Former Kazakhstan uranium czar blames imprisonment on sale of Clinton-linked Canadian company to Russians

Mukhtar Dzakishev sus­pects he was jailed because of his oppo­si­tion to the Russian takeover of a Toronto-based ura­ni­um com­pa­ny with con­nec­tions to Bill Clinton

Mukhtar Dzhakishev is by all accounts in mis­er­able shape.

Languishing in a “harsh” Kazakhstan prison colony that was once part of Stalin’s gulag sys­tem, he suf­fers from hyper­ten­sion, hard­ened arter­ies and kid­ney dis­ease like­ly trig­gered by a severe beating.

His life is con­stant­ly at risk,” one human-rights group warned in September, as it urged the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to advo­cate on Dzakishev’s behalf.

Largely unable to com­mu­ni­cate with the out­side world, the for­mer head of Kazakhstan’s state ura­ni­um con­glom­er­ate has made one thing clear: he blames his arrest and 14-year prison term at least in part on a Canadian company’s cor­po­rate dealings.

His life is constantly at risk

More specif­i­cal­ly, Dzakishev sus­pects he was jailed because of his oppo­si­tion to the Russian takeover of a Toronto-based ura­ni­um com­pa­ny with con­nec­tions to Bill Clinton, an eight-year-old con­tro­ver­sy that has once again become polit­i­cal fod­der in America.

The Russians “destroyed the com­pa­ny — Kazatomprom — my father once built from noth­ing, destroyed our lives … and are tak­ing what belongs to the Kazakh peo­ple,” his daugh­ter, Aigerim Dzhakishev, told the National Post. “Unfortunately our (Kazakhstan) pres­i­dent is in on it with Putin, so there is noth­ing any­one can do about it.”

With the first charges laid Monday in the inves­ti­ga­tion of Russian inter­fer­ence in last year’s U.S. elec­tion — and pos­si­ble col­lu­sion by President Donald Trump’s cam­paign — Trump and his sup­port­ers are try­ing to revive con­tro­ver­sy over the Obama administration’s 2010 approval of the sale of Uranium One, which owns an American ura­ni­um mine.

Hillary Clinton speaks at a cam­paign event on Sept. 8, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

They allege that Hillary Clinton, as sec­re­tary of state, paved the way for the Toronto-based firm’s trans­fer to a Russian state cor­po­ra­tion as pay-back for large­ly Canadian dona­tions to the Clinton char­i­ta­ble foundation.

Two U.S. Senate com­mit­tees have recent­ly launched inves­ti­ga­tions into the affair, though evi­dence of such a quid-pro-quo — or that it would in any way com­pro­mise American secu­ri­ty — is ten­u­ous, at best.

But in a lit­tle-known series of 2009 videos that were smug­gled out of prison, Dzhakishev sug­gest­ed the pur­chase of Uranium One by Russia’s Rosatom had pro­found con­se­quences for him personally.

His arrest is wide­ly believed to have been a polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed act by the strong-arm Nursultan Nazarbayev gov­ern­ment. Dzhakishev ties it to the Canadian firm’s sale and a Russian dri­ve to con­trol ura­ni­um pro­duc­tion in his coun­try, devel­op­ments he says he opposed while head­ing Kazatomprom, Kazakhstan’s state-owned ura­ni­um company.

A screen­shot of one of the 2009 videos smug­gled out of prison

It is obvi­ous that it was not in the inter­est of Kazatomprom to give up Uranium One resources, so we warned the U.S. against nego­ti­a­tions with Russia until we indi­cate oth­er­wise,” Dzhakishev said in one of the videos.

At the same time, he added to evi­dence of close ties between the Clintons and Frank Giustra, the Canadian tycoon who obtained rights to three Kazakhstan mines for his com­pa­ny UrAsia in 2005. UrAsia lat­er merged with Uranium One.

Giustra’s friend­ship with Bill Clinton, his $131 mil­lion-plus in dona­tions to the Clinton char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion, and the fact the for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent met with Nazarbayev at the same time the Canadian was in the coun­try final­iz­ing the mine deal have been well-documented.

But Dzhakishev charged in the videos that a Clinton Foundation offi­cial also aggres­sive­ly lob­bied him on behalf of UrAsia. And he says then Senator Hillary Clinton post­poned a meet­ing with the Kazakh prime min­is­ter until prob­lems with its pur­chase of mines in Kazakhstan were resolved.

Former President Bill Clinton deliv­ers remarks dur­ing a sum­mit on the country’s opi­oid epi­dem­ic at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017

“The helper of (Bill) Clinton start­ed yelling that this deal is linked to the Democrats, this is the wal­let of the Democrats and we are under­min­ing this deal,” Dzhakishev said.

Neither Uranium One nor Giustra could be reached for com­ment, but in a 2015 inter­view with the Post Giustra angri­ly denied any sug­ges­tion he was buy­ing influ­ence with his char­i­ta­ble dona­tions. “Anybody who has any sense of knowl­edge of how things work in the real world would absolute­ly tell you, you can’t make a char­i­ta­ble dona­tion and have some­thing change between gov­ern­ments,” he said.

The videos were report­ed by local media and briefly by the Washington Post in 2009, and men­tioned in Breitbart News jour­nal­ist Peter Schweizer’s book, Clinton Cash, but have oth­er­wise been large­ly forgotten.

As has Dzhakishev’s plight.

