Kazakhgate or Diamondgate? The Evidence So Far

The exten­sion of the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ments in April 2011 in Belgium gave rise to two pos­si­ble expla­na­tions. One expla­na­tion claims that a trio of Kazakh oli­garchs – Patokh Chodiev, Alijan Ibragimov and Alexander Mashkevitch – used their con­nec­tions to then French President Nicholas Sarkozy to get away with an ongo­ing crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion in Belgium by chang­ing the Belgian law on crim­i­nal settlements.

The alter­na­tive expla­na­tion of events claims that the law vot­ed by the Belgian par­lia­ment is most­ly the result of the dia­mond traders’ lob­by in Antwerp, and of the pros­e­cu­tors’ inter­est in hav­ing a new – and, accord­ing to them, bet­ter – legal instru­ment for tack­ling corruption.

The first expla­na­tion was named “Kazakhgate.” The sec­ond, “Diamondgate.” After more than six years since the law on ami­ca­ble set­tle­ments was vot­ed, and after almost 10 months since an inquiry com­mis­sion was estab­lished to inves­ti­gate the facts, we can eval­u­ate both these expla­na­tions based on the proofs that sup­port them. And this eval­u­a­tion doesn’t look good for Kazakhgate.

Kazakhgate. Evidence from Etienne des Rosaies

The Kazakhgate affair began in October 2012, when the French mag­a­zine Le Canard Enchainé first pub­lished an inves­ti­ga­tion alleged­ly reveal­ing how France inter­fered with the Belgian leg­isla­tive process on behalf of Patokh Chodiev and his asociates.

The evi­dence for that was a note, dat­ed 28 June 2011, writ­ten by Jean-François Etienne des Rosaies, a per­son close to Sarkozy’s inner circle.

The first prob­lem with this note is its date. 28 June 2011 is after the Belgian par­lia­ment vot­ed the law extend­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of ami­ca­ble set­tle­ments (14 April 2011), and after the Kazakh Trio entered into a set­tle­ment with the Belgian pros­e­cu­tors in Brussels (17 June 2011). In oth­er words, it is a post-fac­tum document.

The oth­er prob­lem is that the note is con­sid­ered a forgery by Armand De Decker and des Rosaies’ lawyers, so its authen­tic­i­ty can­not be proven beyond rea­son­able doubt. De Decker even has a writ­ten state­ment from des Rosaies say­ing that the note is a forgery.

To try and prove this note’s authen­tic­i­ty, anoth­er note popped up, also signed by des Rosaies, this one dat­ed 21 June 2011.

This new note is also writ­ten after the set­tle­ment between Chodiev and the Belgian prosecutors.

Finally, an email emerged, dat­ed 19 June 2011, and also writ­ten by des Rosaies.

Apart from being writ­ten after the set­tle­ment between Chodiev and the pros­e­cu­tors, like the oth­er two pre­vi­ous doc­u­ments, this email con­tains the false infor­ma­tion that Chodiev is a close friend with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, and this infor­ma­tion rais­es seri­ous ques­tions about the email’s credibility.

To sum it up, all the three doc­u­ments attrib­uted to Etienne des Rosaies are writ­ten after the Belgian par­lia­ment vot­ed the law extend­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of ami­ca­ble set­tle­ments (14 April 2011), and after the Kazakh Trio entered into a set­tle­ment with the Belgian pros­e­cu­tors in Brussels (17 June 2011). They are post-fac­tum doc­u­ments, and there­fore it is very dif­fi­cult to use them as a direct proof of a conspiracy.

Nothing in these doc­u­ments prove that Chodiev’s lawyers (and par­tic­u­lar­ly Armand De Decker) par­tic­i­pat­ed in the draft­ing of the law expand­ing the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ments in Belgium, or inter­fered in any way with the leg­isla­tive process.

On the con­trary, every­thing in these doc­u­ments looks like des Rosaies boast­ed about things he didn’t con­trol, try­ing to place him­self at the cen­ter of an oper­a­tion that had noth­ing to do with him – some­thing which is more in tune with what we know about his per­son­al­i­ty from both French and Belgian media.

Evidence from Claude Guéant 

Apart from Etienne des Rosaies’ doc­u­ments, the Belgian media pub­lished a doc­u­ment signed by the for­mer French Minister of Home Affairs, Claude Guéant, prais­ing Armand de Decker for his “won­der­ful job” on behalf of the Kazakh Trio. (see here: http://www.levif.be/actualite/belgique/kazakhgate-le-courrier-qui-trahit-claude-gueant/article-normal-655107.html)

The doc­u­ment is dat­ed 18 August 2011 – again, after the set­tle­ment between the Trio and the Belgian pros­e­cu­tors – and is rather ambigu­ous. It may be read as a pos­si­ble post-fac­tum proof of a French inter­fer­ence in Belgium’s inter­nal affairs, yet it may also be read as sim­ply show­ing France’s inter­est in Chodiev and his associates.

