Palaces of the Nazarbayev family. What people don't talk about in Baden-Baden

Nazarbayev’s daugh­ter and son-in-law, as well as com­pa­nies asso­ci­at­ed with them, own real estate in Germany, in which more than one hun­dred mil­lion euros have been invest­ed. About lux­u­ry, which was not adver­tised — in the DW investigation. 

The Bühlerhöhe Castle Hotel near Baden-Baden is a mon­u­ment of nation­al impor­tance. Belongs to the daugh­ter and son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev Frescoes, lux­u­ri­ous chan­de­liers, ceil­ings made of pre­cious woods, skil­ful stuc­co mould­ing — the inte­ri­or dec­o­ra­tion of the Seelah Palace in Baden-Baden is amaz­ing. Those few who have vis­it­ed the estate unan­i­mous­ly say: this is the most impres­sive thing that has been done for the mon­ey of mul­ti­mil­lion­aires from the coun­tries of the for­mer USSR. In the 19th cen­tu­ry Seelah was the sum­mer res­i­dence of the famous Russian diplo­mat, Privy Councilor Mikhail Khreptovich. But what is here today, the aris­to­crat did not even dream of. The new own­ers from Kazakhstan, hav­ing rebuilt a his­toric vil­la, laid out a land­scape park with foun­tains on the ter­ri­to­ry, and under it — a lux­u­ri­ous spa area with an area of ​​about a thou­sand square meters. The glass dome over the 25-meter pool can be seen even in pic­tures from space. 

Territory of Seelach Manor in Baden-Baden, satel­lite image. On the left — the his­tor­i­cal house of the diplo­mat Khreptovich and a square with a foun­tain. On the right is a mod­ern res­i­den­tial com­plex and a land­scaped park, under which there is a spa area with a glass dome. 

Four objects, 100 million euros 

Arrangement of an elite estate last­ed almost a decade and was com­plet­ed two years ago. The issue price is 60 mil­lion euros. According to doc­u­ments from the German reg­is­ter of com­pa­nies, the autho­rized cap­i­tal of the com­pa­ny Schloss Seelach Invest, which owns Seelach, was grad­u­al­ly increased by this amount dur­ing the years of recon­struc­tion of the estate. “They did not spare mon­ey,” one of those involved in the recon­struc­tion shared with DW. The builders report­ed on each step, send­ing pho­tos to Kazakhstan, the source says. “Once the cus­tomers didn’t like the fres­coes and they ordered to redo the work, for which the artist had already been paid about 150,000 euros,” he won­ders. In addi­tion to the Zeelach estate, Kazakhs own, as DW found out, three more prop­er­ties in the region, includ­ing two his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments — the vil­la of the famous archi­tect Gustav Stroh built in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry in the style of his­tori­cism in Baden-Baden and the cas­tle ‑Bühlerhöhe hotel (Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe). In total, more than 100 mil­lion euros were invest­ed in vil­las and hotels. 

Villas of the “same family” 

All this belongs to mem­bers of the same fam­i­ly. The same fam­i­ly, if you under­stand what I mean,” DW’s inter­locu­tor, who once worked in the struc­tures of Kazakhstani investors in Baden-Baden, hints. He low­ers his voice, as if afraid of being heard by strangers. “Everything is done on a pres­i­den­tial scale,” he says, insist­ing on anonymi­ty. Clarity is brought by search­es in German reg­istries. The founder of Schloss Seelach Invest GmbH — the own­er of the Seelach estate — is the Kazakh com­pa­ny Verus Praedium International, which, in turn, belongs to the Kipros com­pa­ny from Almaty. The Transparency Register (Transparenzregister), cre­at­ed in Germany sev­er­al years ago to com­bat mon­ey laun­der­ing, final­ly removes all ques­tions about own­ers. According to an extract from this reg­is­ter, which is at the dis­pos­al of DW, the ben­e­fi­cia­ry of Schloss Seelach Invest GmbH is Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of the ex-pres­i­dent of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, the hus­band of his mid­dle daugh­ter Dinara. 

Adenauer, Kuchma, Nazarbayev’s children 

Timur and Dinara Kulibayev, accord­ing to the Transparency Register, are in Germany the ulti­mate ben­e­fi­cia­ries of anoth­er com­pa­ny — Bühlerhöhe Castle Invest GmbH, own­ing it through Kazakhstan’s Mercury Properties. This com­pa­ny owns two hotels in Bulle, near Baden-Baden. One of them, the Bühlerhöhe Castle Hotel, is a mon­u­ment of nation­al importance. 