According to Open Dialog, a Polish-based rights group that focus­es on for­mer Soviet republics, he is being held at Dolinka, home of “one of the harsh­est” prison colonies in Kazakhstan. Dolinka was also near a Soviet labour camp where dis­si­dent writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was impris­oned in the 1940s, an ordeal he detailed in The Gulag Archipelago.

The helper of (Bill) Clinton started yelling that this deal is linked to the Democrats, this is the wallet of the Democrats and we are undermining this deal

Dzhakishev receives lit­tle in the way of treat­ment for his var­i­ous seri­ous con­di­tions, Open Dialog wrote in its September report.

Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and the Red Cross have also raised con­cerns about his deten­tion. The UN human rights com­mit­tee found Kazhakstan had vio­lat­ed var­i­ous rights covenants and urged it to quash Dzhakishev’s conviction.

Despite the Canadian con­nec­tion, Global Affairs Canada makes no men­tion of the case on its web­site, which notes that “Canada and Kazakhstan enjoy strong bilat­er­al rela­tions that con­tin­ue to deepen.”

The American polit­i­cal con­tro­ver­sy revolves around the trans­ac­tion that gave Rosatom — a Russian state com­pa­ny — 51 per cent con­trol of Uranium One in 2010, after it had obtained 20 per cent of the firm in 2009. It gained full own­er­ship in 2013.

The com­pa­ny owns a mine in Wisconsin, which meant the sale had to be approved by a U.S. gov­ern­ment for­eign-invest­ment com­mit­tee made up of nine dif­fer­ent depart­ments. One was State, then head­ed by Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Uranium One’s chair­man, Canadian min­ing investor Ian Telfer, was in the process of donat­ing $2.3 mil­lion to the char­i­ta­ble Clinton Foundation, while Bill Clinton received a lucra­tive speak­ing fee from a Kremlin-linked firm.

As well as his own dona­tions, Canadian Giustra now sits on the Clinton Foundation board, though he sold all his shares in Uranium One in 2007, well before the sale.

The threads seem to end there. The com­mit­tee that approved the sale was head­ed by the Treasury Department and the deci­sion was unan­i­mous — mean­ing State’s vote was not deci­sive — while the State Department offi­cial who was involved has said Clinton played no part in the matter.

What’s more, Uranium One’s American mine pro­duces lit­tle ore and, regard­less, the com­pa­ny is barred from export­ing any of it out of the States.

My family was ripped apart when Kazakhstan government agents took my father

Uranium One’s prize pos­ses­sions were the mines in Kazakhstan — some­times described as the Saudi Arabia of ura­ni­um — and Dzakhishev said he want­ed to keep them out of Russian hands.

In the videos, he described his goal of mak­ing Kazhakstan more than just an extrac­tor of raw ura­ni­um, of devel­op­ing a ver­ti­cal­ly inte­grat­ed indus­try involved in ura­ni­um enrich­ment and oth­er val­ue-added busi­ness­es. Yet Moscow want­ed to make Kazhakstan “tech­no­log­i­cal­ly dependent.”

When he heard that Rosatom want­ed to take over Uranium One, Dzakhishev said, he con­vinced a Japanese con­sor­tium led by Toshiba to buy a 20 per cent stake, and was on the verge of get­ting Chinese com­pa­nies to buy anoth­er 20 per cent, in the hope of stymieing a Russian cor­po­rate coup.

But before the Chinese deal could be con­sum­mat­ed — and just days after a vis­it by then-prime min­is­ter Vladimir Putin — Dzhakishev was tak­en to prison, charged with sell­ing off ura­ni­um mines at a bar­gain price and embez­zling the pro­ceeds for himself.

He was replaced by Vladimir Shkolnik, whose daugh­ter was actu­al­ly mar­ried to a senior exec­u­tive at Rosatom. Within a year, the Russian com­pa­ny had con­trol of Uranium One.

Telfer could not be reached for com­ment on the deci­sion to sell to Moscow. But Jean Nortier, CEO of Uranium One at the time, said the trans­ac­tion was designed to help the com­pa­ny grow fur­ther, and bet­ter secure its assets in Kazakhstan.

Rosatom … has been a very respon­si­ble cor­po­rate cit­i­zen for a num­ber of decades,” he told Bloomberg News.

A December 2009 cable from the American embassy in Kazakhstan, obtained by Wikileaks, offers some val­i­da­tion of Dzakhishev’s the­o­ry that the Uranium One pur­chase was part of a Russian ura­ni­um conquest.

It quot­ed a German diplo­mat as say­ing that Rosatom, aid­ed by the Russian intel­li­gence agency GRU, was try­ing to lessen the Kazakhstan ura­ni­um industry’s ties with Western and Japanese com­pa­nies, as it sought to increase its own sup­ply of the mineral.

An ana­lyst for Stratfor Global Intelligence, whose clients include the U.S. gov­ern­ment, also spec­u­lat­ed that Nazarbayev act­ed under pres­sure from Russia to curb ties to Western firms.

The results for Dzakhishev, of course, were personal.

He has endured two tri­als con­duct­ed entire­ly in secret, been held unlaw­ful­ly in degrad­ing con­di­tions and repeat­ed­ly been denied med­ical treat­ment,” his daugh­ter wrote in 2014. “My fam­i­ly was ripped apart when Kazakhstan gov­ern­ment agents took my father.”

Tom Blackwell

Former Kazakhstan ura­ni­um czar blames impris­on­ment on sale of Clinton-linked Canadian com­pa­ny to Russians

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