Kazakhgate: Patokh Chodiev’s settlement

The Belgian news mag­a­zine Le Vif has recent­ly pub­lished a copy of Patokh Chodiev’s set­tle­ment with the pros­e­cu­tors in Brussels. (See here for more details: http://www.levif.be/actualite/belgique/transaction-ce-que-les-kazakhs-ont-reellement-paye/article-normal-681331.html.) The doc­u­ment puts the entire Kazakhgate affair in a com­plete­ly new light. After its pub­li­ca­tion, the inquiry com­mis­sion and some parts of the media need some seri­ous soul searching.

No urgency, no illegality, no pressure for Chodiev and his partners

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.

The court deci­sion was not sur­pris­ing. After all, the judi­cial inquiry of Chodiev, Ibragimov and Machkevitch began in 1996, 15 years before the deci­sion. The three men were indict­ed in 2001, almost ten years before the deci­sion. This is, by any stan­dard, a very long peri­od – and dur­ing this peri­od Chodiev and his part­ners nev­er received a sentence.

In this case, the Belgian judi­cial sys­tem clear­ly failed to do its job prop­er­ly. There is no doubt that the European Court of Human Rights would have con­demned Belgium for fail­ing to respect the right to a fair tri­al because of the unrea­son­able length of the judi­cial inquiry, one that was still not con­clud­ed after 15 years. Therefore, any court in Belgium would have decid­ed that the thresh­old of rea­son­able delay has been overstepped.

Now, the project of law con­cern­ing var­i­ous pro­vi­sions entered the Parliament on 24 February 2011, six days after the Brussels court deci­sion on Chodiev and his part­ners. Amendment 18 on the exten­sion of the scope of crim­i­nal trans­ac­tions reg­u­lat­ed by art. 216bis of the Belgian Code of Criminal Procedure was intro­duced on 2 March 2011, 12 days after the court deci­sion, by Servais Verherstraeten, back then the leader of the Flemish Christian-Democrats (CD&V) in the House. (See here for details: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/corruption/diamond-club-belgiums-true-lawmakers/)

All this begs an obvi­ous ques­tion: if Chodiev and his part­ners were already free on 18 February 2011, why would they push for a change in the law that would offer them noth­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent from what they have already got by a court decision?

What is “Kazakhgate”?

Kazakhgate” is the name of a wide­spread sto­ry in the Belgian media, accord­ing to which a change in the Belgian Code of Criminal Procedure hap­pened because of some nego­ti­a­tions between the for­mer French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his coun­ter­part in Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

According to the sto­ry, Sarkozy and Chodiev both pres­sured top Belgian politi­cians and gov­ern­ment offi­cials to change the Code of Criminal Procedure so that to become pos­si­ble to enter into trans­ac­tions with the Public Prosecutor to ter­mi­nate the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tion of offences at all stages of a crim­i­nal procedure.

Georges Gilkinet, the vice-pres­i­dent of the par­lia­men­tary inquiry com­mis­sion inves­ti­gat­ing the sto­ry – and the man who pro­motes this ver­sion with feroc­i­ty – needs to explain why Chodiev, who from 18 February 2011 was free from the threat of being sen­tenced to jail, would have pushed for a change in the law that offered him no oth­er ben­e­fits than the ones he already obtained through a court decision.

Did Chodiev ben­e­fit from the exten­sion of the ami­ca­ble set­tle­ment? Yes, he obvi­ous­ly did. However, let us note that there is no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence between pay­ing a fine and pay­ing the same amount in the form of a set­tle­ment. In both cas­es, the result is the same.

One could argue that if you pay a fine, you have a crim­i­nal record, while if you pay for a set­tle­ment your record stays clean. True. But in Chodiev’s case, accord­ing to the Belgian Code of Criminal Procedure, his record would have been cleared after only one year fol­low­ing the sen­tence. The dif­fer­ence is there­fore insignificant.

To sum it up, once the court in Brussels decid­ed on 18 February 2011 that the thresh­old of rea­son­able delay has been over­stepped, Chodiev’s prob­lems with the Belgian jus­tice sys­tem came to an end.

This is pre­cise­ly why the set­tle­ment with the pros­e­cu­tors in Brussels was legal­ly pos­si­ble in the first place. Given that Chodiev could have only been sen­tenced to a fine if found guilty, his case became legal­ly eli­gi­ble for a set­tle­ment accord­ing to the law vot­ed on 14 April 2011.

If any­thing, the set­tle­ment proves that Chodiev was will­ing to respect the law and pay his dues no mat­ter what – a con­clu­sion that comes in stark con­trast with the image cre­at­ed for him by Gilkinet and some parts of the media.

Questions for the inquiry commission and the media

According to the doc­u­ment pub­lished by Le Vif, no prop­er­ties were con­fis­cat­ed from Chodiev. All the prop­er­ties donat­ed to the Belgian state as agreed by the set­tle­ment belonged to his part­ners. The vil­las belong­ing to Ibragimov and Machkevitch had a com­bined worth of more than 18.5 mil­lion euros. Chodiev, on his part, only had to pay 522.500 euros, plus anoth­er 50.531,34 euros as expenses.

In oth­er words, from the three mem­bers of the so-called “Kazakh Trio” – Chodiev, Ibragimov and Machkevitch – Chodiev was con­sid­ered by the pros­e­cu­tors as the least poten­tial­ly guilty.

It is very hard to under­stand how the least poten­tial­ly guilty part became the “hero” of an absurd saga, being por­trayed by Georges Gilkinet and some of the Belgian media, against all evi­dence to the con­trary, as a crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind con­spir­ing to con­trol gov­ern­ments and parliaments.

After see­ing the copy of the set­tle­ment, OSI feels vin­di­cat­ed in its belief that Chodiev was turned into a scape­goat. Chodiev’s case is, with­out a doubt, a very dark stain on the Belgian par­lia­ment. When it comes to it, the inquiry com­mis­sion has no real object of investigation.

Kazakhgate: Patokh Chodiev’s settlement

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