The Rakhat Aliyev files: a cover-up in the making?

Two charged with ruthless murder and considered extremely dangerous criminals are walking on the streets of Vienna and a third one, even more dangerous, would have walked alongside them if he would not have hanged himself in a prison cell earlier in the year. The two, former close associates of Rakhat Aliyev and co-defendants in the murder case of two Kazakh bank executives back in 2007 in Almaty, were released by the judge handling the case – much to the shock of the two victims’ widows taking part in the trial as witnesses – on dubious ground. Their lawyers have announced to appeal at the Viennese district court which had ordered the detentions and their prolongations since their arrest in summer last year. But the affair leaves a bad smell over the case for a longer time to come. It looks very much indeed as though the two men’s disappearance and a cover-up of their crimes plays in favour of an impressive number of people in high places – in Austria, that is. Two names of former associates of Aliyev in Vienna stand out amidst a wider range: current justice minister Wolfgang Brandstetter and former head of the National Bank Adolf Wala. The two appear to have a lot to win in case the entire affair is swept under the carpet and hundreds of millions in euro stolen by Aliyev and laundered in Europe and the Caribbean out of reach. Moreover, it might contribute to the destabilisation of Kazakhstan in the process in a global political atmosphere where “cold warriors” are back on the scene alive and kicking.

BY CHARLES VAN DER LEEUW, WRITER, NEWS ANALYST

The Rakhat Aliyev files: a cover-up in the making?“Two Kazakhs who were co-accused along with Rakhat Aliyev over the murder of two bankers in 2007 have been released from pre-trial detention after an Austrian judge found inconsistencies and contradictions in the evidence brought against them, The Independent of Malta (Aliyev’s hideout before he gave himself in at Vienna International Airport) wrote [http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2015-04-30/local-news/Aliyev-case-Co-accused-released-from-pre-trial-custody-over-dubious-testimony-6736134704] in the wake of the astounding court ruling. “Alnur Mussayev, a former head of the Kazakh intelligence service, and Vadim Koshlyak, a former presidential bodyguard. They are accused of aiding Mr Aliyev in the abduction and murder of two bankers of the Kazakh Nurbank in 2007. Aliyev […] was a major shareholder in the bank. The bodies of the bankers were found buried in lime-filled barrels in 2011. Vienna prosecutor Bettina Wallner recently told the court that Aliyev and the two accused had jointly planned the murders. Mr Koshlyak was said to have helped Aliyev to hold the two managers against their will and to force them to hand over shares and property rights. Both men deny the charges. The main lawyer in the criminal case, Klaus Ainedter, told The Malta Independent yesterday that the two men were released over a number of reasons, including the conflicting information coming from the Kazakh authorities. The presiding judge, Andreas Böhm, yesterday also had reservations about the ‘legal force’ of judgements previously handed down by Kazak courts. He also stressed that their indictment was “almost exclusively” based on information Kazakh authorities.”

The local newspaper Kurier [http://kurier.at/chronik/wien/auch-aliyev-waere-heute-wieder-in-freiheit/127.763.424] quoted Gabriel Lansky, who leads the defence team of the two murdered bank executives‘ widows, as dubbing the judge’s ruling „a novelty in Austria’s justice“ and announced appropriate court seizures to have it corrected. Judge Böhm’s behavior had already raised eyebrows among observers. In a report posted after the second day of the trial, Die Wiener Zeitung [http://www.wienerzeitung.at/nachrichten/oesterreich/chronik/746729_Ich-wusste-nicht-wo-die-Leichen-vergraben-sind.html] noted the judge’s ambiguous attitude during the interrogations of one of the remaining suspects, Alnur Mussayev, who started with the hollow cliché used by Aliyev for many years by stating that he “declared himself innocent” and “victim of political persecution,” the news report read. After that, the accused contradicted himself more than once, declaring on one hand that evidence of his presence at the crime scenes, meaning that of the kidnapping and that of the subsequent double murder, had been “forged” and that he “did not know where the bodies had been buried” while on the other hand admitting that it had been him who had identified the dumping site when asked by the Kazakh authorities. When the prosecutor tried to question the accused in detail over the contradiction, the judge interrupted her several times telling her “to stop senseless questions” in the news report’s words.

