The scandal around Rakhat Aliev, the runaway former son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Kazakhstan’s former ambassador to Vienna, shows no sign of subsiding.
Astana asked the Austrian government to extradite Aliev as early as May 26, after the suspect was stripped of his diplomatic status. To expedite the procedure, Astana provided Vienna with numerous dossiers implicating Aliev in the February abduction of Nurbank executives, fraud, and money laundering.
Austrian authorities have reacted cautiously, thoroughly weighing the possible legal and moral consequences of handing over a former diplomat, now desperately seeking political asylum, who stands accused of serious crimes. Recently a court in Vienna announced its decision to not return Aliev to his country on the grounds that Kazakh-law enforcement bodies have not guaranteed his personal safety. An Austrian Prosecutors Office spokesman reportedly explained that Austrian authorities consider Aliev to be a “potential political dissident” first, and a wanted suspect only second (Liter, August 10).
Kazakhstan’s interior and foreign ministers did not conceal their indignation over the Austrian court decision. It was a totally unexpected turn of events for Astana. Until the Austrian authorities announced their refusal, the predominant view among opposition and official quarters was that Vienna, enamored of Kazakhstan’s energy riches, would get rid of the lame-duck diplomat. Interior Ministry officials had assured the public that “intensive talks” were underway with the Austrian government and that Aliev would be returned in August. Therefore, the court decision in Vienna was a great embarrassment for Astana. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev said the Kazakh government was surprised by Austria’s about face, adding that Kazakhstan would use “all available means” to obtain Aliev’s extradition through Interpol and detain him whenever he attempts to leave Vienna (Khabar TV, August 13).
The Kazakh Interior Ministry likewise issued a strongly worded statement concerning “the incomprehensible attitude” of Vienna regarding the Aliev case. The furious criticism, however, will hardly induce the Austrian authorities to alter their decision. Aliev was reported to have said that he did not doubt the integrity of the Austrian court, a characteristic Kazakhstan’s justice system lacks. At the same time, Aliev, lauded as a dissident in Austria — and possibly in other EU countries as well — is largely snubbed at home as a spoiled outcast of the regime.
Through his greed for money and power, Aliev accumulated too many foes in Kazakhstan to make any reconciliation possible. Armangul Kapareva, for example, denounced the Austrian court decision and said she would fly to Vienna to seek his extradition to Kazakhstan and appeal to Austrian public organizations for support. Kapareva is the wife of Zholdas Timraliev, the first deputy chairman of Nurbank who was believed to have been abducted by Aliev’s gang. She thinks the governments of Austria and Kazakhstan have turned this criminal case into a political football and are completely ignoring the real victims — the families of the missing men. Opposition leader Gulzhan Yergalieva believes that despite their ostentatious statements, the authorities are not really interested in Aliev’s extradition, because he could expose numerous crimes committed within the higher echelons of power and testify against many high-placed officials (Delovaya nedelya, August 10).
Once the president’s powerful, arrogant son-in-law, Aliev has turned into a pawn in a political game. Last June he complained to journalists that the authorities in Kazakhstan had seized assets worth $300 million without any legal proceedings. Dariga Nazarbayeva, his former wife, quickly appropriated 36% of Rakhat Aliev’s shares in Nurbank and had their son, Nurali Aliev, appointed the acting chairman of the bank (Azat, August 3).
Politically and morally, Rakhat Aliev is dead. The Kazakh authorities are compiling new charges against him that will hopefully make the Austrian authorities reconsider their “irreversible” decision. The Kazakh Interior Ministry has also resurrected up the case of Anastasia Novikova, a TV reporter with NTK channel who disappeared in murky circumstances in Vienna two years ago. Rumors have it she was a victims of Rakhat Aliev’s numerous love affairs. Her corpse was found in South Kazakhstan and flown to Almaty for autopsy. If Aliev’s involvement in this case is proven, Astana will gain another trump card in favor of its effort to extradite the former ambassador.
Austria’s refusal to give up Rakhat Aliev was a rebuff that the Kazakh diplomatic community did not expect. But for all its severity, this blow may have a positive impact on political developments in Kazakhstan and shake the establishment out of its self-created illusion that Kazakhstan conforms to universal standards of human rights.