How Propaganda Works: The First Kazakhgate

In August 1999, 5 peo­ple met at the Royal Hotel in Paris: Bulat Utemuratov, a Kazakh oli­garch and the right hand of Kazakhstan’s strong­man Nursultan Nazarbayev, Gregory Lutchansky, a Russian oli­garch alleged­ly con­nect­ed to the Russian Mafia, Shabtaï Kalmanowich, a for­mer KGB gen­er­al, Pierre Delilez, a Belgian cop spe­cial­ized on Russian Mafia, and Eric Van de Weghe, a Belgian con artist with a taste for Russian mob­sters, far-right activists, gun smug­glers and human traf­fick­ers. (see here: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/web-lies-kazakhgate‑1–0/)

The five men were there to devel­op a plan to take over Tractebel’s busi­ness in Kazakhstan. Tractebel, a Belgian pow­er com­pa­ny, recent­ly entered the Kazakhstani mar­ket, where it cre­at­ed a joint ven­ture, Almaty Power, togeth­er with three oli­garchs, also close to President Nazarbayev: Patokh Chodiev, Alijan Ibragimov and Alexander Mashkevitch (known as the Trio). Tractebel owned 55% of Almaty Power, while the Trio owned the remain­ing 45%.

For Utemuratov and Lutchansky to grab Almaty Power, they need­ed the ser­vices of Eric van de Weghe, whose job was to recruit Belgian jour­nal­ists who would cre­ate a neg­a­tive cam­paign against the Trio. Chodiev, Ibragimov and Mashkevitch were to be pre­sent­ed as con­nect­ed to the Russian Mafia, and as being inves­ti­gat­ed by the Belgian authorities.

Van de Weghe was to pro­vide the jour­nal­ists with doc­u­ments and infor­ma­tion nec­es­sary for them to put the Trio in a bad light. Utemuratov would then use the press arti­cles in Belgium to try to per­suade Nazarbayev to con­fis­cate the Trio’s part in Almaty Power and to give it to Utemuratov him­self, or to his busi­ness part­ner, Gregory Lutchansky.

The clients

The plan was specif­i­cal­ly designed to serve the inter­ests of Utemuratov and Lutchansky. If suc­cess­ful, it would have allowed them to take over Almaty Power, and to get rid of some busi­ness rivals in Kazakhstan.

In 1992, Utemuratov became the General Director of Kazakhstan Trading House in Austria. His job was to per­suade Austrian offi­cials to open a cred­it line for the new­ly inde­pen­dent Kazakhstan. The trad­ing house’s office was sit­u­at­ed in the build­ing of an Austrian com­pa­ny, Nordex, led by Gregory Lutchansky. Nordex was in fact a front for the Russian Mafia, who used it to laun­der its mon­ey. (Eventually, Lutchansky got banned from Austria and oth­er Western coun­tries, and he end­ed up as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Russian giant Gazprom.)

Lutchansky set up a joint ven­ture between “Kazakhstan Trading House Gmbh” and “Nordex Gmbh” in order to receive a fee for the imple­men­ta­tion of the Austrian cred­it line for Kazakhstan.

Later, Utemuratov became Kazakhstan’s ambas­sador to Switzerland from 1996 to 1999. Using his con­tacts there, he made sure that doc­u­ments alleged­ly prov­ing that Tractebel paid 55 mil­lion dol­lars in “com­mis­sions” to the for­mer Prime-Minister of Kazakhstan reached the office of a Geneva judge. From that moment on, a Swiss inves­ti­ga­tion began, which also spilled into Belgium: informed by their Swiss coun­ter­parts, Belgian pros­e­cu­tors began inves­ti­gat­ing a pos­si­ble case of mon­ey laun­der­ing – giv­en that, accord­ing to the doc­u­ments, part of the mon­ey ille­gal­ly obtained by the Kazakhstani author­i­ties was laun­dered in Belgium.

Allegedly, it was Chodiev, Ibragimov and Mashkevitch, all three of whom were already resid­ing in Belgium, who bought Belgian prop­er­ties for the for­mer Kazakhstani Prime-Minister and his wife, thus help­ing them to laun­der the mon­ey received from Tractebel to allow the cre­ation of Almaty Power.

With a judi­cial inquiry already under­way in both Switzerland and Belgium, Utemuratov was in the pos­ses­sion of at least some doc­u­ments to use against the Trio. However, in order to use these doc­u­ments, he need­ed a Belgian with a good knowl­edge of the Belgian media. Eric Van de Weghe was this man.

The Belgian mastermind

If Utemuratov and Lutchansky were the Board of direc­tors for this oper­a­tion, Van de Weghe was its CEO. It was his job to recruit Belgian jour­nal­ists and to orga­nize the pro­duc­tion of a scan­dal that would put the Trio out of busi­ness, or at least out of Almaty Power.

