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Civil suit becomes Kazakh soap opera with Trump ties

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The inter­ests of a wealthy Kazakh fugi­tive, a com­pa­ny tied to dis­graced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the Trump Organization all inter­sect­ed here Friday in unusu­al court pro­ceed­ings.

The court­room dra­ma also fea­tured the depo­si­tion, albeit remote­ly, of Mukhtar Ablyazov, the for­mer chair­man of Kazakhstan’s promi­nent Bank TuranAlem (BTA), which col­lapsed in 2009 and was bailed out by the gov­ern­ment.

Ablyazov’s daugh­ter Madina is mar­ried to Ilyas Khrapunov, step­son of the for­mer may­or of Kazakhstan’s finan­cial hub, Almaty. Lawyers rep­re­sent­ing BTA and the city of Almaty allege that the two pow­er­ful fam­i­lies have comin­gled stolen bank and gov­ern­ment funds, laun­der­ing the illic­it gains through real estate.

A sep­a­rate, sim­i­lar law­suit against the Khrapunovs in Los Angeles alleges the laun­der­ing includ­ed the pur­chase of three con­dos at the Trump Soho build­ing in low­er Manhattan.

Ilyas Khrapunov insist­ed, in an inter­view with McClatchy ear­li­er this year, that his fam­i­ly is being per­se­cut­ed polit­i­cal­ly by Kazakh strong­man leader Nursultan Nazerbayev, who has ruled since 1989.

A series of inves­tiga­tive sto­ries by McClatchy and its report­ing part­ners — Dutch broad­cast­er Zembla and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project — revealed in recent months that Khrapunov and for­mer Trump Organization employ­ees Felix Sater and Daniel Ridloff have had deep busi­ness ties, includ­ing invest­ments in Kazakhstan and the United States.

Lawyers allege that when Ablyazov fled to London in 2009, he abscond­ed with as much as $10 bil­lion, squir­rel­ing it away in off­shore banks and hid­den behind lay­ers of shell com­pa­nies. His son-in-law invest­ed with Sater in real estate in Manhattan, Ohio and Syracuse, N.Y.

This graph­ic from Dutch broad­cast­er Zembla shows Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugi­tive Kazakh banker, for­mer Almaty Mayor Viktor Khrapunov, and their chil­dren, who are mar­ried, Madina Ablyazova and Ilyas Khrapunov. All face law­suits alleg­ing embez­zle­ment. . Zembla

For sev­er­al years, Geneva-based Ilyas Khrapunov has stymied efforts by lawyers try­ing to make him sit for a depo­si­tion, aimed at get­ting to the facts of the alleged theft.

(An aside: U.S. law firm Bracewell & Giuliani in 2007 helped BTA issue more than $1 bil­lion in cor­po­rate bonds to investors short­ly before the bank col­lapsed. The “Giuliani” in the firm’s name was Rudolph, the for­mer New York may­or and Trump cam­paign sur­ro­gate, who him­self raised funds in Kazakhstan for his failed pres­i­den­tial bid in 2008.)

Friday’s court hear­ing dealt with a new and unex­pect­ed twist: Someone had leaked the secret tran­script of recent sworn tes­ti­mo­ny. The only per­son receiv­ing the tran­script besides lawyers in the case, said lawyers from both sides, was Ilyas Khrapunov.

The doc­u­ment, which includ­ed embar­rass­ing ques­tions about ties between BTA’s cur­rent lead­ers and gov­ern­ment offi­cials, appeared in an anony­mous Kazakh blog, scor­ing polit­i­cal points back home for the Ablyazov and Khrapunov fam­i­lies, who are now part of the polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion.

The Weinstein con­nec­tion? Hours before Friday’s court pro­ceed­ings were to begin, lawyers for the Khrapunovs asked Judge Katharine Parker to com­pel oppos­ing lawyers to reveal if they’d hired the pri­vate Israeli intel­li­gence firm Black Cube, which is most­ly run by for­mer offi­cers of the Israeli intel­li­gence agency Mossad.

Black Cube admit­ted it had worked for dis­graced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in his bid to stop pub­li­ca­tion of alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al harass­ment and sex abuse. The com­pa­ny issued an apol­o­gy in ear­ly November,

Weinstein hired Black Cube through the the same law firm – Boies, Schilles & Flexner – that rep­re­sents BTA and Almaty. The let­ter filed late Thursday cit­ed a Nov. 15 New York Times sto­ry in which the law firm said it had hired Black Cube at least one oth­er occa­sion besides for Weinstein.

It is impor­tant for us to under­stand whether Almaty, BTA Bank or Kazakhstan is the ‘oth­er client’,” the let­ter to the judge reads. “This is espe­cial­ly per­ti­nent giv­en BTA and the government’s well doc­u­ment­ed his­to­ry of employ­ing covert orga­ni­za­tions to sur­veil and hack both Mr. Ablyazov and the Khrapunovs, as well as BTA’s his­to­ry of mis­lead­ing the court in the relat­ed UK lit­i­ga­tion.”

Three lawyers present at the hear­ing rep­re­sent­ed Ilyas and his step­fa­ther Viktor Khrapunov, who are both on an Interpol deten­tion list.

Over a speak­er­phone and through a Russian-speak­ing inter­preter, Albyazov, who was detained in France for three years until 2016, con­firmed that he has yet to retain coun­sel and said he had no role in a leak of court doc­u­ments.

I pur­pose­ly refrain from using email so as not to give away my where­abouts,” he said, acknowl­edg­ing he was call­ing from an unspec­i­fied loca­tion described as only a “French ter­ri­to­ry.”

Khrapunov attor­ney John Curley ner­vous­ly con­firmed to the judge Friday that only Ilyas Khrapunov received a trans­lat­ed copy of the ear­li­er depo­si­tion, and that he took him at his word that he was not the source of the leak.

No, we did not under­take any inves­ti­ga­tion beyond that,” Curley admit­ted.

The long-run­ning and often dra­mat­ic pro­ceed­ings are expect­ed to resume again in January.

– Paluch is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent report­ing from New York

Kevin G. Hall: 202–383-6038, @KevinGHall Ben Wieder: 202–383-6125, @BenBWieder

BY GABRIELLE PALUCH, KEVIN G. HALL AND BEN WIEDER

Civil suit becomes Kazakh soap opera with Trump ties

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