It all looks somewhat less than encouraging for those seeking justice and all the more encouraging for those trying to prevent it. As reported earlier, Aliyev’s Maximus Holding had been founded on August 3, 2004 under the name Schwarcz & Co, with the address Schellinggasse 7, Vienna. On March 21, 2007, the name was changed into A.V. Maximus Holding AG – soon after which it started moving frequently from one address downtown the capital to the other. Its main activity was posted as “real estate property and management”. But there was more to it, for the enterprise controlled several other companies including a movie and television programme production firm called Speedy-Funk, a company called Armoreal Trading GmbH, an asset management firm called ASTA GmbH, and a non-profit foundation called Global Sugar Privatstiftung, according to an Austrian directory called BusinessABC. Through Armoreal, Aliyev controlled Germany’s Metallwerke Bender. Maximus also had a Swiss branch under the same name located in Geneva, and another offshore firm under its name on the British Virgin Islands.

One more enterprise within A.V. Maximus’ conglomerate was Vienna-based START Managementconsulting GmbH, the name of which popped up years later, after in the middle of May 2010 the Football Federation of Kazakhstan had filed a case against it at the Chief Prosecutor of Austria’s office. Aliyev, who was the FFK’s chairman in his glorious days, had put all financial interests of the Federation, including incoming money from sponsors and payments for foreign players and trainers, under the management of START, according to the plaintiffs. They were to claim later that between March 2006 and January 2007 alone, in the order a million euro in sponsor money had been paid to START that never reappeared in the accounts. All the same, in early 2007 the contract between the Federation and START was renewed, along with two transfers, one of 32,000 euro and another one of 371,000 euro, to the account of the Austrian enterprise. On Novmber 18, 2009, START was liquidated.

Even though behind the entire conglomerate there was little more but Rakhat Aliyev, the chairman of the board of A.V. Maximus was a certain Christian Leskoschek, who is also likely to appear in court soon – certainly as a witness but very much possibly as a co-suspect.. 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. Even long before Schwartz & Co changed its name and started to move to new premises time and again, trouble rose as well, BusinessABC was to report.

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 Günther 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. As for Adolf Wala, the series of scandals he had been involved in had not prevented Austria’s Bank OIAG Fimbag to appoint him as chairman of its board of administrators. He also remained chairman of the board of football club FC Vienna. Last but not least: as it would appear, both Wala and Aliyev had been longstanding members of the Austrian “Society of Friends of the Police”.

This connection, as we shall see in a follow-up to this episode, brings us straight to the current Austrian justice minister, who had hosted Aliyev and Alnur Mussayev, his former colleague at the helm of Kazakhstan’s National Security Council and co-defendant in the murder case, at the time of both men’s downfall back in 2007 and beyond, in a house in Eggenburg (NÖ, Bezirk Horn). According to Die Presse, the home is the property of an enterprise in which Brandstetter has a stake – according to register data. According to one report published seven years later by Der Standard [http://derstandard.at/2000007812371/Causa-Alijew-holt-Brandstetter-erneut-ein?ref=rss], Brandstetter has continued to intervene in favour of Rakhat Aliyev until well after the former’s appointment as justice minister over summer in the previous year. “Aliyev used to be Brandstetter’s client until 2011,” the article reads. “He had represented Aliyev since 2007 as his lawyer in various cases. ‘The representation of this client dates from years ago,’ Brandstetter’s office noted, adding that in currently pending penal cases in Austria Brandstetter never represented Aliyev.

A tricky document which has passed into the hands of Der Standard, however, strengthens the suspicion that Brandstetter has been involved in the Aliyev case for a much longer period of time than has been known before. An invoice sent to Aliyev in January 2014 by law firm Ainedter & Ainedter (the Kazakh then still lived in Malta) for the latter’s fee over the period from Augst 2013 till January 2014 reveals awkward-looking cost-bearing activities by the team of Aliyev’s lawyer Manfred Ainedter. The invoice was for ‘defence in the penal proceedings at the department for penal affairs in Vienna’ [meaning the ministry – ChvdL]. Concerning activity on August 7 2013 it reads: ‘mail to Brandstetter Wolfgang’. Also conferences and telephone calls are listed and billed to Aliyev. Up to 19 times the name of Brandstetter appears in the document concerning the period’s cost declaration.”

