When sensation prevails over sense: Rakhat Aliyev hysteria virus hits German weekly

Another hoax? Hardly anyone in post-war history may have had so many headlines in such a short period of time since the death and subsequent dishonour of Joseph Stalin. The latest blurb is a cover story by the German weekly Der Spiegel – “accusing” a number of high-profile political veterans in Europe of something they may or may not have done but which by no means represents any violation of any law anywhere in the world with the possible exceptions of Uganda or North Korea. All of a sudden, people charged with murder are being portrayed as victims of those who simply call a murderer a murderer – regrouping their victims and the latter’s surviving relatives under the umbrella of an alleged vicious “dictatorship”. It all bears the smell of Cold War II and it is not really hard to guess who is on whose side.

When sensation prevails over sense: Rakhat Aliyev hysteria virus hits German weekly“Celebrated former German politicians such as Gerhard Schröder, former federal interior minister Otto Schily, or former  CSU federal deputy Peter Gauweiler have put themselves at the service of […] Nursultan Nazarbayev through a Viennese law firm,“ in the words of Der Spiegel‘s article  [http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/kasachstan-schroeder-und-schily-halfen-diktator-nasarbajew-a-1038506.html]. “Schröder took part in a circle of advisors to the Kazakh government, followed by a promise by former Federal President Horst Köhler to join up; Shily and Gauweiler took part in the persecution of the President’s former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev. […] An information leak at the chancellery of the Viennese law firm Lansky, Ganzger & Partners points at Shily having received a six-digit amount in euro. With the help of his contacts among politicians and journalists he should contribute to bringing the President’s ex-xon-in-law behind bars. In connection with a judicial inquiry on the initiative of the Kazakhstan-lobby by the prosecutor of Krefeld Schily had a meeting in November 2012 with Thomas Kutschaty, justice minister of Norrdrhein-Westfalen, to put the case under his attention. Reporting to Vienna, Schily reported that he had had a „pleasant conversation“ with Kutschaty. As for Kutschaty, he confirms what happened, he had it sought out whether the job in Krefeld was being done properly. The result: no reservations.

The ironic truth of which Der Spiegel is clearly unaware even though the public domain has been awash with information, is that the case located in Krefeld is the perfect example of a judicial cover-up. The intervention by Schily concerned an enterprise called Armoreal Trading, originally a Vienna-based enterprise under control, by proxy, of Rakhat Aliyev, but operating in Germany. As early as 2005 Armoreal Trading became the subject of a police investigation in Wiesbaden, which was reported to the local Interpol office for crossborder research. No reports of follow-ups on the initiative were to reach the public domain in years to follow. In spring 2007, however, three Austrian banks, Schoellerbank AG, Privatinvest Bank AG and M&A Privatbank AG, took the initiative to report “suspicious” transactions involving Aliyev’s companies to the Interior Ministry, upon which on the order of the State Prosecutor all his enterprises’ bank accounts were blocked.

The visible side of Armoreal was locatead far to Austria’s north. The German enterprise Bender Metallwerke, with installations in Krefeld and Neuss, which by summer 2012 found itself in the final stage of bankruptcy after a struggle that lasted seven years and appears to have been a ruthless string of manipulations by Aliyev with no other aim than plain theft. Bender goes back in time to 1931. The still existing, now idle, factory in Krefeld was opened in 1938, on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War. From the beginning, the company specialised in non-ferrous metal smelting and processing. Into the new millennium the construction and transportation bubble led to overproduction, followed by an output glut and a hole in sales income from the moment the bubble burst. In the course of 2005, the company had already become insolvent. It was then that an Austria-based firm called Armorial Trading jumped in with 9.45 million euro cash-in-hand and a generous commitment for further capital injections against a majority share in the company. This gave the newcomer the right to appoint Bender’s chair of the board, who arrived in the person of “a citizen of Kazakhstan named Muratkhan A.” in the words of reports published on the issue by the Westdeutsche Zeitung. For employees, the news was not altogether good, as half of the staff were dismissed little later.

In the course of its investigations which were publicised in regular reports through last winter, the newspaper found out that the true owner of Armorial was no one less than Rakhat Aliyev, at the time already in trouble although he still held the post of ambassador of Kazakhstan in Vienna. It can only mean that years before his final downfall, Aliyev must have reckoned that it would come that far and set up strings of mailbox firms to hedge large sums, probably in the order of billions, to feast upon once the official party would be over. The Bender scheme was doubtlessly part of it, but it was also probably far from being the only operation of its kind.

