Kazakhstan: Presidential daughter getting Panama-ed at a tricky time
The president urged businesspeople to repatriate offshore funds, but his relatives seem to be disregarding the call.
Not for the first time, Kazakhstan’s ruling family has cropped up in reporting on leaked financial documents pertaining to assets stashed in offshore locations.
This time, revelations are set to focus on elder presidential daughter and senator Dariga Nazarbayeva.
With the Nazarbayev family, it is a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” As he seeks to rein in chronic capital flight and retain leverage over the country’s moneyed elite, 77-year-old President Nursultan Nazarbayev has regularly cajoled and menaced the country’s wealthy to return their foreign-held riches to Kazakhstan.
But his own family sets a poor example.
On June 21, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project announced that it and other partner organizations in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, or ICIJ, would be publishing a new series of stories based on leaks from the Panama-based legal firm Mossack Fonseca.
Among the featured stories will be one on Dariga Nazarbayeva, 55, Nazarbayev’s most politically prominent offspring, who is sometimes mentioned as a potential successor.
According to the OCCRP, Nazarbayeva was sole shareholder of a now-inactive British Virgin Islands company called Asterry Holdings Ltd, which held a stake in sugar factories in Kazakhstan from October 2007.
That as-yet-unelaborated claim would make sense given that Dariga’s side of the family has had interests in the sugar sector for some time. Her son Nurali Aliyev, for instance, was president of a group called the Sugar Center from 2004 to 2006. As it happens, Aliyev was also identified as a client of Mossack Fonseca in the first trove of company documents pored over by the ICIJ last year, with two companies and a luxury yacht having been registered under his name in the BVI.
Sure enough, the Dariga tidbit was gratefully pounced on by Nazarbayev’s leading nemesis and fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who posted on Facebook a mock-up image of Nazarbayeva in a yellow holiday hat set against a tropical coastline with the heading: “Is Panama Pinching You Darigusha?”
Europe-based Ablyazov was advertising a discussion on his Democratic Choice Kazakhstan movement’s Telegram channel titled “Program 2020” — a reference to Kazakhstan’s next presidential elections in which Dariga’s father is now odds-on not to run.
Local Facebook users duly complained that the social media platform had slowed down the same evening.
Whatever the details of the leaks related to Nazarbayeva’s offshore habits, she can rely on the vast majority of the Kazakh media space, where she is offered the same deference as royalty, not to pick up on them.
Even lesser servants of the state are accorded this privilege. When Sauat Mynbayev, chief executive of Kazakhstan’s state-owned KazMunaiGaz oil and gas company, was said by journalists to have had interests in an offshore company that used the country’s largest lender, Kazkommertsbank, as a de facto piggy bank, the silence in Kazakhstan was deafening.
Popular privately owned media websites such as Informburo.kz and Tengrinews only responded to coverage on the so-called Paradise Papers leak to print Mynbayev’s denial of any wrongdoing and comments by a lawmaker from the ruling Nur Otan ruling party who said the oil chief’s appearance in the leak along with other Kazakh officials had “raised questions for society.”
The potential connection between the company’s rapacious activity and Kazkommertsbank's subsequent financial woes was never explored at all.
Still, the negative press comes at bad time for Nazarbayeva, who is under a strengthening spotlight after colleague Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in an interview with the BBC that he believed Nazarbayev’s current presidential term would be his last.
Conventional wisdom has viewed these comments as a signal sanctioned from above, rather than as a Freudian slip, despite the fact that as chair of the upper house Tokayev is constitutionally second-in-line to the president.
On June 21, when local media began reporting the comments, the former foreign minister moved to play them down.
The ever-provocative Ablyazov has a theory that differs from the mainstream view.
Referring to Tokayev on Facebook disparagingly as “furniture,” the opposition figure wanted for large-scale fraud in Kazakhstan noted that furniture sometimes lets out “characteristic sounds” as it is shifted from one part of the room to another.
“On the eve of an autumn reshuffle, when Dariga Nazarbayeva, will take his place (as senate chair), this furniture has emitted an unfortunate sound and is now wildly apologizing,” he jeered.