Leaked tape recordings that expose allegedly illicit practices by members of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's administration may be connected to the trial of former presidential son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, local political analysts believe.
A new batch of tapes was publicized on two pro-opposition websites kub.info and inkar.info in mid-November. The recordings purportedly contain the voices of high-ranking government officials discussing illicit campaign-financing methods. On one tape, a voice alleged to be Nazarbayev's is heard telling an aide to hit up some of the country's most influential entrepreneurs for large-scale "donations" to the pro-presidential Nur Otan Party.
The contents of a first set of tapes began appearing in opposition media in late October. There is no way to independently verify the identities of the speakers, or the authenticity of the various conversations. In addition, no information is available about when the recordings were made. Judging by the nature of the discussions, they would seem to pre-date the August special parliamentary election. Nur Otan won all the seats up for grabs in that vote. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Government representatives insist the tapes are fakes. Kazakhstan's prosecutor's office on November 8 issued a strongly-worded warning to media outlets, saying that distribution of the information contained on the tapes contravened the right to privacy. The clear hint was that any outlet that published or broadcast the tapes would face criminal penalties. "The Prosecutor-General's Office suggests that media owners, their editorial staff and journalists should take measures to prevent breaches of the law and cases of damage to the rights, freedoms and interests, as protected by law, of citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan," the warning said. The National Security Committee is investigating the case.
Opposition newspapers, which faced publishing obstacles in October, are now again reaching newsstands, but some websites remain unavailable. Sergei Duvanov, head of inkar.info Internet radio station which is available to users outside Kazakhstan said the site is blocked inside Kazakhstan. The kub.info site is also unavailable to users inside Kazakhstan, according to the site's chief, Rashid Nugmanov.
The source of the tapes remains a mystery, but most political observers see the disgraced Aliyev as the prime suspect, having both a motive and the means to open a window on the inner workings of the presidential administration.
Aliyev's motive to damage the administration's reputation was clearly evident on November 9, when his trial got underway in Almaty. He is facing a variety of criminal charges including extortion, kidnapping, money-laundering and conspiracy in connection with the disappearance of two top executives of Nurbank, one of the country's largest financial institutions. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
After charges were dropped against two of the accused who will now testify for the prosecution 24 people in all, including Aliyev, are on trial in the case. Aliyev in self-imposed exile in Vienna after an Austrian court declined his extradition is being tried in absentia, as is Alnur Musayev, Aliyev's former boss at Kazakhstan's National Security Committee. Prosecutors allege that defendants were members of a criminal group. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The dissemination of the tape recordings may be part of Aliyev's defense strategy, some experts believe. "There is now bargaining taking place between Aliyev and authorities," Andrei Chebotarev, head of the Alternativa think-tank, told the Polyton political discussion club on November 9. "The president doesn't know what trump [cards] Aliyev holds." Aliyev who has revealed that he is writing a book to be called The Godfather-In-Law has frequently hinted that he possesses compromising material concerning top officials.
During the trial, prosecutors alleged that the criminal group was responsible for abductions of three senior Nurbank officials, two of whom Zholdas Timraliyev and Aybar Khasenov are still missing. The third, Abilmazhen Gilimov, gave damning testimony from the witness stand.
One of the charges against Aliyev alleges that the former presidential son-in-law organized the kidnapping of Nurbank officials in order to force them and their associates into selling the Ken Dala business center in Almaty worth about 80 million euros at a price well below market value. In coercing the Nurbank officials, Aliyev allegedly fired shots at their feet, prosecutors contend. The court also heard that Timraliyev and Khasenov missing since January 31 were held drugged in an undisclosed location until February 9, and then taken to an unknown destination.
From Vienna, Aliyev has criticized the trial as politically motivated. The Respublika newspaper published an interview with him in late October in which he claimed that, rather than holding the Nurbank executives hostage, he relaxed with them at a sauna.
Aliyev has not specified what his Nurbank interest was. While many mass media outlets reported that he was a shareholder, bank documents have never listed him as such, and Gilimov is on record as saying that Aliyev did not hold shares. Gulmira Dzhumadillayeva then chairwoman of the board has shed some light on the matter. "Rakhat Aliyev was the boss of Nurbank. Although he was not a direct shareholder, Aliyev controlled the bank via companies," the Vremya newspaper quoted her as telling the court on November 14.
Aliyev's former wife the president's eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva, who divorced him in the wake of the controversy is now Nurbank's majority shareholder with a 36.28-percent stake; their son, Nurali, was voted chairman of the board in mid-October and holds 6.14 percent.
Observers in Kazakhstan have wondered about the timing of the trial, noting that myriad questions remain unresolved concerning the recent discoveries of two bodies.
One is that of Anastasiya Novikova the wife of Aliyev's cousin, Daniyar Esten which was flown to Kazakhstan in secrecy from Lebanon after her death there in 2004, and buried. Aliyev has acknowledged sending an aide to help repatriate Novikova's body, and has maintained that her death was a suicide. Authorities now indicate that the return of Novikova's body was not done in full compliance with the law. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The other body remains unidentified and may have a greater bearing on the case. It was discovered in October outside Almaty near a property belonging to Aliyev's father. Authorities believe the corpse may be that of one of the missing Nurbank officials.
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.