov this was apparently the end of the affair, for his colleague it was not as the much-publicised continuation of the horror story has made sufficiently known.

A “confidential” US diplomatic report from the embassy in Kazakhstan to Washington, revealed years later by Wikileaks [http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07ASTANA1415_a.html], gave an impressive account of the situation as observed almost immediately after the event. “Over the past week the scandal surrounding presidential son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev’s alleged involvement in the January kidnapping of Nurbank officials (Refs A and B) has come to a head against the backdrop of intense public debate over constitutional reforms and presidential term limits. Aliyev, currently Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Austria and the OSCE, has appeared desperate to deflect attention from the mounting allegations against him,” the report reads. “In a statement published in his Karavan newspaper on May 18, Aliyev accused Almaty mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov and Minister of Internal Affairs Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov of conspiring against him and of being engaged in criminal fraud. Aliyev alleged that money stolen from Nurbank, where Tasmagambetov’s nephew Abilmazhen Gilimov was chairman, had been used for land speculation in Almaty.”

“Following the announcement of the reform package which included a provision lifting term limits on President Nazarbayev (Ref C), Aliyev told the Financial Times that the decision to lift term limits ‘would not improve the republic’s chances of winning the OSCE presidency’. He added that ‘I fear that my many years of work on the campaign may not bring success’. In an apparent attempt to counterbalance her husband’s comments, first daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva told Kazakhstan Today on May 22 that she had signed the proposal to lift constitutional term limits on Nazarbayev because ‘his historic mission is far from being accomplished’, and ‘strong presidential power is the chief guarantee of stability and democratic development’. On May 23, the Ministry of Internal Affairs held a press conference in Astana to announce that a criminal case had been opened against Aliyev and his colleagues V. Koshlak and A. Bekbayev under Article 125.3 of the Criminal Code regarding the January 18-19 kidnapping of Nurbank officials Abilmazhen Gilimov and Zholdas Timraliyev. Ministry spokesman Bagdat Kozhakhmetov also announced that a separate case under Article 125.3 had been opened and arrest warrants had been issued for five other individuals suspected in the January 31 disappearance of Timraliyev and his associate Aidar Hasenov. Both men remain missing. Kozhakhmetov stated that three other individuals were already in custody in relation to other crimes discovered during the investigation, including theft and organized criminal activity. 6. (U) Kozhakhmetov announced during the press conference that President Nazarbayev had personally ordered the Procurator General and the Minister of Internal Affairs to carry out the investigation into the Nurbank affair “in the most careful manner, without regard to profession or position.”

“Gilimov’s brother Samat Gilimov held a press conference in Almaty on May 23 to make public additional allegations against Rakhat Aliyev. He read from a two-page statement written by Abilmazhen Gilimov to the Medeo District Court judge hearing the case against him. (Note: Gilimov was arrested on February 14 by the Almaty Financial Police on charges of illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of power, and inciting a conflict between Almaty police and bank security. He is being detained during the trial. Many officers of the Financial Police are believed to be loyal to Aliyev, who headed the organization from 1997 to 1999. In the statement, which has been posted at www.kub.kz., Gilimov claimed that he and Timraliyev were abducted by “Rakhat Aliyev and his people” on January 18-19. Gilimov claimed that Aliyev told the two men that they needed to go with him to Kiev on business, but instead took them to a building in Almaty where he handcuffed them, threatened them with a gun, and demanded shares of the businesses of all of their friends and family members who had received loans from Nurbank. Aliyev wanted the owner of the Ken Dala business center in Almaty, where Nurbank is headquartered and who had received a $22 million loan from the bank, to transfer the property to him at no cost. Gilimov said that Timraliyev called the owner, Bolat Abdullayev, to convey the request. According to the statement, Gilimov managed to borrow a cell phone and call his wife to ask her to alert the authorities if he did not return home within an hour. After he told Aliyev that the police were on the way, Aliyev then agreed to pay $34 million for the Ken Dala building, and “promised not to harass us further if we remain silent.” Aliyev then released Gilimov and Timraliyev, only to fire them from Nurbank on January 22 and again demand title to the Ken Dala building for free. At that point, Gilimov signed a resignation letter and documents transferring his 8% share in Nurbank to Aliyev’s family. Gilimov stated that he last heard from Timraliyev on January 31 when his former colleague called him to say that he had been summoned to Nurbank on business. 10. (SBU) The same evening as the press conference, Astana TV (owned by the “other” presidential son-in-law Timur Kulibayev) aired a ninety-minute tape of Gilimov detailing his allegations against Aliyev. Gilimov did not say what day he made the recording, but it was apparently made while he was in detention. AlmaTV, owned by Aliyev and Nazarbayeva, began to broadcast the tape but quickly interrupted the transmission.”

