Kazakhstan: Is US Lawsuit Against Ex-Mayor Selective Justice?
The municipality of Almaty is suing Viktor Khrapunov, a former mayor and a foe of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in the United States, accusing him of having “systematically looted” millions from city coffers over a decade ago.
Raising questions about why it took the municipality so long to notice the missing millions, the case was lodged in a Los Angeles federal court on May 14, a decade after Khrapunov left the post of mayor and six years after he moved out of Kazakhstan to base himself in a luxury Swiss mansion.
Adding piquancy to the scandal, Khrapunov’s daughter Madina is related by marriage to embattled oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, Astana’s public enemy number one.
Discredited former banker Ablyazov is in jail in France battling extradition to Russia on fraud charges, and fighting moves to strip him of political asylum in the United Kingdom.
Madina Ablyazova is named as a defendant in the Khrapunov case along with Khrapunov’s wife Leila and son Ilyas, reports The Courthouse News, a Pasadena-based legal wire service.
Khrapunov – a former Nazarbayev administration insider who held a string of top posts including mayor of Almaty from 1997 to 2004 – “abused his position of trust as a public official in order to convert and sell numerous assets belonging to the City of Almaty for his own benefit and the benefit of his co-conspirators,” the report quotes the lawsuit as saying.
They “set out to launder and conceal their ill-gotten gains by acquiring assets,” including in California and elsewhere in the United States, it continues.
Khrapunov’s troubles began two years ago, five years after he left Kazakhstan for Switzerland – for health reasons, according to his website (which describes him modestly as a “statesman and reformer”).
Kazakhstan issued an Interpol arrest warrant for Khrapunov and his wife in 2012 – shortly after Khrapunov became embroiled in the Astana-Ablyazov feud, going public with claims of corruption with tentacles reaching into the Nazarbayev family. Khrapunov then became the target of a corruption investigation in Switzerland, where his bank accounts were frozen.
So while Kazakhstan took its time about filing lawsuits against the former mayor, Khrapunov took a full five years to start dishing the insider dirt on corruption – leading skeptics to view the whole affair as nothing more than an example of high-stakes elite infighting.
Selective justice is nothing new for Kazakhstan, where the downfall of important players often follows a fall-out with Nazarbayev. Rakhat Aliyev, Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law (now living abroad), acted with impunity for years before the authorities belatedly woke up and convicted him in absentia on charges including kidnapping, fraud and coup plotting.
The US courts are no stranger to litigants from Kazakhstan: The president’s brother, businessman Bolat Nazarbayev, is currently embroiled in a multi-million-dollar divorce settlement in New York, reports the New York Post, where the assets at stake include “a $20 million Plaza condo, a $3 million Wall Street pad and a $5 million oceanfront Miami apartment.”