He man­aged to recruit two promi­nent Belgian inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists: Philippe Brewaeys and Alain Lallemand (Brewaeys died in 2016).

Van de Weghe was quite suc­cess­ful: in September 1999 he informed Lutchansky that neg­a­tive arti­cles on the Trio would be pub­lished in Belgium, specif­i­cal­ly in Le Soir. According to Van de Weghe, Brewaeys promised to pub­lish an arti­cle every oth­er week.

The frontline

Since Brewaeys is dead, OSI will say noth­ing about him. We will focus instead on Alain Lallemand, a promi­nent Belgian inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist writ­ing for Le Soir.

Lallemand pub­lished his first piece on the Trio on 27 December 1999. The arti­cle, titled “Tractebel: two bil­lion in a mafia pipe-line,” describes the Trio as con­nect­ed to the Russian Mafia, and presents the Swiss and Belgian judi­cial inquiries regard­ing Tractebel – just like Utemuratov, Lutchansky and Van de Weghe want­ed. (see here: http://www.lesoir.be/archive/recup%3A%252Ftractebel-deux-milliards-dans-un-pipe-line-mafieux_t-19991227-Z0HNQ1.html)

The next day, on 28 December 1999, Lallemand pub­lish­es a new arti­cle, “Brussels prosecutor’s office inves­ti­gates ‘Kazakhgate’”. He coins the name “Kazakhgate” for the Tractebel’s judi­cial inquiry (a name he’ll con­tin­ue to use ever since), thus pre­sent­ing the inquiry as some­thing of great impor­tance (some­thing like a “Watergate”), and he also makes pub­lic for the first time the names of Chodiev, Ibragimov and Mashkevitch. As expect­ed, he presents the Trio as con­nect­ed to the Russian Mafia, fol­low­ing Van de Weghe’s guide­lines. (see here: http://www.lesoir.be/archive/recup%3A%252Fle-parquet-de-bruxelles-enquete-kazakhgate-tractebel-co_t-19991228-Z0HNTZ.html)

One month lat­er, on 26 January 2000, Lallemand comes with a new arti­cle, “Kazakh black mon­ey trans­ferred to Tractebel,” where he changes the accu­sa­tion: the Trio is no longer con­nect­ed to the Russian Mafia, but to KGB. (see here: http://www.lesoir.be/archive/d‑20000126-W2U1AL?referer=%2Farchives%2Frecherche%3Fdatefilter%3Danytime%26sort%3Ddate%2520asc%26word%3DTractebel%2520Chodiev)

Eventually, on 28 June 2000 Lallemand reports that Almaty Power went to Lutchansky (http://www.lesoir.be/archive/d‑20000628-W2RVEL?referer=%2Farchives%2Frecherche%3Fdatefilter%3Danytime%26sort%3Ddate%2520asc%26word%3DTractebel%2520Chodiev). The plan did work, after all. Van de Weghe had every rea­son to be happy.

Lallemand will con­tin­ue to write about the Trio, pre­sent­ing it as con­nect­ed to the Russian Mafia, or to KGB, or both. On 10 May 2001, he acknowl­edged that his source on “Kazakhgate” was Van de Weghe: “All the inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists in the Kingdom had to attend both.Delilez and Van de Weghe, both of whom were pipelines of infor­ma­tion.” (See here: http://www.lesoir.be/archive/recup%3A%252Fjustice-revelations-dans-le-dossier-du-policier-pierre-_t-20010510-Z0KFF1.html)

The aftermath

After almost 11 years of inquiry, in June 2011 Chodiev, Ibragimov and Mashkevitch entered into a set­tle­ment with the pros­e­cu­tors in Brussels (see here for details: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/kazakhgate-patokh-chodievs-settlement/). Apparently, the “Kazakhgate” final­ly came to an end.

However, it did not. A new “Kazakhgate” scan­dal burst out in 2012, and then again in 2014, this time regard­ing the very set­tle­ment agreed between the Trio and the Belgian pros­e­cu­tors. Apparently, some­one in Kazakhstan was not hap­py with the Trio com­ing clean. Perhaps Utemuratov still holds a grudge against Chodiev, just like in 1999. Some say that behind this new “Kazakhgate” is one of Utemuratov’s pupils, Mukhtar Ablyazov (https://www.intelligenceonline.fr/renseignement-d-affaires/2017/05/10/kazakhgate–chodiev-enquete-sur-ses-accusateurs-belges,108232931-ART).

In any case, both Van de Weghe and Lallemand are active yet again. Lallemand keeps pro­vid­ing pieces of “inves­tiga­tive” jour­nal­ism on the Trio. Everything looks exact­ly like the oper­a­tion that took place between 1999 and 2000, with one impor­tant dif­fer­ence: this time, Belgian politi­cians are also involved. For Utemuratov and Lutchansky, this is far more than they hoped for in 1999, when they met in Paris.

How Propaganda Works: The First Kazakhgate

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