Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Shame and scandal in the family

One of the only areas to elude the control of most of the world's dictators is that most mercurial of institutions: their own families. Don't take my word for it, however, ask Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The bizarre story centers on Nazarbayev's son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev, who is accused of kidnapping as many of four executives of Kazakhstan's seventh largest bank, Nurbank. Apparently, Aliev is suspected of kidnapping two top Nurbank executives, spiriting them away to parts unknown, and beating the living crap out of them as part of an effort to get the bank to sell their headquarters to Aliev at a heavy loss. Then, just as mysteriously, a gang of armed thugs stormed the Nurbank office, kidnapped another pair of Nurbank executives, and delivered them to a police station for question - an odd fate for kidnapping victims.

Needless to say, it all hit the fan after that. Despite using his position as Kazakh television and newspaper mogul to lobby on his own behalf, the public, long used to Nazarbayev's naked nepotism, appeared to have had enough of Aliev. What's more, Nazarbayev himself appeared to have his pulse on the popular mood for a change. In a fit of pique, Nazabayev denied Aliev the protection from prosecution that only a dictator can provide. At this point, Aliev saw the writing on the wall and did what any sensible man in his position would do - he fled the country.

Aliev went to Austria - a sensible choice, since he also just happened to be the Kazakh ambassador to Austria, and owned numerous business interests in Austria. Also coincidentally, Aliev just happened to be in the process of selling Nurbank to two Austrian banking firms. Nazarbayev, who appears to be completely fed up with Aliev, removed him from his ambassadorial position. In exile, and running out of options, the once pampered Aliev implausibly started posturing as a downtrodden dissident political figure and applied for asylum in Austria, claiming that Nazarbayev was out to get him. While this is probably true, in a sense, the Austrians apparently had a difficult time swallowing his claim of a "well founded fear of political persecution", and arrested him instead.

At present, Aliev is free on $1.3 million dollars bail, but he's facing extradition back home to face the wrath of his father in law. The Austrians have every reason to suspect that Aliev has no chance in hell of getting a fair trial now that he's on the outs with the old man, but it appears that extradition is likely. People have raised well founded questions as to whether the Austrians are giving up Aliev to preserve the Nurbank deal, but as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. According to Joshua at Registan, Austria and Kazakhstan do not have a formal extradition treaty, which is just going to add another layer of juicy drama to Central Asia's messiest family feud.


Joshua Foust said...

I think the question of exactly how to go about extradition is going to be a big thorn in both countries' side. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is going to be whether or not Kazakhstan can guarantee a fair trial and due process according to European Court of Human Rights and EU Laws.

Bonnie Boyd, who runs the Central Asia blog for the FPA, has a great post on the subject.

Joshua Foust said...

Exactly. Nobody likes a rabble rouser, unless it serves an explicit domestic political interest. Aliyev does not, for either country. So he's basically done for.