Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November 2014, 14:08 GMT

Kazakhstan: President's son-in-law awaits Austrian court decision

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Jean-Christophe Peuch
Publication Date 4 June 2007
Cite as EurasiaNet, Kazakhstan: President's son-in-law awaits Austrian court decision, 4 June 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46c58eea23.html [accessed 25 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Jean-Christophe Peuch 6/04/07

It's now up to an Austrian court to decide the fate of Rakhat Aliyev, the fallen son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Astana's former ambassador to Vienna and the OSCE.

Aliyev was arrested while visiting a Vienna hair salon on June 1, but remained in custody only a few hours. After he complained of chest pains, he was transferred to Vienna's Brothers of Mercy hospital, where he spent the weekend under police surveillance.

Aliyev was released on a 1-million-euro bond on June 3 after making a written pledge to not leave the country until a Vienna court rules on an extradition request made by Kazakhstan, where he is wanted for his alleged participation in an extortion scheme involving a triple kidnapping and other criminal charges. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Aliyev denies the charges. Astana sought Aliyev's extradition May 30, the day after Austrian authorities stripped him of his diplomatic immunity. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

According to the Kazakhstan Today news agency, a media outlet controlled by Aliyev, Nazarbayev on June 2 called Austria's Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer with a request to expedite the extradition process. The agency quotes Gusenbauer's office as telling the Kazakh president that it would be improper for any Austrian government official to meddle in judicial proceedings.

Addressing reporters in Astana on June 4, Kazakhstani Interior Ministry spokesman Bagdat Kozhakhmetov said Astana was seeking the extradition of four other individuals, identified as Viktor Sapozhnikov, Vadim Koshlyak, Aidar Bektybayev, and Sergei Koshlai. All four are currently being held at Vienna's Josefstadt prison. The charges against them remain unclear.

Austria's Justice Ministry had earlier said Kazakhstan was seeking the extradition of Aliyev and another six of Kazakhstani nationals, including a number of its Vienna embassy staff.

According to various news reports, several officers of the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB) have arrived in Vienna from neighboring European countries ostensibly to escort Aliyev and the other detainees back to Kazakhstan. In comments posted June 3 on the website of Austria's Profil news magazine, Aliyev said he told Austrian authorities that he would fear for his life if he was deported to his homeland.

Heinz Patzelt, the head of the Austrian branch of Amnesty International, has come out in opposition to Aliyev's deportation, saying that Astana has still not abolished the death penalty and that torture remains widespread in Kazakhstani prisons, Austria's Österreich daily reported over the weekend.

Aliyev, who has given conflicting accounts as to whether he is seeking political asylum in Austria, claims Nazarbayev has ordered that all his business assets be seized. On the day that followed his inclusion on Kazakhstan's wanted list of criminals, an Almaty court imposed a three-month suspension on the Karavan weekly and KTK television station – two media outlets that belong to Aliyev's Alma-Media group – on the grounds that they had violated national language regulations. Earlier, the same court ordered the closure of the Caravan.kz website. Other electronic media outlets affiliated with Alma-Media – including Kazakhstan Today and the Gazeta.kz news website – have complained recently about suspicious technical problems and hacker attacks.

Colleagues and employees say the director-general and the chief administrator of KTK – Ruslan Zhemkov and Adil Sharipov, respectively – have not been heard from or seen since being detained and brought to the Almaty prosecutor's office for questioning on May 25. The Interior Ministry denies any involvement in their disappearance.

In a June 2 interview with Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Aliyev accused Nazarbayev of striving to take control of all Kazakh media outlets in anticipation of his next political move. The Kazakh parliament on May 17 approved a string of constitutional amendments, including the lifting of a term limit on Nazarbayev. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Russia's Kommersant daily speculated June 3 that the Kazakh government intends to secure an overwhelming majority in the legislature, and that pro-Nazarbayev lawmakers want to introduce a bill to hold early parliamentary elections. Kazakhstani authorities have denied any such plans. But Aliyev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that authorities were eyeing August 26 as the early election day. "This time they'd like to receive not 91 percent of the votes, but all 100 percent," he said.

While welcoming Aliyev's indictment, Kazakhstani opposition leaders expressed concern over the recent crackdown on Alma-Media-connected news outlets. In a statement issued on May 28, the leadership of the Naghiz Ak Zhol opposition party said the decision to suspend Karavan and KTK represented yet another move away from freedom of speech. "We disagree with the decision to suspend them and demand that the prosecutor-general's office overturn decisions that run against common sense and the letter of the law," the party's co-leaders said.

The US Embassy in Astana issued a statement saying it was "disappointed" with the suspension of Karavan and KTK, and urged Kazakhstan to "honor its commitment to democratic reforms and freedom of speech."

Kazakhstan's Adil Soz media freedom watchdog has also criticized the court decision as "incomprehensible." In a statement posted on Adil Soz's website on May 30, Karavan's editor-in-chief Andrei Shukhov said the suspension of his weekly was a "direct consequence" of the recently adopted constitutional amendments. "In our country, democratic liberties are being curtailed and in the wake of the [recent] political reform authorities are starting closing down independent media," Shukhov wrote.

Information and Culture Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbayev has defended the suspensions, insisting that there was "more than enough freedom" in Kazakhstan.

On May 30, a group of 14 top Kazakh bankers and private entrepreneurs published an open letter, in which they expressed their support to Nazarbayev's efforts to indict his son-in-law, whom they accused of resorting to unlawful business practices. The signatories – among them the chairs of Bank TuranAlem, Kazkommertsbank and Halyk Bank – also called upon Kazakhstan's "healthy forces" to help Nazarbayev maintain political stability in the country.

Kazakhstan is seeking to chair the OSCE in 2009 and some observers have expressed concerns that the arrest of its envoy to the organization may negatively impact on its bid. But in comments carried by Kommersant on June 4, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov said the affair would eventually benefit his country. "I think it will have a positive impact. The president is the guardian of the constitution and, regardless of his personal or family relationship with any given person, he always acts in accordance with the law," Masimov said.

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

Posted June 4, 2007 © Eurasianet

Copyright notice: All EurasiaNet material © Open Society Institute

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