Rakhat Aliyev: peace for pardon, or pardon for peace?

Kidnap and murder may be severe offences, and pardoning them should not be taken lightly. Yet, Kazakhstan’s head of state recently gave some hope for an eventual reconciliation with his former son-in-law, national security chief and banker Rakhat Aliyev, convicted last year to long years in prison while hiding out in plush Vienna in self-imposed exile. A matter of raison d’etat? Looking back, the blood-chilling scenario of what Aliyev is supposed to have been really up to (which he all vehemently denies) makes that argument look cynical at best. As for the failed conspirator’s host country, its government wants the affair over and somewhat less than done with. Opposition parties, who suspect an impressive list of dirty facts, do not agree.

by Charles van der Leeuw, senior KZW contributor

Rakhat Aliyev: peace for pardon, or pardon for peace?Among the general public in Kazakhstan, most people may well have all but forgotten the name Rakhat Aliyev. Therefore, few might care whether the head of state’s prodigious son-in-law stays where he is or returns to his birth ground. The signal that Mr. Nazarbayev sent into the world coincides with a trend down in Austria, Mr. Aliyev’s hideout, which seems to go in the direction of a certain relaxation. What would fit in to that observation is the fact that Austria’s “red-black” government coalition consisting of the socialist party and the centre-right nationalists, has sized down and speeded up a parliamentary inquiry into alleged connections, mingling business with politics, among cabinet ministers, ruling party leaders and prosecutors. So much for the Austrian side of the story; back in the land of endless steppes, what eventually led to Aliyev’s downfall and flight is even a lot more hair-raising than that.

The inquiry, which included 23 persons to declare themselves under oath, was supposed to last till well over the new year. Instead, the number of hearings has been cut down and instead of 23 people only five are to be heard – none of them being either former or present-day cabinet ministers. Stockpiles of evidence is to be left unstudied, and according to furious opposition leaders, the government is steadily pushing the affair, dubbed Causa Kasachstan, towards a cover-up.

In theory, a simple majority in either House of Parliament could force the government to go through the full procedure instead of the rush-hush process currently in place. Where would such an exhaustive procedure lead? If it is up to Rakhat Aliyev, who remains in the centre of the affair, Austrian state officials are supposed to have been accepting kickbacks from Kazakhstan in order to give in to the demand for his extradition to his birthground. This would have allowed Kazakh agents to attempt to kidnap or kill him – a Cold War scenario which can only have sprung either from the mind of an ex-KGB chief or a James Bond movie addict. The government in Astana has so far simply ignored the allegations. Instead, it has revealed in stunning detail a scenario that belongs in a thriller movie and which, according to the authorities, almost materialised in that fateful spring of 2007, which could have made the country plunge into civil war.

Just a reminder. The 1962-born Aliyev married into the presidential family towards the end of the XXth Century, which allowed him to spearhead into the upper ranks during the first half of the current decade. By 2001, he found himself at the helm of Nurbank, one of Kazakhstan’s top-10 commercial banks, as well as the National Security Council – which he ran with the iron hand remining one of Lavrenty Beria in the good old days. Then, in 2007, with Aliyev having added the post of deputy first foreign minister to his portfolio, it all started going wrong.

The official war declaration came with Aliyev’s public outcry against new legislation which permitted Nazarbayev to have himself re-elected indefinitely. It coincided with the disappearance of two of Nurbank’s top executives, who were later assumed dead. Aliyev, according to the later court verdict that convicted him to 25 years behind bars, Aliyev personally had had a hand in the double murder.

And as if the kidnap-murder affair were not enough, further “revelations” during investigations publicised by the authorities made everything escalate beyond control. Prosecutors in the course of investigations “upgraded” charges against Aliyev and his associates from extortion, kidnapping and murder to high treason and attempts to overthrow the government by vioent means. Aliyev and companions were accused of having smuggled and stored weapons, including poison capsules and poisonous gases with the aim to massacre Kazakhstan’s top leadership.

