Kazakhstan: Rakhatgate Saga Over as Former Son-in-Law Found Hanged
Rakhat Aliyev, the flamboyant and controversial former son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s president, has been found dead in an Austrian prison, where he was awaiting trial on charges of murdering two bankers in Kazakhstan eight years ago.
Once a major powerbroker in Kazakhstan, widely feared for his ruthless pursuit of business interests and personal vendettas, Aliyev was found hanged in the Vienna jail on February 24, Reuters reported. Austrian corrections department director Peter Prechtl reportedly described the death as suicide, though Aliyev’s lawyer expressed doubts.
Aliyev’s death puts an end to a tumultuous life which saw him climb the dizzy heights of power alongside his ex-wife Dariga Nazarbayeva (the eldest daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbayev) and amass a vast fortune in Kazakhstan, before suffering a spectacular fall from grace and ending up behind bars on a murder rap in Europe.
The former senior official in the Nazarbayev administration fell out with his father-in-law in 2007 and holed up in exile to escape criminal charges, first in Austria and then in Malta (where he lived under his second wife’s surname, Shoraz).
He vociferously protested his innocence of all charges, waging a media war with Nazarbayev and making claims of political persecution that were widely ridiculed in Kazakhstan (including by the political opposition, to which he had never demonstrated any previous allegiance).
Austria twice declined to extradite Aliyev to Kazakhstan on the grounds that he would not be guaranteed a fair trial. He was twice tried in absentia in Kazakhstan on charges including kidnapping, racketeering and plotting a coup d’etat, and sentenced to 40 years in jail in a case sometimes dubbed Rakhatgate.
Aliyev was finally arrested last June when he appeared in Vienna voluntarily to answer charges of murdering two bankers and former business associates in Kazakhstan in 2007. Austria agreed to prosecute him over the killings of Zholdas Timraliyev and Aybar Khasenov, whose families had vocally voiced their suspicions of Aliyev’s involvement in the crime at the time.
Aliyev leaves in his wake another case that has never been resolved to the satisfaction of the victims’ families: the murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev and two aides in 2006, in which their relatives have always suspected Aliyev’s hand. A retrial last year heard the contract killer convicted of committing the murder testify that Aliyev hired him to do it.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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