The man behind the “Society of Friends of the Police”, the organisation through membership of which Rakhat Aliyev could successfully challenge the very principles and practice of law was, and probably still is, a certain Adolf Krchov, according to an article published by a periodical called Falter [http://www.falter.at/falter/2007/10/16/sag-beim-abschied-leise-danke/] back in October 2007 – not long after Aliyev’s exposure and escape. At the time of writing, a place downtown Vienna known as the Bristol Club used to be the regular venue of the Verein der Freunde der Wiener Polizei (VFWP) – or Society of Friends of the Viennese Police.

“Could, through this benevolent society, red light barons, arms lobbyists, bank managers and billionaires, with gifts obtain access to the highest echelons of executive decision makers?” the article asks rhetorically. It seems indeed that they did – including Rakhat Aliyev. The article happened to coincide with a pending trial against the suspended former police chief Roland Horngacher for an impressive list of kickbacks and other abuses of office. Investigations on his case brought the formerly “top-secret” list of over 200 members of the Society to light. First and foremost, there was Krchov, the Society’s cashier but also “personal assistant for criminal cases” of four subsequent heads of the Viennese police. Next to him figured Adolf Wala, whose profound connections with Aliyev, for which he is now himself under criminal investigation with charges on the horizon, and happened to be the Society’s chairman. Other prominent figureheads within the Society included billionaire Martin Schlaff, Rudolfine Steindling, nicknamed “Rote (Red) Fini” since her main occupation consisted of trade skimming between west-European countries and the former Eastern Block, former head of the troubled BAWAG bank Helmut Elsner (convicted in 2006 to nine years behind bars for fraud, embezzlement and forgery) and of course Rakhat Aliyev.

But the affair might even stretch a lot further than just Vienna’s plush echelons. With Cold War II in full swing, suspicions that America’s warmongers are trying to mobilise the likes of Aliyev, Mussayev and Kochlyak to destabilise Russia and its allies have been raised more than once. Professional lobbyists are instrumental in those efforts. As we already reported in 2011/’12, commercial firms occupying themselves with so-called lobbying – meaning trying to influence political decision-makers at their back door – had been working hard for Rakhat Aliyev. They were particularly active in London, but most of all close to the higher echelons of America’s high and mighty. “With billions of dollars at stake, plenty of people here have been willing to play bit roles in the Nazarbayev family drama, including teams of corporate lawyers, Capitol Hill lobbyists, a former American ambassador to Kazakhstan and the sister of a lawmaker,” the New York Times wrote at the time in a background report which it had published on May 29 2011 [http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/30/world/asia/30kazakhstan.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0]. “And there have been charges and countercharges of illegal payments to unidentified members of Congress. […] No longer powerful at home, Mr. Aliyev turned to Washington, knowing that his former father-in-law cared greatly about his reputation there,” the article read further. “Early in 2008, Aliyev has hired RJI Government Strategies, a small Washington lobbying group whose consultants include Tanya Rahall, sister of Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a West Virginia Democrat; and a friend of Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California.”

The “plush offensive” Aliyev engaged in with the aim to cover it all up and make his claim to be the innocent victim of “political” persecutions in his country of origin took place back in 2010, and got pretty far in drawing the attention of people with political clout on Capitol Hill. “Ms. Rahall worked on behalf of Mr. Aliyev […] through 2010, contacting the offices of at least two dozen members of Congress,” the New York Times’ article quoted earlier was to read further down. “They included Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California, then chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, whose office said he discussed the dispute with the State Department. […] She pressed House members to criticise the Kazakh government’s human rights record. At her request, at least five statements were published in the Congressional Record, one citing Mr. Aliyev as a victim of his government. Separately, Mr. Aliyev offered to provide the Justice Department with documents that he claimed could prove that his former father-in-law accepted bribes from a businessman representing American oil companies that were seeking drilling rights in Kazakhstan.” In the end, the offer has reportedly been turned down after some samples presented in the process turned out to be forgeries.” Though no follow-up ever appeared in the controversies, the “American connection” is well worth keeping in mind in upcoming proceedings.

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