The Kazakhgate Relay: From Bulat Utemuratov to Mukhtar Ablyazov

Who is behind the Kazakhgate scan­dal in the Belgian media? OSI revealed one name so far: that of the Kazakh oli­garch Bulat Utemuratov, who orches­trat­ed it in late 1990s and ear­ly 2000s. (http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/propaganda-works-first-kazakhgate/)

Another char­ac­ter close­ly linked to Utemuratov is Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakh oli­garch too, and a fugi­tive from jus­tice who is cur­rent­ly liv­ing in France.

The French newslet­ter Intelligence Online recent­ly sug­gest­ed that some mem­bers of the so-called “Kazakhgate” com­mis­sion are inter­est­ed in talk­ing to Ablyazov. (see here: https://www.intelligenceonline.com/corporate-intelligence/2017/08/23/ablyazov-s-secret-lobbying-against-chodiev,108258465-ART)

If so, this means the com­mis­sion is ready to take sides, know­ing­ly or not, in a war between two groups of Kazakh oli­garchs – a war that began decades ago.

Who is Mukhtar Ablyazov?

Ablyazov, born and bred in Kazakhstan, became tru­ly rich in 2005, when he became the own­er and chair­man of the board of direc­tors of Kazakhstan’s largest bank, BTA. In December 2004, the for­mer own­er of BTA, Yerzhan Tatishev, died in a con­tro­ver­sial hunt­ing acci­dent, being shot (alleged­ly by mis­take) by a for­mer gang­ster (see here: http://kazworld.info/?p=9486). Ablyazov then forced Tatishev’s wid­ow to sell him the share pack­age that made him the sole own­er of BTA (see here: http://kazworld.info/?p=28543).

After gain­ing own­er­ship of BTA, Ablyazov began cre­at­ing a net­work of off­shore com­pa­nies through which he man­aged to siphon bil­lions of dol­lars from the bank. The Kazakh gov­ern­ment dis­cov­ered the scheme in 2009, when it nation­al­ized BTA. According to Kazakh pros­e­cu­tors, Ablyazov man­aged to steal 7.5 bil­lion dol­lars using his net­work of dum­my corporations.

Because of the judi­cial inquiry that began in 2009, Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan to UK. In August 2009, BTA Bank launched the first of its 11 civ­il pro­ceed­ings against Ablyazov in the UK High Court.

In 2011, the United Kingdom grant­ed Ablyazov polit­i­cal asy­lum for the peri­od of tri­al proceedings.

In 2012, the High Court in London has ruled that BTA Bank is enti­tled to recov­er 2 bil­lion dol­lars in assets from Ablyazov and his asso­ciates. (https://www.ft.com/content/fa197eae-909a-11e2-a456-00144feabdc0)  Later, the same court ordered Ablyazov’s asso­ciates to pay an addi­tion­al 1.5 bil­lion dol­lars to BTA. (https://en.tengrinews.kz/crime/London-court-orders-Ablyazovs-accomplices-to-pay-over-15–17955/)

In the mean­time, in ear­ly 2012 the London court sen­tenced Ablyazov to 22 months in jail for “seri­ous” and “brazen” con­tempt of court in try­ing to hide more than 34 mil­lion pounds of assets from his BTA cred­i­tors. (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/feb/16/arrest-warrant-kazakh-billionaire-mukhtar-ablyazov)

Facing jail in UK, Ablyazov fled to France using a pass­port issued by the Central African Republic. In July 2013 he was locat­ed and arrest­ed by the French author­i­ties (https://www.euromoney.com/article/b12kjzckjgvs22/the-hunt-for-mukhtar-ablyazov-banker-criminal-fugitive-victim).

In 2014, a French court order allowed the French author­i­ties to extra­dite Ablyazov to Russia, where he was charged with the same crimes he was charged in Kazakhstan, since BTA also had branch­es in Russia and Ukraine. However, in December 2016 the French State Council over­ruled the order and released Ablyazov from cus­tody. (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-apps-putin-commentary-idUSKCN1B91WN)

Finally, also in 2014 the UK can­celed Ablyazov’s polit­i­cal refugee sta­tus. (http://www.lse.co.uk/sharecast-news-article.asp?ArticleCode=21616501&ArticleHeadline=UK_revokes_asylym_status_of_former_Kazakh_banker_Ablyazov)

To sum it up, Mukhtar Ablyazov is an oli­garch who com­mit­ted fraud on a very large scale. He was repeat­ed­ly con­vict­ed by a British court – he was even sen­tenced to jail for con­tempt of court. All this hap­pened in the UK, where the stan­dards of jus­tice are very high.

Mukhtar Ablyazov and Bulat Utemuratov 

According to Professor Sebastien Peyrouse from George Washington University, who wrote an exten­sive study on the neopat­ri­mo­ni­al regime in Kazakhstan, since the 1990s, two cir­cles of senior offi­cials have been in com­pe­ti­tion with one anoth­er as the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of dif­fer­ing, some­times con­tra­dic­to­ry inter­ests. One cir­cle is led by Bulat Utemuratov; the oth­er one com­pris­es, among oth­ers, Chodiev, Ibragimov and Mashkevich.

