Big Houses, Deep Pockets

The Nazarbaev Family’s Opulent Offshore Real Estate Empire

Mike Eckel and Sarah Alikhan, RFE/RL, December 22, 2020,

Geneva – In the gen­tle dawn of Switzerland’s late sum­mer, Lake Geneva’s rip­ples lap against the prop­er­ties on the east­ern shore in the sub­urb of Anières, home to diplo­mats, bankers, and well-to-do Swiss.

Some of the build­ings are under­stat­ed in their wealth, with slate shin­gles or mansard roofs or Corinthian columns. Some have gaze­bos on man­i­cured lawns look­ing west to the Jura Mountains, or docks where motor­boats and kayaks are parked. Many have gates and sur­veil­lance cam­eras to pro­tect from curi­ous passersby. 

And then there’s the prop­er­ty at No. 399 Route D’Hermance: a 3,200-square-meter three-lev­el vil­la with a but­ter­fly stair­case, a 25-meter indoor-out­door swim­ming pool, spa, guest quar­ters, and ter­raced landscaping. 

In an area known for hav­ing some of the most expen­sive hous­ing in the region, it’s an excep­tion­al property. 

The own­er of the estate, accord­ing to Swiss prop­er­ty records, is Dinara Kulibaeva, the daugh­ter of Kazakhstan’s long­time ruler, Nursultan Nazarbaev. She and her hus­band, Timur Kulibaev, who are among Kazakhstan’s wealth­i­est peo­ple, pur­chased the vil­la in 2009 for a report­ed $75 million. 

And they are among sev­er­al imme­di­ate and extend­ed rel­a­tives of Nazarbaev who own lav­ish real estate in the West. 

Over the past two decades, rel­a­tives of Nazarbaev have pur­chased hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in posh real estate in Europe and the United States, a string of high-end prop­er­ties on lux­u­ri­ous lake­sides, amid Manhattan’s sky­scrap­ers, London’s tony sub­urbs, and over­look­ing the azure waters of Spain’s Costa Brava.

A new RFE/RL inves­ti­ga­tion pro­vides the most com­pre­hen­sive overview to date of the prop­er­ties in this sprawl­ing real estate net­work linked to Nazarbaev’s rel­a­tives, includ­ing two of his daugh­ters, his grand­sons, and his brother.

The find­ings are not an exhaus­tive record of every for­eign prop­er­ty owned by a rel­a­tive of the for­mer Kazakh pres­i­dent, who was offi­cial­ly grant­ed the title “Leader of the Nation” in 2010 and cur­rent­ly serves as chair­man of the country’s pow­er­ful Security Council and heads its rul­ing polit­i­cal party. 

Nursultan Nazarbaev

But they offer an unprece­dent­ed win­dow into the scale of the real estate invest­ments by Nazarbaev’s rel­a­tives, and how many in close prox­im­i­ty to Kazakhstan’s rul­ing fam­i­ly end­ed up with lux­u­ry assets in exclu­sive locations.

RFE/RL iden­ti­fied at least $785 mil­lion in European and U.S. real estate pur­chas­es made by Nazarbaev’s fam­i­ly mem­bers and their in-laws in six coun­tries over a 20-year span. This fig­ure includes a hand­ful of prop­er­ties that have since been sold, includ­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar apart­ments in the United States bought by Nazarbaev’s broth­er, Bolat. It does not include a sprawl­ing Spanish estate owned by Kulibaev, for which a pur­chase price could not be found.

These acqui­si­tions have been fund­ed by the vast for­tunes Nazarbaev’s rel­a­tives have amassed in the oil-rich nation’s ener­gy, bank­ing, and oth­er sec­tors, while at var­i­ous times also serv­ing in offi­cial gov­ern­ment posts.

Nazarbaev’s patron­age is wide­ly seen as cru­cial to the wealth built by his rel­a­tives, who have repeat­ed­ly and vehe­ment­ly insist­ed they are suc­cess­ful busi­ness­peo­ple inde­pen­dent of their fam­i­ly and polit­i­cal connections. 

Prominent among those is Kulibaev, who has been dogged for years by accu­sa­tions that his wealth, main­ly from his work in the oil-and-gas indus­try, derives from his famil­ial rela­tions. The Financial Times on December 2 said it had uncov­ered a secret scheme that alleged­ly chan­neled tens of mil­lions of dol­lars from con­tracts relat­ed to a mas­sive gas pipeline to China to Kulibaev. His lawyers denied specifics of the report to the Financial Times and did not respond to queries from RFE/RL.

Several of these prop­er­ties doc­u­ment­ed by RFE/RL have been the sub­ject of legal chal­lenges, includ­ing per­mit­ting dis­putes, an acri­mo­nious divorce, and British freez­ing orders on three London res­i­dences that were lat­er over­turned by a court.