In a follow-up, the editor of Der Spiegel came up with a new “revelation” suggesting that according to alleged communications, it was decided to keep the magazine out of the list of media to be contacted for eventual support [http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/wie-der-spiegel-ins-visier-der-kasachstan-lobby-geriet-a-1038679.html]. E-mails hacked from Max-Peter Ratzel who till his retirement in 2009 used to be the head of Europol, the EU’s police information exchange, and an unnamed “publisher of an [also unnamed] important Austrian magazine.” The Spiegel editor compares both men with officials of the Stasi, the one-time East-German intelligence service known for its vicious methods. Also under fire is Lothar de Maizière, the first and last prime minister of East Germany after the downfall of the Berlin Wall.

Dedicated followers of fashion in Europe have duly picked up the report, seen as a welcome contribution to the anti-Russian propaganda campaigns carried out by western mass media. “Germany’s former political leaders have grace the cover of this week’s edition of the German news magazine Der Spiegel,” the BBC reported [http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-eu-33169051] shortly after the article’s publication. “But the cover wasn’t a tribute. Rather they are portrayed in fictional police mug shots, accused of being bought off to whitewash the reputation of an oppressive Central Asian government. Ex-President Horst Köhler and one-time Interior Minister Otto Schily both deny using their contacts to lobby for Kazakhstan’s authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev in return for lucrative fees. And Germany’s former Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder – who has been criticised in the past for lobbying for Gazprom and then going on to work for the Russian energy company – is going further than that.  As well as denying the allegations, he is taking legal action against Der Spiegel and trying to stop the magazine using the mug shot image on its website. The magazine (in German) cites emails leaked from an Austrian law firm, employed by Kazakhstan to lobby in Europe.  The correspondence is said to incriminate more than a dozen political heavyweights, including ex-prime minsters and ex-presidents from Germany, Austria, Spain and Italy. Former President Köhler is accused of agreeing verbally to be paid €300,000 (£215,000; $337,000) per year to push Kazakh interests in Berlin, before backing out when a better job with the UN came up. Gerhard Schröder is also alleged to have initially agreed to lobby for Kazakhstan, visited the capital Astana, and attended two consultation meetings, for which he is accused of receiving an unspecified amount, before breaking off contact. Otto Schily, meanwhile, is accused of receiving money to lobby for the prosecution in Austria of Rakhat Aliyev, a former Kazakh official who turned against the Kazakh government.” Though only in a marginal sideline, the BBC in its report does admit that Der Spiegel’s “evidence” looks pretty thin to put it mildly – qualifying it as “vague and apparently based entirely on one set of emails”.

What Shily really intended to do is to close a loophole in European legislation which should oblige the EU to introduce a system of automatic all-Union arrest warrant for criminals of Rakhat Aliyev’s category to put an end to the hide-and-seek methods practiced under the current regime – allowing them to walk freely outside the jurisdiction within which they are wanted. “Former German Minister of Internal Affairs Otto Schily is requesting that an arrest warrant is issued for ex-ambassador of Kazakhstan to Austria Rakhat Aliyev accused of embezzlement, tortures and murder of two bank managers in Kazakhstan, the Kazakh independent news agency reported on February 26, 2013 [http://en.tengrinews.kz/crime/Former-German-Interior-Minister-calls-for-Rakhat-Aliyevs-arrest-17191/] referring to the Austrian daily Kurier. “The member of Social-Democratic party of Germany who is currently in Vienna is confident that similar measures could also be taken against Aliyev in France, Great Britain or Germany. Otto Schily also expressed support to Vienna lawyer Gabriel Lansky representing the widows of the murdered managers. Schily and Lansky insist on the arrest of Aliyev and his accomplices (part of them live in Austria) for the period of investigation and appointment of a jury trial.”

De Maizière’s “crime” is even worse: he is the lawyer of two former bodyguards of Kazakhstan’s one-time PM Kazhegeldin who was once Aliyev’s target as a scapegoat for a coup attempt which in reality Aliyev had on his own conscience. Aliyev had both men kidnapped and tortured, but they survived. “Lothar de Maizière, the last prime minister of East Germany and also a prominent lawyer, is working on the case of Pyotr Afanasenko, one of the bodyguards in question,” the Brussels-based e-periodical Eurasia Review wrote in a report over summer 2010. “De Maizière expressed astonishment because Aliyev’s legal status requires him to have a residence permit to live in Austria. ‘If a country gives a residence permit to somebody it must have this person’s address. In the Aliyev case there is no address provided and therefore it is not possible to put forward a lawsuit,’ he said. De Maizière said many believe Aliyev has friends in the Austrian Interior Ministry who are protecting him, a suspicion shared by many in the Austrian media. […] Afanasenko, who is currently living in Belgium, is planning on going to Brussels and Vienna to conduct research into who in Austria might be protecting Aliyev. German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok and others are calling on Austria to take action on Aliyev’s case. This has been in part granted, and investigations, which should be followed by charges, are now ongoing. But instead of Austria, the bottleneck is now upheld by Malta’s authorities.”