The com­pe­ti­tion between these two net­works is struc­tured around the min­ing sec­tor. Utemuratov’s rela­tions in this sec­tor rival those of Mashkevich, whose ENRC also works in African mar­kets, the stomp­ing grounds of Glencore […]. In pub­licly for­mu­lat­ing this com­pe­ti­tion, Utemuratov played the card of Kazakh nation­al­ism, and hoped to assem­ble under his lead­er­ship Kazakh oli­garchs opposed to the pre­dom­i­nant role of non-Kazakhs. This alliance includ­ed Mukhtar Ablyazov before he fell into disgrace—whereupon Utemuratov then bought out much of his busi­ness and com­mu­ni­ca­tions empire […].” (see here, p. 365=366: https://www2.gwu.edu/~ieresgwu/assets/docs/demokratizatsiya%20archive/GWASHU_DEMO_20_4/115R0286T7381151/115R0286T7381151.pdf)

In oth­er words, Ablyazov is Utemuratov’s pupil and, to some extent, his pro­tégé. After all, when Ablyazov fled from Kazakhstan, it was Utemuratov who bought his busi­ness­es, pre­sum­ably to keep them safe from competition.

Both Ablyazov and Utemuratov belong to the ultra-nation­al­ist camp of Kazakh oli­garchs, in direct con­flict with the likes of Chodiev, Ibragimov and Mashkevich, who, as non-Kazakhs, are treat­ed as foes, not only as busi­ness competitors.

Far-right connections

Ablyazov’s grudge against the Chodiev, Ibragimov and Mashkevich is man­i­fest. On May 17 2017, for instance, he shared on his Facebook page a post by Aydos Sadykov: “Khromtau is a small town in the Aktobe region. In the 90s it was pri­va­tized by Mashkevich, Chodiev and Ibragimov. The so-called “Eurasian group” bought from the state the only chrome mines in the coun­try. In the entire post-Soviet space, chrome was mined only in two places: in Khromtau and Petrozavodsk (Karelia, Russia). Since then, Kazchrome belongs to the cit­i­zens of Israel, Belgium and Uzbekistan.” [Chodiev and Ibragimov are Uzbeks, and they also hold Belgian nation­al­i­ty; Mashkevitch holds Israeli nationality.]

To this, Ablyazov adds: “I would like to add that all these enter­pris­es got these own­ers free of charge back in the mid-1990s. Why? Because their busi­ness part­ner and co-own­er is President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

You will find nowhere the infor­ma­tion that this group will pay hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars for these assets in the country’s bud­get. It’s just an enter­prise stolen from the country.

On these assets, manip­u­lat­ing the shares of these enter­pris­es, using their offi­cial posi­tion, Nazarbayev and Co. stole bil­lions of dol­lars from the National Fund. And they pay pen­nies for work­ers at these enterprises.”

Ablyazov’s Facebook post post has an unmis­tak­ably pop­ulist and nation­al­is­tic tone: Chodiev, Ibragimov and Mashkevitch are for­eign­ers – Uzbeks, Belgians and Israeli – not Kazakhstani natives. They don’t deserve to own Kazakhstani prop­er­ties that they “stole” from the Kazakh peo­ple and for which they pay noth­ing. In addi­tion, they exploit poor Kazakhstani work­ers. This is qua­si-fas­cist propaganda.

Ablyazov’s far-right views are also man­i­fest from the way he spends his mon­ey. He financed, for instance, the activ­i­ty of Dmitriy Demushkin, a Russian extrem­ist recent­ly con­vict­ed for 2.5 years for alleged­ly attend­ing a par­ty to cel­e­brate Adolf Hitler’s birth­day. Demushkin is the head of the supreme nation­al coun­cil of the Russkie asso­ci­a­tion, the chair­man of the orga­niz­ing com­mit­tee of the nation­al­ist par­ty, and the chair­man of the now-banned “Slavic Union”. (http://www.ibtimes.com/russian-nationalist-demushkin-granted-rally-permit-moscow-government-1892943)

Ablyazov was also strong­ly con­nect­ed to Alexander Potkin, who alleged­ly han­dled the assets belong­ing to Ablyazov in Russia. Potkin is a well-known Russian nation­al­ist, and the for­mer leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). (https://en.tengrinews.kz/crime/Russian-nationalist-arrested-over-Ablyazov-embezzlement-case-256927/)

Apparently, Ablyazov also financed inter-eth­nic clash­es in south Kyrgyzstan in 2010, when in just two days about half a mil­lion eth­nic Uzbeks became refugees. He alleged­ly financed those who urged the Kyrgyz to kill their neigh­bors of a dif­fer­ent nation­al­i­ty. (http://www.silkroadgazette.com/ablyazov-attempted-to-destabilize-situation-in-russia-uzbekistan-and-kyrgyzstan/)

Back to Belgium 

There is a clear con­nec­tion between Ablyazov and Utemuratov, the man who mas­ter­mind­ed the first Kazakhgate scan­dal in the late 1990s. Utemuratov’s team – Eric Van de Weghe and Le Soir’s jour­nal­ist Alain Lallemand – is still active.

There is also ample evi­dence that Ablyazov hates Chodiev, Ibragimov and Mashkevich not only because they are his and Utemuratov’s busi­ness com­peti­tors in Kazakhstan, but, more impor­tant­ly, because Ablyazov holds strong far-right beliefs. He sim­ply hates them because they are not Kazakhs, but Uzbeks and Israelis. In his mind, they are sub-humans who deserve the same fate that Uzbeks had in Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

If the infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed by Intelligence Online is cor­rect, it seems we now have a Belgian par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion who is ready, know­ing­ly or not, to fight open­ly for the inter­ests of the worst kind of Kazakh oli­garchs – those who com­bine fraud­u­lent eco­nom­ic pow­er with a qua­si-fas­cist ideology.

In the mean­time, those who did change the law in Belgium are doing just fine. Nobody seems to both­er them – see here: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/van-der-maelen-busts-kazakhgate-commission/, and here: http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/belgium/diamondgate-cdv-affair/.

The Kazakhgate Relay: From Bulat Utemuratov to Mukhtar Ablyazov

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