As the political scandal around Nurbank takes new twists, it is becoming evident that Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev is trying to use this highly embarrassing criminal case involving his runaway son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev, to score political points. Aliev is under investigation for shady financial practices at Nurbank and the disappearance of two bank officials.
In a three-hour long Internet chat broadcast on national channels on June 7, Nazarbayev said it was not easy for him to make the decision to order an investigation into the business affairs of his son-in-law, but he did so to make sure no one was above the law in Kazakhstan. He also thanked public organizations and political parties for the moral support they had displayed for his move. However, the question of whether Nazarbayev will pardon Aliev or discard him totally as a family outcast still hangs in the air.
The Interior Ministry of Kazakhstan has effectively tried to control the more scandalous media coverage of Aliev-related stories, sending newspaper and broadcasting company editorial offices letters that strictly forbid publication of any information coming from sources other than official ministry press releases. Even the most independent-minded journalists have to put up with this sort of censorship.
Developments in recent weeks suggest that Aliev is attempting to break through the total information blockade in his country. He allegedly telephoned the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Vremya from Vienna on May 31, saying that he regrets his previous public statements about the curtailment of democracy in Kazakhstan and the president’s “usurpation of power,” which Aliev claimed to have made while in a state of deep depression.
This olive branch was clearly addressed at Nazarbayev and an effort toward reconciliation in the long-running clash among members of the presidential family. But on June 1 Aliev returned to his bellicose rhetoric, using the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta to sharply accuse the “leadership of the country [Kazakhstan]” of attempting “to put the entire media space under control of [Nazarbayev’s] ruling party” (Vremya, June 2).
Nothing suggests that Nazarbayev is prepared to bury the hatchet. In his public appearances he has reiterated that the Prosecutor-General’s Office should thoroughly investigate the case regardless of the rank and social status of the suspects. Nazarbayev’s unprecedentedly tough stance may tarnish his family’s reputation and cause great embarrassment for his eldest daughter and reliable political ally, Dariga Nazarbayeva, who is also Aliev’s wife. But the president is motivated by the growing demands for justice coming from business circles and public organizations. A group of entrepreneurs, including former opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov and the former head of the National Bank, Grigoriy Marchenko, have launched campaigns supporting president’s tough approach toward Aliev’s case. In a separate appeal, the heads of businesses in Almaty say that many businesspeople were terrorized and victimized by Rakhat Aliev and his “henchmen,” who “knew no bounds” in their illegal acts. Amangeldy Aitaly, a member of parliament from the opposition, told the press that Nazarbayev had shown a great deal of courage by refusing to defend his family’s reputation (Zhas Qazaq, June 1).
Meanwhile, law enforcement bodies have stepped up efforts to investigate Aliyev’s former business associates and supporters. Recently, Almaty’s security services detained Sergei Kuzmenko, a high-ranking retired police officer and the former head of the financial police who had made a brilliant career after Aliev came to head the National Security Service (KNB) in 2001. He also was head of the Nurbank security service when 11 billion tenge ($90 million) disappeared from the bank in February.
Aliev is also implicated in the cut-rate sale of the nine-story Ken Dala business center — which includes Nurbank offices — for merely $1.5 million. The wife of one of the men allegedly abducted by Aliev’s gangs, Almagul Kapasheva told journalists that her husband had submitted to the Austrian embassy a request asking Vienna to not grant political asylum to Aliev because he is suspected of committing serious crimes (Vremya, June 2).
The Interior Ministry press office told journalists that Austrian investigators had initiated a criminal case against Aliev based on his suspected involvement in multi-million dollar illegal transactions. Interior Ministry spokesman Baghdat Kozhakhmetov said Aliyev had used his bank accounts in Austria and eight businesses that he controlled to launder money. Kozhakhmetov also said that the Interior Ministry was ready to collaborate with Austrian police, and a team of investigators was already in Vienna. He also noted that the Kazakh Interior Ministry was collecting information about the illegal business activities of Aliev in Kazakhstan at the request of the Austrian police and that Kazakhstan seeks his extradition (Khabar TV, June 7).
Rakhat Aliev’s erratic behavior and his inconsistent statements suggest that he feels backed into a corner. For the Austrian government, as well as for the Nazarbayev family, he has become an annoying hot potato. At the same time, Aliev, privy to the shady side of the presidential court, is not simply an eyesore, but potentially Nazarbayev’s most dangerous opponent.