A US Justice Department investigation into oil-industry-related bribery allegations in Kazakhstan is helping to prompt a reevaluation of geopolitical and economic relationships in the Central Asian nation.
The fallout from the investigation is one of the factors that are pushing Kazakh officials to seek improvements in relations with Russia. Meanwhile, international conglomerates, concerned about bad publicity, are becoming increasingly wary of investing in Kazakhstan.
The Justice Department confirmed in July that it is investigating the activities of James Giffen, a US businessman who for years has served as a middleman between the Kazakh government and Western oil giants in major energy deals. Giffen is suspected of helping to divert oil company fees into the private accounts of government officials. According to leaked Justice Department documents, the US government has focused its attention on Swiss bank accounts controlled by top Kazakh leaders, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev and former Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev. According to the allegations, up to US $65 million was improperly diverted to the accounts under investigation between 1997-99. The Justice Department has apparently persuaded the Swiss authorities to freeze accounts controlled by Giffen while the investigation continues.
Kazakh Finance Minister Mazhit Esenbaev dismissed the reports as
David Lewis is a risk analyst on Central Asian issues for the London-based consultancy, Control Risks Group.
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