Khreptovich’s house before reconstruction 

Konrad Adenauer, the first chan­cel­lor of mod­ern Germany, used to like to relax in this hotel, unique for its archi­tec­ture and loca­tion near the nation­al park. 20 years ago, Ukrainian ex-pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma also fell in love with this place, after which, in 2010, his for­mer busi­ness man­ag­er Igor Bakai bought the hotel through off­shore com­pa­nies. In 2013, Bakai went bank­rupt, and the his­toric hotel was bought from him by Kazakh busi­ness­man Yakov Tskhai, the own­er of a num­ber of oil com­pa­nies and a minor­i­ty busi­ness part­ner of Dinara and Timur Kulibayev, in par­tic­u­lar in the field of com­mer­cial real estate. 

The mysterious oilman rewrites the assets of the “family”

Tskhai — a non-pub­lic per­son, it is even impos­si­ble to find his pho­to­graph in open sources. According to doc­u­ments in the German com­pa­ny reg­is­ter, the busi­ness­man has invest­ed more than one hun­dred mil­lion euros in the “Kazakh” real estate empire in Baden-Baden and the sur­round­ing area through his Dostar-Invest hold­ing and the Dostar Oil Service oil com­pa­ny over sev­er­al years. In 2020, when the large-scale recon­struc­tion and arrange­ment of the Zeelach estate was com­plet­ed, the busi­ness­man rewrote this object, as evi­denced by extracts from the German on the reg­is­ter of com­pa­nies, to the firm Verus Praedium International Timur Kulibayev. 

A year ear­li­er, Tskhai con­ced­ed to the son-in-law and daugh­ter of ex-pres­i­dent Nazarbayev and the his­toric Bühlerhöhe Hotel, rewrit­ing 90 per­cent of the autho­rized cap­i­tal of Bühlerhöhe Castle Invest GmbH to Kulibayev-con­trolled Mercury Properties, and retain­ing only 10 per­cent, doc­u­ments from German reg­is­ters show. The Kulibaevs and Tskhai, who were con­tact­ed by DW through Mercury Properties, did not answer ques­tions at the time of pub­li­ca­tion, in par­tic­u­lar about the con­di­tions under which the assign­ment of German assets took place in favor of the son-in-law and daugh­ter of Nursultan Nazarbayev. German hotels Mercury Properties on the cor­po­rate web­site does not men­tion among its assets. 

The vil­la of the archi­tect Stroh is locat­ed near the Seelach estate and was recon­struct­ed at the same time as the estate. The vil­la is reg­is­tered to the firm of Yakov Tskhai, but is man­aged by the same exec­u­tive direc­tor as the German firms of the Kulibaevs 

German villas for petrodollars 

Sanzhar Bokaev, a well-known polit­i­cal observ­er in Kazakhstan, does not exclude the pure­ly nom­i­nal role of Yakov Tskhai in busi­ness and trans­ac­tions with German real estate, and speaks of high cor­rup­tion risks in the rela­tion­ship of big busi­ness­men with the fam­i­ly of the ex-pres­i­dent. “Members of the Nazarbayev fam­i­ly and oth­er peo­ple close to him pri­va­tized every­thing relat­ed to oil and gas pro­duc­tion, as well as ores and met­al pro­duc­tion. Everyone in Kazakhstan knows that with­out the con­sent of Timur Kulibayev it is impos­si­ble to enter any seg­ment of the oil mar­ket,” Bokayev said in a state­ment. con­ver­sa­tion with DW. 

Timur Kulibayev — son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev 

Timur Kulibayev is the chair­man of the indus­try asso­ci­a­tion Kazenergy, until mid-January for many years he head­ed the Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, which by law has impres­sive levers of influ­ence both on busi­ness and on the eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy of the gov­ern­ment. Dinara and Timur Kulibayev are the rich­est mar­ried cou­ple in Kazakhstan. Forbes esti­mates the for­tune of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daugh­ter and son-in-law at almost six bil­lion dol­lars. Over the past ten years alone, their assets have more than dou­bled, and they began to grow rich from the first days of Kazakhstan’s inde­pen­dence, when Nazarbayev became the coun­try’s helm. 

Foreign real estate as a social irritant 

According to Kazakh polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Dosym Satpayev, the ex-pres­i­dent and his fam­i­ly, with their wealth, per­son­i­fy social injus­tice, which became one of the main rea­sons for the January mass protests in the coun­try, which turned into riots and led to hun­dreds of vic­tims. “To the extent that the elite affil­i­at­ed with Nazarbayev got rich in Kazakhstan, pover­ty in the coun­try did not decrease at all,” Satpayev said in an inter­view with DW. In par­tic­u­lar, the issue of inequal­i­ty is par­tic­u­lar­ly acute in such a prof­itable area as oil pro­duc­tion. The coun­try’s ener­gy resources are large­ly con­trolled by the rul­ing elites, and oil work­ers reg­u­lar­ly strike because of low wages, the polit­i­cal sci­en­tist states. 