“Foreign Minister Tazhin summoned the Ambassador for an urgent meeting on May 24 to warn that Aliyev would hold a press conference that day in Vienna, where he was expected to “sling a lot of mud” at the Kazakhstani government and the reform process. Tazhin asked that the U.S. be restrained in its reaction to Aliyev’s comments. He described President Nazarbayev’s decision to publicly order the law enforcement authorities to investigate the case thoroughly and objectively as a clear sign of the importance Nazarbayev attaches to reforming the system and rooting out corruption. Tazhin informed the Ambassador that Aliyev could not be stripped of his ambassadorial position until President Nazarbayev had made such a decision – which he (Tazhin) expected shortly. In the meantime, he felt himself in an awkward situation with an ambassador in Vienna who was publicly criticizing the President and now under criminal charges. Tazhin noted that while the President had been dealing with this behind the scenes, he had been actively engaged with the UNESCAP ministerial session in Almaty on May 21. Tazhin, who was seated with Nazarbayev at the head table with a gaggle of UN Under Secretaries General, said it was remarkable that the President displayed no signs of strain – actively participating in the conversation and engaging in extensive repartee with the other guests at his table. The Ambassador, who was also present at the dinner, found Nazarbayev to be in an excellent mood as well.“

“This is (at least) the third time that Aliyev’s outrageous behavior has driven Nazarbayev to take drastic action. In 2001 Aliyev was sent to “honorable exile” in Vienna for the first time after allegedly plotting to seize power. Following Aliyev and Nazarbayeva’s intense criticism of the government in the wake of the February 2006 murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, Aliyev was stripped of his post as Deputy Foreign Minister and sent back to Vienna, and Nazarbayeva’s Asar party was folded into Otan. Given Aliyev’s increasingly irrational behavior and his unprecedented public airing of grievances, which has shocked all levels of Kazakhstani society, this may well be the end of his public life in Kazakhstan. Tazhin noted to the Ambassador that the public will be overwhelmingly with the President on this issue; we agree with his prediction. Moreover, even if Nazarbayev made this move only under extreme provocation, it will cast a serious, and perhaps long-lasting, chill on the actions of other relatives and associates who have long behaved with complete impunity in business and their personal lives. When combined with the lifting of term limits, Nazarbayev’s public rebuke of Aliyev should eliminate for the foreseeable future the unseemly maneuvering among the family and other elites to position themselves for a succession struggle.”

The report reflects only part of what the Viennese court, once proceedings take off, is up to. A press release posted by Tagdyr on December 23 [http://www.tagdyr.net/7205/aliyevs-verteidigungsstrategie-laeuft-ins-leere] on the outlook for the upcoming year in the development of the case reads as follows: “Since it is now certain that it will come to charges against Vadim Koshlyak and Alnur Mussayev for the murders of Zholdas Timraliyev und Aybar Khassenov, the PR machinery maintained by Rakhat Aliyev and his attorneys works at full speed. The campaign sowing confusion and misinformation has only one purpose: spreading doubt regarding witness accounts and investigation results from Kazakhstan with the aim to get Aliyev and his codefendants acquitted. As part of this, suspicions and incriminations against the murder victims and their legal representatives are being raised.”

“This, though, will not stop us from our combat in order for justice to be done.  And we take confidence in the Austrian justice. For as opposed to the falsifications and half-truths put forward by Aliyev’s defence in the media all but on a daily basis, there are clear determinations on the side of Austria’s judicial authorities, who remain unimpressed by Aliyev’s campaign. In all the decisions made by the Viennese prosecutor’s office it is clearly upheld that 1) the witness declarations charging Aliyev are conclusive and credible; 2) refuting the 90 witnesses in the very complex proceedings is excluded; 3) the Kazakh investigations have been scrutinised successfully by Austrian investigators; 4) there is no indication that Aliyev has been persecuted on political grounds; 5) finally, material obtained as evidence from Musayev’s mobile telephone has established that [Aliyev] was at close distance of the murder location at the moments in question.”

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