Rakhat Aliev, the exiled former son-in-law of Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, says he's ready to give evidence in a U.S. investigation into whether Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials took bribes from U.S. businesses to receive lucrative oil contracts more than a decade ago.
Aliev's offer comes the same week that "The Wall Street Journal" reported that Aliev's former wife -- and President Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva -- hired U.S. firms to monitor the investigation into those bribery allegations, known as "Kazakhgate."
It is a scandal few countries want to see in the news.
Kazakhstan is becoming a major oil exporter at a time when everyone, including Western democracies, is seeking new suppliers for their energy needs.
Kazakhstan is also due to receive the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010. The OSCE made that decision in late November 2007. By that time, Aliev had already been charged with illegal business activities, kidnapping officials from a Kazakh bank, and other crimes. But Austrian authorities rejected a Kazakh request to extradite Aliev to Kazakhstan for trial. Other, more serious charges of treason and plotting a coup soon followed and, in two separate trials earlier this year, Aliev was sentenced in absentia to 40 years in jail.
Man Of Privilege
Aliev remains in Austria where he worked as Kazakhstan's ambassador until May 2007, when he was dismissed from his post, the charges against him surfaced, and notice was delivered to him in Vienna that Darigha Nazarbaeva had divorced him.
Aliev was a man of privilege in Kazakhstan. He worked as a doctor and then later headed the country's tax service. He also served as first deputy security minister, first deputy foreign minister, and in other key posts, including as Kazakhstan's representative to the OSCE during the years Kazakhstan was negotiating to obtain the presidency.
When charges continued to pile up against Aliev, he struck back. Recordings of taped phone calls purportedly between high-ranking Kazakh government officials -- some allegedly with the voice of Nazarbaev -- were leaked to opposition websites. The conversations allegedly concerned bribes involving millions of dollars and also contained references to physical retaliation against political opponents. The appearance of the tapes caused Kazakh authorities to block those sites and initiate legislation to change the laws governing Internet sites.
The tapes first appeared late last year, and then more appeared ahead of Aliev's January trial when he was convicted, in absentia, of illegal business activities, kidnappings, assault, illegal possession of weapons, and other charges. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail.
More tapes surfaced after Aliev was convicted in absentia in March on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, selling state secrets, and treason. He received another 20 years in jail.
Questions Of Legality
On May 12, "The Wall Street Journal" published an article headlined "Kazakh Leader's Daughter Monitored U.S. Bribe Case." The article said Darigha Nazarbaeva "used well-connected Washington private security consultants to gather information on a U.S. bribery probe involving her father."
There are now questions about the legality of this "monitoring," since information about the investigation is confidential. The article mentions former high-level U.S. intelligence and security officials -- including a former CIA chief and former FBI directors -- having worked with at least one of the firms, and it questions whether such people could have used their contacts in the Justice Department to gain information about Kazakhgate and pass it to Nazarbaeva.
Former New York banker James Giffen is alleged to have been a middle-man passing money from U.S. oil companies to President Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials in exchange for oil contracts in Kazakhstan. The case has raised eyebrows not only for the accusations themselves but for the slow pace in which the investigation has progressed in the United States, a country with great interests in Kazakhstan's oil industry. Kazakhgate is a taboo subject in Kazakhstan, and several media outlets that reported on it were victims of vandalism or crippling financial investigations that resulted in their closure.
Aidos Sarym, director of the Altynbek Sarsenbaev Foundation, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that Nazarbaeva's interest in the case would be natural, especially given her ambitions.
"Darigha Nazarbaeva is one of the persons who would return to Kazakh politics in the future," Sarym says. "Anyway it's clear for me that she wants to stay in politics after [her father's] era, and she wants to be in politics and to be the first person in politics. From this point of view, it's clear that if she thinks about her future, if Kazakhgate continues, if the trial starts, it will work against her political interests. But it isn't clear how much of what she did was legal."
Playing Double Game?
Long-time opposition politician Zhasaral Kuanyshali agrees that it could be simply a case of a loyal daughter seeking information to help keep her father out of trouble. But Nazarbaeva was married, seemingly happily, to Aliev while the investigation was proceeding and being monitored. He wonders whether Nazarbaeva might be playing a double game.
"If her intentions toward her father are honorable, then it's understandable that she would want to become aware and defend her father in the Kazakhgate affair," Kuanyshali says. "And the second possibility is whether her intentions toward her father are different and she wants to use [the monitoring] in a struggle against him.
"We know, we take into consideration that there are conflicts within the [Nazarbaev] family. There is also the situation around Rakhat Aliev," Kuanyshali continues. "Darigha may have some resentment connected with her husband's treatment, and it's possible she could carry out her own policies against Nazarbaev because Rakhat Aliev is struggling for power, wants to return to head Kazakhstan. I think Darigha wouldn't disown him. Probably they have some agreements."
Aliev's threat to come to the United States and give evidence that could clearly link President Nazarbaev to the scandal seems to have been prompted by "The Wall Street Journal" article. On May 15, Aliev posted copies of what kaztoday.ru says are an Interpol warrant, issued by Liechtenstein, against Nazarbaev, his former prime minister, the former head of the state oil company, a former presidential adviser, and another of Nazarbaev's daughters, Dinara. Also posted was a photocopy of a check for $1 million made out to the "bearer" that is supposed to be from one of the payoffs to Kazakh officials.
Aidos Sarym said posting the warrant and check and Aliev's apparent willingness now to present his evidence in U.S. courts bodes ill for President Nazarbaev.
'Ready To Show What He Has'
"There is a possibility that this is to demonstrate their power because it is clear that they have information and documents," Sarym says. "Rakhat Aliev is only showing a small portion of it, but there is a nuance in this in that Rakhat Aliev is ready to go to the Kazakhgate trial in the United States and show what he has. I think it will force Nazarbaev's inner circle to think about it.
"Rakhat Aliev has already posted some documents on the Internet and in the newspapers, but he never said to whom, exactly, they pertained," Sarym continues. "The first documents he has published were already known, but this check, of course, is a new thing. These documents were published to demonstrate he has a lot of documents in his possession."
One of Aliev's accomplices in his alleged criminal activities is former Kazakh security chief Alnur Musaev, who has also been sentenced in absentia to a lengthy jail term. Aliev's connection to Musaev explains how the former presidential son-in-law may have obtained such damning evidence on the Kazakh president.
RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhan and correspondent Erzhan Karabek contributed to this report