Nursultan Nazarbayev was the pres­i­dent of Kazakhstan from 1991 to 2019. 

After the lat­est surge of protests, Nazarbayev left the post of chair­man of the National Security Council, and his son-in-law stepped down as head of the influ­en­tial Atameken cham­ber. President Kossym-Jomart Tokayev vowed to end the oli­garchic sys­tem amid the out­break of protests. 

Opposition demands asset freeze 

Opposition politi­cians, who live part­ly in Europe and fear reprisals in Kazakhstan, have been seek­ing for years to seize accounts and prop­er­ty con­trolled by the Nazarbayev fam­i­ly in Western coun­tries. “We demand that, first of all, sanc­tions be imposed on mem­bers of the Nazarbayev fam­i­ly and his inner cir­cle for human rights vio­la­tions and cor­rup­tion, and their assets should be frozen,” London-based oppo­si­tion leader Akezhan Kazhegeldin told DW in a recent inter­view. . With such a demand, in ear­ly February, Kazakhstani activists liv­ing in Berlin also went to the demonstration. 

Akezhan Kazhegeldin

In the future, the mon­ey with­drawn by the rul­ing elites abroad over many years should return to Kazakhstan, Sanjar Bokaev also hopes. “It will be final­ly clear whether the era of Nazarbayev is over, pre­cise­ly by the results of the return of the assets with­drawn by his fam­i­ly abroad,” says Bokaev. 

According to a recent inves­ti­ga­tion by the OCCRP Organized Crime and Corruption Research Center, Nursultan Nazarbayev con­trols about $8 bil­lion worth of assets around the world through funds that oper­ate under the guise of char­i­ty. In addi­tion, in 2020, Radio Liberty jour­nal­ists pub­lished an inves­ti­ga­tion into dozens of Nazarbayev family’s lux­u­ry prop­er­ties in the US and European coun­tries total­ing about $800 mil­lion. German real estate was not part of this investigation. 

From a for­mal point of view, the Kulibayevs’ invest­ments in Germany are legal — they would vio­late the cur­rent German anti-mon­ey laun­der­ing leg­is­la­tion only if their ille­gal ori­gin was estab­lished in Kazakhstan. Based on this, you Fulfilling the demands of Kazakh activists in Germany is not easy, says Thomas Helm, chair­man of the German-Kazakh Society. “In mat­ters of con­fis­ca­tion of prop­er­ty, only the meth­ods of the rule of law can be used. Everything must be prov­able,” he said in an inter­view with DW. 

Money for a rainy day? 

Mercury Properties did not respond to a ques­tion from DW about the pur­pose of acquir­ing assets in Germany and fur­ther plans to use real estate in Germany. “They seem to have bought it all as a stash for a rainy day,” says Hubert Schnurr, the may­or of Bul, where the Kulibayevs have two hotels, with disappointment. 

Dosym Satpayev

Unlike the vil­las, which have invest­ed mil­lions, the Kazakhs have not invest­ed a dime in the nec­es­sary mod­ern­iza­tion of hotels, com­plains the may­or. Although more than 20 mil­lion euros were paid for them, judg­ing by the data of the com­pa­ny reg­is­ter on the autho­rized cap­i­tal of the com­pa­ny Bühlerhöhe Castle Invest GmbH, the hotels sim­ply stand idle with no prospects. The only guests in recent years were only up to a hun­dred Lithuanian builders who worked in the vil­las of Kazakhstanis. “I reg­u­lar­ly receive offers from German investors to buy hotels, but the Kazakhs do not respond to my let­ters,” says the burgomaster. 

Having lux­u­ri­ous estates in Germany, none of the mem­bers of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s fam­i­ly has ever vis­it­ed them, accord­ing to DW inter­locu­tors in Baden-Baden. Political sci­en­tist Dosym Satpayev is not sur­prised by this. Luxurious estates, in his opin­ion, are the same “alter­nate air­field” for the fam­i­ly of the ex-pres­i­dent in case of a change of pow­er, like gold bars, shares and mon­ey in accounts in Western banks. 

The more dif­fer­ent assets in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, the bet­ter, just in case. If a coun­try does not devel­op, it can always end in a rev­o­lu­tion. Therefore, the main task of these peo­ple is to con­nect to resources and, while there is access, pump out to the max­i­mum and take them to safe places “, — the polit­i­cal sci­en­tist is sure. Satpaev notes that it may seem eas­i­er for wealthy Kazakhs to defend assets trans­ferred to the rule of law in courts than in courts at home, if they have lost influ­ence over them.

Original sto­ry on the Russian lan­guage: DEUTSCHE WELLE