At the court sessions during the final stage of the trial in early 2008, the most frightening scenarios were presented in detail and compiled by numerous media, in particular by fergana.ru – yet known as critical towards Kazakhstan’s ruling leadership. On the eve of his downfall, Aliyev had built up an extremely well-organised group of criminals ready to take action whenever the word would come, the agency was later to reveal. The movement by and large consisted of professionals working in Kazakhstan’s intelligence services. The group was strictly hierarchic: orders were carried out without hesitation and without questioning including extreme action. The trial ended in long-term convictions against 16 of them, five of whom were, and still are, on the run. Apart from Rakhat Aliyev, the absentees were his long-time right hand Alnur Musayev and three ethnic Russians by the names of Sergey Manevich, Alexander Krainov and Sergey Zazula.

The most astonishing aspect of the operation was that the group officially existed and stood in the spotlight under the guise of a “Secret Administration for the Protection of the President”. This gave the group virtually unlimited access to even the most classified information. But in reality, the information was used to build up a network of effective blackmail and other forms of pressure on state officials, intimidation of mass media and psychological warfare. Two websites, www.asiopa.ru and www.kompromat.kz were maintained for propaganda purposes to mobilise public opinion against the regime. Through Nurbank, impressive amounts of cash were available to bribe more “flexible” state officials in order to have them render services.

But the thriller scenario did not end there. Through a network of informers on all levels, discrete information about state officials from policemen to financial accountants was processed and gathered, in order to spread panic among the ranks through anonymous threats. And woe to them who resisted and ended up in the gang’s hands. Musayev in particular has been depicted as a ruthless killer and torturer, and his passion for chemistry. In a secret laboratorium, he developed poisons which could not be traced back through autopsy and radioactive isotopes that paralysed nervous functions of the human body one by one. According to the court protocols, he got as far as testing them on human beings.

All this, of course, was not enough to make an eventual coup succeed. There would be fighting, Alyev and associates realised. A paramilitary officer in the service of the National Security Council was lured into Aliyev’s enterprise by the name of S. I. Torubarov, who was to be among the convicts, admittted that he had been engaged in intensive recruitment campaigns to select fearless combattants with experience in places such as Afghanistan and Chechenya. The regiment of Rambos thus gathered was sent on missions for further training to Iraq and to Egypt, under the guise of training as bodyguards for top state officials in Kazakhstan.

The pretended tole of the organisation kept its true face hidden in such an astonishingly perfect manner that “Operation Performance” planned for May 2007 was all but completely ready to take off. On a certain date, it was known that the President and most of his important state ministers would be in different places scattered over the country. This would be the time to act and wipe out all but the entire top leadership of Kazakhstan without the latter being able to convene and take emergency measures. How exactly loyal security forces found out about it at the very last moment is not known. But apparently they did, and the rest of the story is known.

Strangely enough, many of the charges have been acknowledged by Musayev himself in a number of interviews, among others to fergana.ru. In late September 2008, the first media reports appeared in the media about recent shoot-outs targeting Aliyev and Musayev. By the end of the year, Musayev spoke out and claimed that Aliyev had staged the attacks himself iwith the two-fold aim to make himself look like the victim of Kazakh “state terrorism” and to silence Musayev who, as he must have deemed, simply know too much.

Taking the entire story and how it developed into account, even if there is only a basic truth in the tale as accounted for by the state and details have been dramatised for whatever reason, it can easily be grasped that turning the page is not an easy process. Even the coup attempt in Moscow in 1992 and the series of uproars in the southern Caucasus parallel to it, however serious they were, were a long way from this one in terms of perfection. If rumours about the eventuality of a “coloured revolution” for Kazakhstan ever had any ground to begin with, Aliyev’s conspiracy had nothing to do with the people and will remind one of Latin America and Africa in the sweet old 1970s and 1980s. Too fantastic to be true – as Rakhat Aliyev keeps proclaiming? The interesting thing is that if he responds positively to his former father-in-law’s suggestion of reconciliation for repentence, it may well appear that very recently Kazakhstan has had a narrow escape indeed. Whether or not Aliyev will eventually be pardoned and return, it is time for the movie to come out.