The invest­ments in pricey for­eign prop­er­ties also come against the back­drop of the country’s over­all increase in nation­al wealth since the Soviet col­lapse. This increased pros­per­i­ty has lift­ed liveli­hoods for many aver­age Kazakhs — but it has also helped the polit­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed elite trans­form into jet-set­ting tycoons and fod­der for news­pa­per gos­sip pages.

And with 80-year-old Nazarbaev in his twi­light, there’s a grow­ing uncer­tain­ty about what, and who, will suc­ceed him when he ful­ly departs from Kazakh pol­i­tics — and what might hap­pen to the for­tunes of those clos­est to him.

The sys­tem is so brit­tle. The polit­i­cal econ­o­my that Nazarbaev has built, it’s built on one man,” said Kate Mallinson, a London-based con­sul­tant and researcher of Central Asian politics. 

His rel­a­tives and clos­est allies have “hedged the bets on the future, not know­ing what will hap­pen — and so they’ve had to put assets out­side the coun­try,” Mallinson told RFE/RL. 

Yevgeniy Zhovtis, the head of Kazakhstan’s old­est and largest human-rights orga­ni­za­tion, said “it is hard to sep­a­rate the gov­ern­ment from the [Nazarbaev] fam­i­ly” and “hard to say how it will be in Kazakhstan” after Nazarbaev dies.

You can­not rely on pro­tec­tion from the rule of law when you live in such polit­i­cal sys­tems,” Zhovtis said.

FRANCE

$34 mil­lion, 23/24 Avenue de la Tropicale, Cannes (a.k.a. “La Tropicale”)

Bolat Nazarbaev, Maira Kurmangalieva

SPAIN

Avenue Canyelles 2(B), Lloret De Mar, Girona, Spain

Timur Kulibaev

SWITZERLAND

$113.2 mil­lion, Chateau de Bellerive, No. 25 and No. 27 Chemin du Milieu, Collonge-Bellerive, Canton of Geneva

Dinara Kulibaeva

$72 mil­lion, No. 399 Route D’Hermance, Anières, Canton of Geneva

Dinara Kulibaeva

Villa Galli, Via Cantonale 3, Melide (a.k.a. “La Romantica”)

Behgjet Pacolli, Timur Kulibaev

UNITED STATES

$3.4 mil­lion, 10225 Collins Ave., Unit 1801, Bal Harbour, Florida

Bolat Nazarbaev, Daniyar Kesikbaev

$20 mil­lion, 2 Margo Way, Alpine, New Jersey

Daniyar Kesikbaev, Maira Kurmangalieva

$4.3 mil­lion, Apts. 930 and 702, 55 Wall St., New York City

Bolat Nazarbaev, Daniyar Kesikbaev

$20.2 mil­lion, Plaza Hotel, Unit 1801, 768 Fifth Avenue, New York City

Bolat Nazarbaev

CZECH REPUBLIC

Hotel Corso, Stará Louka 460/38, Karlovy Vary

Zelina Katranova

$74,000, Hotel Mignon, Sadova 1049/55, Karlovy Vary

Kairat Boranbaev

$1.4 mil­lion, Myslivna, Sovova stez­ka 470/1, Karlovy Vary

Timur Kulibaev

$62,700, Sportcentrum Hruskova, Hruskova 2194, Sokolov

Kairat Boranbaev

$300,000, Villa Ahlan, Sadova 1075/53, Karlovy Vary

Kairat Boranbaev

BRITAIN

$214.5 mil­lion, 215 to 237 Baker Street, London

Darigha Nazarbaeva, Nurali Aliev

$92.2 mil­lion, 41–42 Upper Grosvenor Street; 41–42 Reeves Mews, London

Timur Kulibaev

$39.9 mil­lion, Pine Hill, Heatherside Drive, Virginia Water, Surrey, England

Kairat Boranbaev

$30.1 mil­lion, Sunninghill Park, Sunninghill Park, Buckhurst Road, Ascot, England

Timur Kulibaev

$140 mil­lion, The ‘Unexplained-Wealth’ Properties

Darigha Nazarbaeva, Nurali Aliev

RFE/RL jour­nal­ists report the news in 23 coun­tries where a free press is banned by the gov­ern­ment or not ful­ly estab­lished. We pro­vide what many peo­ple can­not get local­ly: uncen­sored news, respon­si­ble dis­cus­sion, and open debate. RFE/RL is reg­is­tered with the IRS as a pri­vate, non­prof­it Sec. 501©3 cor­po­ra­tion, and is fund­ed by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) as a pri­vate grantee. RFE/RL’s edi­to­r­i­al inde­pen­dence is pro­tect­ed by U.S. law.

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