The sec­ond inter­pre­ta­tion is sup­port­ed by Claude Guéant him­self. He stat­ed in front of the Kazakhgate com­mis­sion that France was inter­est­ed in a heli­copter deal with Kazakhstan, and for this rea­son French author­i­ties helped Patokh Chodiev with a lawyer – Catherin Degoul, who formed a defense team by recruit­ing Armand De Decker. And that was that, no inter­fer­ence took place. (see here: http://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2017/05/04/a‑bruxelles-claude-gueant-dement-etre-implique-dans-le-kazakhgate_5122203_3210.html)

With no oth­er sup­ple­men­tary evi­dence, it is extreme­ly dif­fi­cult (if not total­ly impos­si­ble) to refute Guéant’s inter­pre­ta­tion of events, sim­ply because it’s log­i­cal and it fits every­thing else we know about the case. And hir­ing a French lawyer for a Belgian cit­i­zen vio­lates no law.

Conclusions for Kazakhgate

To con­clude, all the evi­dence avail­able so far fails to prove a con­spir­a­cy aimed at help­ing Patokh Chodiev to change the crim­i­nal law in Belgium with assis­tance from France, for his own benefit.

The repeat­ed pub­li­ca­tion of these doc­u­ments in the Belgian media, often under the pre­tense of “new rev­e­la­tions,” doesn’t mag­i­cal­ly turn them into what they’re not. They fail to prove that the French author­i­ties had any­thing to do with the draft­ing of the law regard­ing the exten­sion of the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment, or that they inter­vened, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, in the leg­isla­tive process on behalf of the Kazakh Trio.

All they prove is that France did indeed have an inter­est in Chodiev and his asso­ciates, and pro­vid­ed them with a legal defense team.

To make mat­ters worse for the sup­port­ers of Kazakhgate, the set­tle­ment between Chodiev and Belgian pros­e­cu­tors shows that the for­mer was less inter­est­ed in reach­ing a set­tle­ment than the Belgian author­i­ties were.

According to the set­tle­ment, on 18 February 2011 the coun­cil cham­ber of the Court in Brussels decid­ed that in the case con­cern­ing Chodiev and his part­ners the thresh­old of rea­son­able delay has been over­stepped. As a con­se­quence, as stat­ed in the Belgian Code of Criminal Procedure, if found guilty, the par­ties involved can­not be sen­tenced to jail, but only to a fine and con­fis­ca­tion of property.

In oth­er words, from 18 February 2011 Chodiev knew for cer­tain that, no mat­ter what would even­tu­al­ly hap­pen in the court, he would not go to jail. In the worst case for him, he would only have to pay a fine. To put it as plain as pos­si­ble, from 18 February 2011 Chodiev was a free man: the threat of hav­ing to go to jail was gone. (see here for more infor­ma­tion: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/kazakhgate-patokh-chodievs-settlement/)

So, on the one hand, we lack direct and sol­id proofs of a con­spir­a­cy ben­e­fit­ting Chodiev. Even the pres­i­dent of the Kazakhgate com­mis­sion rec­og­nized that (see here: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/van-der-maelen-busts-kazakhgate-commission/).

On the oth­er hand, we have plen­ty of direct proofs that the law expand­ing the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ments was draft­ed and pro­mot­ed by the dia­mond traders’ lob­by in Antwerp and by the Belgian pros­e­cu­tors themselves.

The Diamondgate evidence 

The law from April 2011 didn’t come out of nowhere. The amend­ment first began to be dis­cussed in 2008, among peo­ple close to the dia­mond traders in Anvers. Pressed by leg­isla­tive changes and by a pub­lic opin­ion which was more and more unfa­vor­able to the secre­cy sur­round­ing the trade in dia­monds, the traders felt they have to fight back. Since a return to the old style of doing busi­ness was impos­si­ble, they began explor­ing ways to change the law so that they won’t end up in jail. (source: http://blog.lesoir.be/docs/2012/07/26/jeu-judiciaire-autour-du-diamant-anversois/)

The Belgian inves­tiga­tive mag­a­zine Apache dis­cov­ered in 2013 that the law extend­ing the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment was draft­ed in 2009, under the aus­pices of the Attorney General of Anvers, Yves Liegeois.

