The Rakhat Aliyev files: screams from the underworld

The voice of Rakhat Aliyev, former son-in-law of the Kazakh head of state who was buried in Vienna last week after having himself hanged in prison following a life mainly consisting of racketeering, plotting and attacking people including a number of murders for which he was about to stand trial, still seems to resound form his grave. After having escaped justice in his country of origin, he spread controversy on every spot where he set foot. Eventually, he gave himself in to the Austrian authorities under circumstances subject to various explanations. Then, he was found dead in his cell, explanations for which varied as well from the first moment and continue to vary. With proceedings against his two jailed accomplices continuing and a trial expected to start within the next couple of weeks, his voice from the grave can be expected to continue to resound in the global public domain as well.
BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, WRITER, NEWS ANALYST

The Rakhat Aliyev files: screams from the underworld“Austrian lawyer Eirch Gemeiner, who represented the Kazakh dissident exile Rakhat Aliyev and now represents his widow Elnara Shorazova, says Aliyev was ‘cheerful person, one who was not suicidal’,” in the words of a fresh report by Malta Today on the case’s follow-up [http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/world/51004/aliyevs_death_was_definitely_not_suicide__lawyer#.VRA0Ukoo7IU]. “Rakhat Aliyev’s former lawyer said that he could only speculate who was behind the death of his client but he was completely certain that it was not a case of suicide. Austrian lawyer Eirch Gemeiner, who represented Aliyev and now represents his widow Elnara Shorazova, described Aliyev as a cheerful person, one who was not suicidal.  Aliyev was found hanged in his Austrian prison cell at the end of February. Gemeiner, interviewed by The Malta Independent, and Shorazova maintain that he was either murdered or forced to commit suicide. Gemeiner said that Aliyev was looking forward to the trial, a chance for him to clear his name in the 2011 murder of two bankers. “

Aliyev’s lawyers, in continuing attempts to keep up the “murder myth” appear to be ready to go deep and far back in time. “Between 1983 and 2007, Aliyev was married to the eldest daughter of Kazakhstan’s leader Nursultan Nazarbayev and held a number of diplomatic posts within the regime, including heading the country’s tax police, deputy chief of its security service and ambassador to Austria,” the article reminds. “It was on his second posting as ambassador to Austria, in 2007, that his fracture with Nazarbayev became final and he was relieved of his post and his diplomatic immunity. Shortly after taking control of Kazakh bank Nurbank, two senior officials went missing. In 2008, Aliyev was convicted of plotting a coup against the president and sentenced to 40 years behind bars. In 2011, the bodies of the two bank officials were discovered and led to accusations of murder. His proximity to the Kazakh regime granted Aliyev insight into the authorities’ workings and secrets. This, Gemeiner says, was why the regime considered him dangerous and tried its best to silence him. Aliyev was poisoned while in Austria in 2007 – medical tests revealed liver damage and small metal objects in his body, findings consistent with heavy metal poisoning. Gemeiner went on to say that Aliyev was so confident in his eventual acquittal that he was planning a return to politics, with the intention of exposing what he knew about Kazakhstan’s leadership.”

He tried that before – with his first auto-financed book “The Godfather-in-law” which at first was blacklisted by parliamentary decree in Kazakhstan for “revealing state secrets”, but later released after MPs who had read it concluded that the entire book was made up of products of Aliyev’s fantasy and that “facts” which in fact are lies cannot possibly considered secrets since they simply do not exist. Worldwide, the book has been dismissed as such ever since it came out. So has his second collection of fantasy stories, about alleged consipracies against him among Austrian higher state echelons on behalf of his country’s government. The accusations are still rippling through Austria’s upper circles, but no one of any significance has taken them seriously if one excludes what his extremely well-paid lawyers keep pretending.

