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Family Squabble Goes Global

Kazakh president calls for arrest of former envoy-turned-pariah. From EurasiaNet. by Jean-Christophe Peuch 30 May 2007 Rakhat Aliev is married to Dariga Nazarbaeva, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s eldest daughter. He has held various high-ranking government posts in the past, including that of first deputy chairman of the National Security Committee and first deputy foreign minister, and, until last week, Kazakh envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Now, however, he is considered a fugitive from justice.

In the past few days, police have searched Aliev’s home in Almaty and detained at least two of his close business associates. In addition, two Russian-language media outlets belonging to Aliev and his wife – the Karavan weekly and the KTK television station – have been suspended for three months, officially for violating Kazakhstan’s language laws.

On 23 May, a Kazakh Interior Ministry statement said Aliev and two other people were under criminal investigation for their possible involvement in a suspected extortion scheme. The ministry said another 10 suspects were wanted in the case.


Following Aliev’s denial and claims that he had fallen victim to political repression, Nazarbaev on 26 May issued a decree stripping his son-in-law of all official positions. Two days later, the Interior Ministry issued a new statement saying an international arrest warrant had been issued and that investigators had been dispatched to Vienna, site of the OSCE’s headquarters, to nab him. The new statement said charges involving criminal association, economic crimes, and kidnapping had been brought against Aliev.

The former ambassador’s whereabouts remain unknown. In remarks carried on 28 May by the information website, the fugitive said he would not return to Kazakhstan. Aliev has indicated via third parties that he is considering seeking political asylum in Austria. What brought on the presidential move against Aliev likewise remains a mystery.

It would seem to be the end of the political road for Aliev, 45, whose name opponents have long been citing as an example of blatant nepotism. Yet, Aliev’s political clout had started fading long before last week’s developments.

On 9 February, Nazarbaev had dismissed his son-in-law from his post of first deputy foreign minister and sent him to Vienna as OSCE ambassador without explanation. In an apparent bid to put a brave face on his demotion, Aliev then said he had been entrusted with the important task of lobbying for Kazakhstan’s efforts to chair the OSCE in 2009.

The disgrace came amid reports that his and Dariga Nazarbaeva’s influence on Kazakh domestic affairs had been waning amid the rise of a rival political clan centered on Nazarbaev’s second daughter, Dinara, who is married to Timur Kulibayev. Kulibayev is chairman of the board of Kazakhstan’s KazMunaiGaz energy company and a man believed to be close to Prime Minister Karim Masimov.

Most importantly, Aliev’s second Austrian exile – he was first appointed ambassador to Vienna in 2002 amid allegations that he was plotting against his father-in-law – followed accusations that he was embroiled in a scandal involving the kidnapping of two senior managers and one employee of Nurbank, one of Kazakhstan’s top banks. Aliev, his father, and his son all own stakes in the bank.

Relatives of the abducted say Aliev organized the January kidnappings with a view toward improperly taking control of bank assets. Meanwhile, the Kazakh tax police – which Aliev headed from 1997 to 1999 and with which he reportedly maintains close ties – launched a financial probe into Nurbank that resulted in the arrest and indictment of one of the three former abductees. The other two subsequently disappeared, and Aliev, who denies any wrongdoing, has offered a 10-million-tenge ($84,000) reward to anyone who could help find them.

Rakhat Aliev in better days, at last summer's celebrations of the U.S. independence holiday in Astana.

Earlier this month, the Interior Ministry’s Almaty branch, which has come into conflict with the tax police over the Nurbank probe, started pressuring Aliev. Following the 10 May detention of four people possibly linked to the recent scandal – including two KTK television executives, the head of Nurbank’s security department, and one of Nazarbaeva’s bodyguards – Aliev launched a desperate counterattack.

In an article on 18 May in Karavan, the last before the weekly was suspended, he claimed he was the target of a “slanderous campaign” orchestrated by Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov and former prime minister Imangali Tasmagambetov, who is now the mayor of Almaty.

Aliev alleged that both men were “intimately connected” to financial impropriety at Nurbank and that they, not him, were coveting the bank’s assets, harboring plans to use bank resources to fund their own commercial endeavors.


Following Nazarbaev’s decision to strip him of all government positions, Aliev issued a few statements, in which he accused the Kazakh leader of seeking to neutralize him because of his political ambitions. To believe him, the Nurbank affair would aim primarily at preventing him from running for president in 2012.

On 22 May, Nazarbaev signed constitutional amendments that effectively allow him to become president for life – a move denounced by the opposition. Aliev joined the chorus of critics, saying the amendments threaten to torpedo Kazakhstan’s OSCE chairmanship bid. In his most recent statements, he accused his father-in-law of “de facto usurping” power.

Also, just days before the legal changes became law, Aliev’s father Mukhtar had warned in an interview with the Kazakhstan Today news agency that enabling Nazarbaev to run indefinitely for president would “make it no longer possible to talk about the democratization of Kazakh society.”

Mukhtar Aliev is a prominent leader of the Nur Otan pro-presidential party. The Almaty police recently searched his home for reasons that authorities have not publicly stated.

Few in Kazakhstan believe in Rakhat Aliev’s democratic credentials. Nor do they add faith to his claims that he has “very large numbers of supporters” in Kazakhstan who will help him prevent the country from sliding back into its “totalitarian Soviet past.”

In a statement issued on 28 May, the Naghyz Ak Zhol opposition party said the “belated” decision to investigate Aliev heralded his “political downfall.”

“Yet, we should not forget that it is not the personality of Aliev, as a private citizen, which is at stake here. What is at stake are the vices of the Kazakh political system; a system that generates corruption … cynicism, and impunity for those who are invested with power, or close to it,” party leaders said in the statement.

Now that Aliev is no longer the influential power player he used to be, he has come to a similar conclusion. “If that could happen to me, what’s protecting average citizens? They can do whatever they want with anyone,” he wrote in his latest statement, dated 28 May.
Jean-Christophe Peuch is a Vienna-based freelance correspondent who specializes in Caucasus- and Central Asia-related developments. This is a partner post from EurasiaNet.
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