Kazakhstan: Family Feud Brings Bonanza for Washington Lobbyists
Fresh revelations have emerged about the war of attrition between Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev.According to The New York Times, since falling out spectacularly in 2007, the two sides have unleashed “an extraordinary lobbying and public relations war” in Washington that was once described by an unnamed State Department official as a “blood feud to the death.” The report details how the two camps hired “dueling lobbyists” that recruited members of Congress to their rival causes. Aliyev hooked up with RJI Government Strategies to promote himself as a wronged democrat (though that idea is seen in Kazakhstan by the administration and the opposition alike as risible), while the Kazakh Embassy riposted with three lobbying deals worth $3.7 million, the report explained. Lobbyists for Astana – which says these PR agreements are not linked to Aliyev’s attacks – include APCO Worldwide and Policy Impact Communications.Academic institutions also got involved in the mudslinging. “Kazakhstan paid institutes affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies more than $350,000 in the three years [studied] to subsidize research, resulting in largely favorable reports on the nation,” The New York Times found.The Aliyev camp countered with a Washington lawsuit seeking $2 billion in damages, alleging that Astana channeled cash to members of Congress to curry favor – a charge vehemently denied by Kazakh officials. One of the plaintiffs is Issam Hourani, the husband of Aliyev’s sister, the report said.As the lobbyists continue to slug it out in Washington, bad news has emerged for Aliyev, who was divorced by Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva in 2007.Law-enforcement officials are considering filing murder charges against him after finding two corpses they suspect may belong to two missing bankers that Aliyev was earlier convicted of kidnapping.Aliyev – last reported living in Vienna, where a court in 2007 refused to extradite him to Kazakhstan – denies both that accusation and all the crimes he has been convicted of in absentia, including fomenting a coup d’etat and embezzlement.This is merely the latest twist in a long-running saga – expect the voices of the Washington lobbyists to become ever shriller as the family feud enters its fourth year.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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