It looks indeed as though the web of myths Aliyev created around himself during his life has survived him following his death and are likely to keep sizzling through the public domain for quite some time to come. “Prison authorities discovered his corpse at 7.20 on a Tuesday morning late last month. Rakhat Aliyev’s body was hanging from a noose made from gauze bandages which had been attached to a peg in the cell’s shower unit,” The Independent wrote in a fresh review on the entire affair [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/rakhat-aliyev-claims-of-murder-over-death-of-rival-to-kazakhstans-president-in-an-austrian-prison-10108693.html] “Aliyev, the former son in law and prominent millionaire opponent of the autocratic Kazakh president, was found dead in his solitary cell in the hospital unit of the Josefstadt prison in Vienna in circumstances that might have been lifted from the pages of a John Le Carré spy novel. Suspicions that he could have been the victim of a political assassination have obliged Austria to launch an independent judicial inquiry into the mysterious Vienna prison suicide. The 53-year-old, who served both as Kazakh ambassador to Vienna and as the deputy head of his country’s secret services, had been awaiting trial for the alleged murder of two Kazakh bankers, having turned himself into the authorities last June. Austria refused to extradite him because of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record. ‘He hanged himself,’ said the prison governor, Peter Prechtl, following an initial inquiry. The prison authorities based their conclusion on evidence provided by video cameras placed over the doors of all jail cells which record the comings and goings of visitors. Aliyev, they insist, was last seen alive shortly before 10pm the previous evening during a routine distribution of medicines to prisoners.”

“Mr Prechtl said that for the next nine hours there was no evidence that anyone had entered Aliyev’s cell or that the video system had been manipulated,” the article continues. “However, Aliyev’s lawyers maintain that there is a wealth of evidence which fails to fit the prison’s assumptions: ‘We are convinced that his death was not a willing suicide,’ Klaus Ainedter, one of the lawyers, said in Vienna last week. ‘The circumstances surrounding his death fail to support such a conclusion,’ he added. Mr Ainedter said that only hours before his death, Aliyev had been looking forward to testifying in another case against two fellow prisoners who he said had threatened to kill him and make it look like suicide unless he paid them protection money. The prison had moved him into solitary confinement in the hospital wing to remove him from them. Aliyev had also booked a session with the prison barber on the Tuesday morning and was happy at the prospect of a visit from his wife and children. His widow, Elnara, released a statement insisting that it was “out of the question” that her husband would have taken his own life. ‘He loved his family far too much to do so and would never have deserted us,” she said.

Mr Prechtl said that for the next nine hours there was no evidence that anyone had entered Aliyev’s cell or that the video system had been manipulated.”

“However, Aliyev’s lawyers maintain that there is a wealth of evidence which fails to fit the prison’s assumptions: ‘We are convinced that his death was not a willing suicide,’ Klaus Ainedter, one of the lawyers, said in Vienna last week. ‘The circumstances surrounding his death fail to support such a conclusion,’ he added. Mr Ainedter said that only hours before his death, Aliyev had been looking forward to testifying in another case against two fellow prisoners who he said had threatened to kill him and make it look like suicide unless he paid them protection money. The prison had moved him into solitary confinement in the hospital wing to remove him from them. Aliyev had also booked a session with the prison barber on the Tuesday morning and was happy at the prospect of a visit from his wife and children. His widow, Elnara, released a statement insisting that it was ‘out of the question’ that her husband would have taken his own life. ‘He loved his family far too much to do so and would never have deserted us,’ she said.”

How the rise of a character like Rakhat Aliyev is possible in the first place can be explained by the Soviet system and the pains former USSR republics were going during their transition towards a more democratic and market-oriented regime, an in-depth report published after his funeral by The Independent [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/rakhat-aliyev-businessman-and-diplomat-who-exploited-his-connections-to-make-a-fortune-but-was-due-to-stand-trial-for-murder-10073656.html]. “Rakhat Aliyev experienced the sort of career that is only possible in autocratic regimes; where blood is thicker than water, and where whom you know is infinitely more important than anything you may have learned,” the text reads. A one stage his CV glistened with the sort of plum jobs only available to those with contacts, but by the time of his death at 52 his downfall was complete. He died in an Austrian prison cell awaiting trial for murder, a charge his supporters say was politically motivated. Aliyev was born in what was then Alma-Ata, capital of the satellite Kazakh republic in the Soviet Union, before it was renamed Almaty. As with many who made money after the collapse of the Soviet Union – and he made millions of dollars – Aliyev found himself in the right place at the right time. In 1982 he married Dariga Nazarbayev, the daughter of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who two years later would become prime minister of Kazakhstan and subsequently its president. Nazarbayev remains a dictator’s dictator, and aged 74, still wins sham elections with the sorts of majorities that would embarrass the likes of Robert Mugabe.”