The draft was writ­ten by Axel Haelterman and Raf Verstraeten, both law pro­fes­sors and lawyers work­ing with the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), an umbrel­la foun­da­tion rep­re­sent­ing the inter­ests of the dia­mond traders in Belgium.

Haelterman and Verstraeten were even invit­ed by the Belgian Senate on 24 March 2011 to give their legal opin­ion on the amend­ment they them­selves draft­ed two years ago. Unsurprisingly, their opin­ion on amend­ment 18 was pos­i­tive. (source: https://www.senate.be/www/?MIval=publications/viewPub&COLL=S&PUID=83887104&TID=83887918&POS=1&LANG=fr)

The fact that the draft of the law was well-known and was wide­ly cir­cu­lat­ed “for a long time” with­in polit­i­cal and judi­cial cir­cles was also rec­og­nized by Stefaan De Clerck, who in 2011 was the Belgian Minister of Justice.

On 2 December 2010, a num­ber of Belgian MPs found­ed “The Diamond Club,” an infor­mal and secre­tive group aimed to offer par­lia­men­tar­i­an sup­port to the dia­mond traders in Anvers. The pres­i­dent of the Club was Jan Jambon, and the vice-pres­i­dents were Willem-Frederik Schiltz and Servais Verherstraeten. All the Flemish MPs were invit­ed to join the club. “We want to unite in the “Diamantclub” all the politi­cians who defend the val­ues and the inter­ests of the dia­mond trade,” the invi­ta­tion said. (source: https://www.lachambre.be/kvvcr/showpage.cfm?section=qrva&language=fr&cfm=qrvaXml.cfm?legislat=54&dossierID=54-b026-900‑0294-2014201502513.xml)

On 13 December 2010, Servais Verherstraeten, vice-pres­i­dent of “The Diamond Club,” intro­duced to the Chamber the law pro­pos­al aim­ing to expand the scope of the crim­i­nal trans­ac­tion that was draft­ed by the dia­mond lob­by and the pros­e­cu­tors in Antwerp (source: http://www.dekamer.be/FLWB/PDF/53/1252/53K1252001.pdf).

On 16 January 2012, AWDC issued a pub­lic state­ment in which the foun­da­tion rec­og­nized its role and con­grat­u­lat­ed itself for its “sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion in the cre­ation of new leg­is­la­tion extend­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties to con­clude an ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment.” (source: http://www.hetgrotegeld.be/index.php/het_grote_geld/detail/1047)

Final conclusions

In July this year, the pres­i­dent of the inquiry com­mis­sion inves­ti­gat­ing the exten­sion of the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment, Dirk Van der Maelen, gave an inter­view to the Belgian mag­a­zine Knack.

So behind the law extend­ing the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment is not the bil­lion­aire Patokh Chodiev, but the dia­mond lob­by?,” asked Knack’s Kristof Clerix and Peter Casteels.

Here’s Van der Maele’s answer: “At any rate, we have not been able to find any­thing that points to the inter­fer­ence of Armand De Decker or oth­er peo­ple relat­ed to Chodiev in the leg­isla­tive process. They did not come into action. The fathers of the law expand­ing the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment are the dia­mond sec­tor and the College of General Prosecutors, under the polit­i­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty of the CD&V. At least until the end of 2009. Then the case was blocked. Then Haelterman met again with politi­cians, with the idea of link­ing the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment law to bank secre­cy. This might sure­ly have con­vinced the PS – a clever move com­ing from him. On 3 February 2011, the Council of Ministers decid­ed to try and link the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment to bank­ing secre­cy.” (source: http://www.knack.be/nieuws/belgie/dirk-van-der-maelen-over-kazachgate-ik-word-subtiel-gedwarsboomd/article-longread-873979.html)

And here lies the para­dox. On the case regard­ing the exten­sion of ami­ca­ble set­tle­ments, we have two the­o­ries. One regards this exten­sion as the result of a con­spir­a­cy where France inter­fered with Belgian author­i­ties on behalf of Patokh Chodiev and his asso­ciates. This the­o­ry fails to bring sol­id evi­dence in its favor, yet it is high­ly cir­cu­lat­ed in the Belgian media.

The oth­er the­o­ry regards the same exten­sion as a result of the dia­mond traders’ lob­by, and of the Belgian pros­e­cu­tors’ need to devise a bet­ter instru­ment to help them fight cor­rup­tion. This the­o­ry brings ample and sol­id direct evi­dence to sup­port its claim, evi­dence that is rec­og­nized as such by the Kazakhgate com­mis­sion. However, the Belgian media often tends to ignore it (or at least to down­play it).

For some rea­son or anoth­er, this looks like media manipulation.

Kazakhgate or Diamondgate? The Evidence So Far

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