The risk that Maltese authorities could change their minds actually made Rakhat Aliyev, who had found temporary refuge on the island after his downfall and his brief arrest in Vienna, to seek his lick elsewhere.“Rakhat Aliyev could possibly be eyeing Cypriot citizenship according to German lawyer Lothar de Maizière,” the German global radio and television station Deutsche Welle reported on April 27 this year [http://di-ve.com/news/rakhat-aliyev-eyeing-cyprus-citizenship-flee-malta]. “De Maizière, who defends Petr Afanasenko and Satzhan Ibrayev, both former bodyguards of ex-Prime-Minister of Kazakhstan Akezhan Kazhegeldin and who were allegedly tortured by Rakhat Aliyev, said that Aliyev is thinking of escaping from Malta. De Maizière believes that Malta is becoming too ‘hot’ for Aliyev following several lawsuits filed against him and most of his assets frozen. ‘In case Rakhat Aliyev leaves Malta, they may stop their investigation, under that pretext that he is no longer in the justification of the Maltese authorities. So it is important to keep Aliyev in Malta and prevent him from fleeing to Cyprus. Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat declared that Malta would not allow someone like Rakhat Aliyev to get Maltese citizenship no matter how huge his investments may be. I wrote all this in my letter to the Cyprus Minister of Internal Affairs,’ said Dr de Maizière.”

Malta is also the scene of the latest scandal involving one-time “friends” of Rakhat Aliyev and associates – even though the Aliyev connection in this particular case remains rather vague and limited to a sideline (it must be reminded, though, that with Aliyev there has always been a lot more tha initially met the eye). “The former Malta international Airport CEO, Markus Klaushofer, allegedly passed on business secrets and ordered employees to falsify plans about future development, the local newspaper Malta Today wrote in its issue of June 3 this year [http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/business/business_news/53699/former_mia_chief_passed_on_business_secrets_ordered_falsifications_of_plans#.VYOtVEoo7IV] referring to the Austrian daily Die Presse. “Quoting a source, Die Presse said that Klaushofer passed on ‘business secrets’ at the same time that an international consortium was interested in acquiring shares in MIA. According to Julian Jäger, also a former chief executive of Malta International Airport, Klaushofer allegedly demanded an Omega watch at a special price from a Nuance shop at Malta’s airport. Filing criminal charges against Klaushofer, Vienna International Airport also claimed that Klaushofer acquired the watch from the airport’s duty free €3,000 cheaper than normal sales prices. Die Presse reported that this was only ‘one of the reasons’ behind Klaushofer’s dismissal. […] Die Presse described Jäger and Klaushofer as “former close friends”. Vienna International holds a majority stake in the Malta Mediterranean Link Consortium Ltd, which owns 40% equity in MIA. Jäger is a current member of the management board of the Vienna International Airport  In Austria, it transpires that their friendship has now hit a snag, with Klaushofer accusing Jäger of increasingly seeing him as a competitor for his position in Vienna. That is why they terminated his contract without giving any reasons and destroyed a promising career, lawyer Klaushofer’s lawyer Stefan Schermaier told Die Presse. Objectively speaking, Klaushofer would be on par with the two current members due to his international experience. Die Presse reported that while Vienna International kept a low profile with respect to Klaushofer, ‘this is about to end’. The change of heart came following a series of leaks to Austrian media, including reports that Jäger had his flights upgraded during his stint at MIA, something which is today forbidden. Newspapers have also reported that Jäger had tried to help his brother-in-law – lawyer Gabriel Lansky – to meet influential people in Malta. Lansky was working on the Rakhat Aliyev case and the lawyer was attempting to have him extradited to Kazakhastan. Reportedly, Jäger had flown ‘an influential businessman’ to Vienna in his private jet to meet Lansky.”

Whether such revelations, each of which represents a piece in the extremely complex puzzle concerning Rakhat Aliyev’s multi-hundred-million and possibly billion-plus (in euro, that is) financial embezzlement and laundering schemes, of which Armoreal is yet another one, will be picked up in the Viennese courtroom remains very doubtful indeed. The financial side of the story is not included in the charges lying on the table, and the two accused on trial are not among the suspects listed in the laundering cases pending in a number of European countries but unlikely ever to materialise. After all, in most of Europe (though now less than shortly before) the anti-Putin hatred campaign remains in full swing. Kazakhstan is widely seen as an “ally” of Russia and thereby blowing up its government justified – exactly what Rakhat Aliyev had in mind as well…