“The marriage proved to be Aliyev’s making: when resource-rich Kazakhstan became an independent state on Christmas Day 1991, his influence soared and he became one of the most important people in Nazarbayev’s inner circle. At various points he was head of the Almaty tax police – a position he used to pursue enemies and which ultimately played a role in his downfall – and deputy chief of Kazakhstan’s national security committee. In business circles he was known as “Sugar”, thanks to his control of Kazakhstan’s sugar industry, and he had interests in banking, oil refining, the media, telecommunications and agricultural commodities. In the years following the turn of the century he was worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more. But if Aliyev was getting rich through his relationship with Nazarbayev, it was not because the two men were personally close. Until 2007 the president tolerated rather than feted him. Twice, in 2001 and 2007, he was despatched to Austria as Kazakhstan’s ambassador, both at times of particular enmity between the two.”

Feeling himself more and more trapped, Aliyev became more and more aggressive,like a wounded animal,the article explains further down: “In 2004 Aliyev’s mistress Anastasiya Novikova, a 23-year-old presenter on Kazakh television, fell to her death from a flat in Beirut. She was buried in Kazakhstan but her family has continued to campaign and believe that she was murdered. True or not, the allegation was another stain on Aliyev’s record. His luck ran out in 2007 when two executives at Nurbank, a bank owned by Aliyev, disappeared. The bodies of Abilmazhen Gilimov and Zholdas Timraliyev were discovered at a rubbish dump on the outskirts of Almaty in 2011; soon after their disappearance, Aliyev and Dariga Nazarbayev were divorced. Following the disappearance of the bank executives Aliyev had joined critics of the president after he signed a constitutional amendment effectively making him president for life. Aliyev claimed that Dariga had been forced to agree to divorce him by her father in revenge for his criticism and even claimed that his own signature had been forged on the documents. An Austrian court refused Kazakhstan’s request to extradite Aliyev in 2007, deciding that he would not get a fair trial. That did not stop the Kazakh courts sentencing him in absentia to 40 years for kidnapping, treason and plotting against his former father-in-law. Aliyev married again, to his former secretary, an Austrian national, through whom he received an EU passport, and moved to Malta, and then Cyprus. After his diplomatic immunity was removed by the Kazakh government, countries including Germany, Austria and Malta, opened fraud investigations.”

There is a mistake here: Aliyev never received a “EU passport” but the only travel document he had was a so-called Alien Passport, an Austrian document meant for residents in the country without legal other nationality, which was later withdrawn. “Last year he handed himself in to the Austrian police, who had begun a new investigation into the murder of the two bankers,” the article further relates. “Aliyev was remanded in custody, ahead of a trial in Vienna, which had been expected to begin this year. Before justice could catch up with Aliyev he was found hanged in his cell. He had not shared the cell with other inmates. Prison officials said his death was ‘clearly suicide’, adding that it was impossible for anyone to gain access to his cell. Aliyev’s lawyer disagreed. Klaus Ainedter said he had seen his client a day earlier and that there as no sign that he was suicidal. Moreover, he argued, prison officials had put Aliyev on a ‘green list’ of prisoner considered the least likely to kill themselves. Aliyev had been due to testify at the trial of other inmates he said had threatened to kill him, which adds to the mystery of the man whose death proved no less colourful than his life.”

The next stage in Aliyev’s after-life career is to start in April with the commencement of the trial against his two accomplices. Still ongoing investigations for “irregularities” during the last decade-or-so of his life on earth involve lawyers from both sides, Austrian high officials and a number of others not all of whom have had their names disclosed so far. One thing here is quite extraordinary: if during his life Aliyev loved to scream under the limelight, he continues to do so from the after-life…

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