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Kazakhstan: Trouble within the first family

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Jean-Christophe Peuch
Publication Date 29 May 2007
Cite as EurasiaNet, Kazakhstan: Trouble within the first family, 29 May 2007, available at: [accessed 5 September 2015]
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Jean-Christophe Peuch 5/29/07

Rakhat Aliyev is married to Dariga Nazarbayeva, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev'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, Kazakhstani envoy to the OSCE. Now, however, he is considered a fugitive from justice.

In the past few days, police have searched Aliyev's home in Almaty and detained at least two of his close business associates. In addition, two Russian-language media outlets belonging to Aliyev 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 May 23, a Kazakh Interior Ministry statement said Aliyev and another two 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 Aliyev's denial and claims that he had fallen victim to political repression, Nazarbayev on May 26 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 Aliyev. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

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

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

On February 9, Nazarbayev had dismissed his son-in-law from his post of first deputy foreign minister and sent him to Vienna as OSCE ambassador without explanation. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In an apparent bid to put a brave face on his demotion, Aliyev then said he had been entrusted with the important task of lobbying Kazakhstan's efforts to chair the OSCE in 2009. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

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

Most importantly, Aliyev's second Austrian exile – he had been 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 ten banks. Aliyev, his father, and his son all own stakes in the bank. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Relatives of the abductees say Aliyev organized the January kidnappings with a view toward improperly taking control of bank assets. Meanwhile, the Kazakh tax police – which Aliyev headed in the years 1997-1999 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 Aliyev, who denies any wrongdoing, has offered a 10-million-tenge ($84,000) reward to anyone who would help find them.

Earlier this month, the Interior Ministry's Almaty branch – which has come into conflict with the tax police over the Nurbank probe – started pressuring Aliyev. Following the May 10 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 Nazarbayeva's bodyguards – Aliyev launched a desperate counter-attack.

In a May 18 article 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.

Aliyev alleged that both men were "intimately connected" to financial impropriety at Nurbank and that it was them – not him – who were coveting the bank's assets, harboring plans to use bank resources to fund their own commercial endeavors.

Following Nazarbayev's decision to strip him of all government positions, Aliyev 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 May 22, Nazarbayev signed constitutional amendments that effectively allow him to become president-for-life – a move denounced by the opposition. Aliyev 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, Aliyev's father Mukhtar had warned in an interview with the Kazakhstan Today news agency that enabling Nazarbayev to run indefinitely for president would "make it no longer possible to talk about the democratization of Kazakh society."

Mukhtar Aliyev is a prominent leader of Kazakhstan's Nur Otan pro-presidential party. The Almaty police, it is worth noting, recently searched his home for reasons that authorities have not publicly stated.

Few in Kazakhstan believe in Rakhat Aliyev'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 May 28, the Naghiz Ak Zhol opposition party said the "belated" decision to investigate Aliyev heralded his "political downfall."

"Yet, we should not forget that it is not the personality of Aliyev, 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 Aliyev 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 May 28.

Editor's Note: Jean-Christophe Peuch is a Vienna-based freelance correspondent, who specializes in Caucasus- and Central Asia-related developments.

Posted May 29, 2007 © Eurasianet

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