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Spectacular Fall From Grace for Kazak President's Son-in-Law

The authorities move against a powerful political figure despite his family connections.
By Daur Dosybiev
Married to the president's daughter and occupying a series of high-profile positions, Rahat Aliev seemed to be part of an untouchable inner circle in Kazak politics. But in the last two weeks he has gone from being ambassador to Austria to a wanted suspect, and his career now seems irreparable.



Analysts say the arrest warrant for Aliev, formerly deputy head of Kazakstan’s intelligence agency, the National Security Committee, head of the presidential security service, and deputy foreign minister, is the culmination of a murky conflict pitting factions against each other within the political hierarchy created by President Nursultan Nazarbaev.



Aliev is married to the president’s elder daughter Dariga, a prominent politician with a seat in parliament and head of the Kazakstan Congress of Journalists.



On May 23, Kazakstan's interior ministry announced that Aliev had been charged in connection with the abduction and assault of two officials of Nurbank, in which he is a key shareholder.



Abilmajen Gilimov, at the time chairman of Nurbank, and his deputy Joldas Timraliev, disappeared in January. After their release a day later, they resigned from the bank. Family members alleged that they had been beaten to force them to give up shareholdings in Nurbank and sign away the building.



Ten associates of Aliev – including several who had worked for him in the presidential security service – were also charged on May 23.



The interior ministry said investigations were also focusing on alleged links to organised crime and unspecified financial crimes.



The following day, the prosecutor general ministry suspended Aliev’s KTK television channel and newspaper Karavan from operating. The official reason was that they were not carrying enough material in Kazak, as they are legally required to do. But the media outlets had carried material that presented Aliev’s side of the story.



Aliev was packed off to Vienna in February after the kidnapping allegations surfaced, as ambassador to Austria and to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, which Kazakstan hopes to chair in 2009.



But on May 26, after the criminal charges were brought against Aliev, Nazarbaev sacked him from both positions.



The question now is whether he will return to face charges. On May 30, Kazakstan submitted a formal request to the Austrian authorities to extradite him. Stripped of his diplomatic immunity, he has now applied for political asylum.



Aliev has previously denied any connection with the abductions, filing defamation suits against the wives of Gilimov and Timraliev for allegations they had made against him.



In a statement circulated on May 29 in the Kazak media, Aliev suggested he was being victimised merely because he told his father-in-law in private that he too would like to be president one day.



“A few months ago I told Nursultan Abishevich [Nazarbaev] that I’d decided to stand as a candidate in the next presidential election in 2012. It would be a natural progression for my political career,” he said.



He said the charges against him were “open lawlessness and a return to the totalitarian past”.



“As for the attack on the bank [ie the alleged abductions], I will say the following – the situation is becoming absurd in the extreme,” he said, listing a number of grave flaws in the way the interior ministry was conducting the case. “A case is being fabricated against me and people close to me.”



Referring to the temporary closure of KTK and Karavan, he added, “At the same time, popular independent TV companies and newspapers are being closed down merely because they have covered the events that are happening.”



Aliev has been a political thorn in Nazarbaev’s side for some time. In 2001, a group of businessmen believed to be in favour with the president wrote to the Kazak parliament accusing Aliev of attempting to move in on their businesses and assets.



This year, Aliev and his father publicly embarrassed Nazarbaev by criticising an amendment to the constitution - now passed - which will allow him to stand for an unlimited number of terms in office.



That perceived disloyalty may have predisposed Nazarbaev not to back his son-in-law in the event of another public scandal. However, it seems that he was forced to take action by the interior ministry’s revelations, rather than choosing the timing himself.



The way the allegations came out and the swiftness with which the authorities moved to prosecute Aliev suggest that he has lost out in an ongoing war between competing political and business groups – all of them regime insiders, but with differing interests and allegiances.



These groupings consist of banks, financial institutions and industrial companies headed by high-profile figures with an inside track to the corridors of political power.



On May 22, Aliev announced publicly that he was in possession of documents containing damaging information about the mayor of Almaty, Imangali Tasmagambetov, and Interior Minister Baurjan Mukhamejanov.



By the following day, Gilimov was speaking on the state television channel Astana, alleging that it was Aliev personally, along with armed accomplices, who kidnapped him and Timraliev back in January and held them hostage for about 24 hours, threatening to kill them if they did not sign over their bank assets.



Criminal charges were brought against Aliev the same day.



On May 30, a group of leading businessmen, including the heads of three major banks and a number of successful companies, made a statement to the media expressing support for the president and attacking Aliev.



“Many of us have experienced his [Aliev’s] methods of doing business and using law-enforcement agencies to apply political pressure for his own ends. Any one of us could have been in the place of the kidnapped bankers,” said the statement.



According to local human rights advocate Yevgeny Zhovtis, the balance of power has clearly shifted away from those associated with Aliev to others, which are underlining their loyalty to the head of state.



“It is clear that there is a kind of consensus among the majority of groupings about the war against Aliev’s group. And as long as the president doesn’t change his mind for other reasons – such as family ties – Aliev’s political future is unenviable, to put it mildly,” he said.



An official in the Almaty mayor’s office, who wished to remain anonymous, agrees that Aliev’s fate is sealed.



“He went too far,” he said. Referring to the reported rivalry between Aliev and other business factions, he said it was inevitable that one side was going to win, “They [both sides] were openly taking businesses away from each other, and you can’t do that and go unpunished. On this occasion, Aliev went after his father-in-law’s friends.”



A defiant Aliev has insisted that he remains a political player.

“I want to make it clear that I am always going to be in politics. I’m going to do everything in my power to prevent the country sliding backwards into the totalitarian Soviet past,” he said in his statement. “I know I have many, many supporters in our country. I am convinced the future is ours, not yours, Mr President-for-Life.”

With an international arrest warrant bearing his name and an extradition request filed in Vienna, Aliev’s immediate future looks unpromising.



Yet there is still the matter of his family ties to the president, which some analysts think might end in a face-saving arrangement rather than a high-profile trial.



“It’s one thing to charge Aliev the official, but another thing to charge the husband of your eldest daughter,” commented political analyst Andrei Chebotarev.



Chebotarev thinks Aliev could be banished to some distant foreign posting, or if there is no rapprochement, reconfigure himself as an opposition leader in exile.



According to Eduard Poletaev, the chief editor of the Mir Yevrazii magazine, if Aliev were brought to trial, he might try to defend himself by making damaging claims against Nazarbaev and his entourage



“Our leadership’s image is already shaky in the wake of ‘Kazakgate’ and the other corruption cases that have come to light,” said Poletaev, referring to the ongoing trial in the United State in which James Giffen, a former advisor to Nazarbaev, is accused of facilitating the payment of massive bribes by US oil companies to top Kazak officials.



But Poletaev thinks the very fact that so much is known about these allegations would reduce the impact of any new revelations Aliev might come up with, “so there’s no point in blackmailing anyone with such material”.



In the short term, said Poletaev, Aliev’s future may depend on the prosecution and trial of Aliev’s associates. “A lot depends on how quickly these people are brought into custody, and what they say,” he said.



Independent journalist Sergei Duvanov believes that Aliev’s fate is not sealed yet, as the case against him rests on statements made by injured parties and witnesses, and these could still be retracted or changed.



“I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole situation is reversed so that Aliev becomes the victim and other people the accused,” he said.



Daur Dosybiev is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.

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