The Offshore Secrets of Kazakhstan’s President Tokayev

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has sought to dis­tance him­self from his pow­er­ful pre­de­ces­sor, who many in Kazakhstan hold respon­si­ble for the country’s vast wealth inequal­i­ty. But Tokayev’s fam­i­ly has its own for­eign secrets: Lakeside town­hous­es, Moscow apart­ments, Swiss bank accounts — and a mon­ey trail that goes far offshore.

Key Findings

  • President Tokayev’s wife and son had a Swiss bank account as ear­ly as 1998 — when most Kazakhstanis lived in pover­ty and he was for­eign min­is­ter. The account held $1 mil­lion at its peak.
  • The Tokayevs also opened secre­tive off­shore com­pa­nies in the British Virgin Islands that con­trolled a U.K. com­pa­ny with $5 mil­lion in assets.
  • They also bought apart­ments around Lake Geneva and in Moscow worth at least $7.7 million.

In recent weeks, Kazakhstan’s pres­i­dent Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has tak­en a stand against inequality.

Addressing the nation after days of protests that were sup­pressed by mass police bru­tal­i­ty, he acknowl­edged the wave of pop­u­lar anger against his pre­de­ces­sor, long-rul­ing strong­man Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Thanks to the First President,” he said, “in the coun­try there appeared a group of very prof­itable com­pa­nies and a group of peo­ple who are rich even by inter­na­tion­al stan­dards. I think it’s time to pay back the peo­ple of Kazakhstan.”Credit: Kazakhstan President Press Office/TAPresident Kassym-Jomart Tokayev dur­ing a January 28 meet­ing of the polit­i­cal coun­cil of Kazakhstan’s rul­ing Nur-Otan par­ty. He recent­ly took over the party’s lead­er­ship from for­mer pres­i­dent Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Until the wave of protest and vio­lence shook Kazakhstan in ear­ly January, even this mild pub­lic crit­i­cism of Nazarbayev would have been unthink­able. But Tokayev appeared to have got­ten the mes­sage that the peo­ple of Kazakhstan want­ed a change after decades of oil-fueled oli­garchy. He promised to make it hap­pen.

As head of gov­ern­ment, I will con­tin­ue the pol­i­cy of polit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion and mod­ern­iza­tion of our soci­ety,” he said.

As it turns out, Tokayev’s fam­i­ly had secre­tive wealth, safe­ly stored in Europe, as far back as 1998 — when near­ly half of Kazakhstan’s pop­u­la­tion lived under the pover­ty line. A leak of bank­ing data from Credit Suisse shows that a Swiss bank account for Tokayev’s then-wife Nadezhda and 14-year-old son Timur was opened that year, even as Timur attend­ed an expen­sive board­ing school in Geneva.

It’s unknown how much mon­ey passed through the account over the years. According to the Swiss leak, it reached its max­i­mum val­ue of 1.5 mil­lion Swiss francs ($1 mil­lion) in 2005.

Documents from an off­shore ser­vices provider, cor­po­rate files, and prop­er­ty records all show that, in the years to come, the fam­i­ly con­tin­ued to accu­mu­late sig­nif­i­cant wealth out­side of Kazakhstan. In 2012 — after the Swiss account was closed — the Tokayevs opened off­shore com­pa­nies in the British Virgin Islands that had their own bank accounts in Switzerland and con­trolled a U.K. com­pa­ny with $5 mil­lion in assets at one point in 2014. They also amassed prop­er­ties in Moscow and Geneva worth at least $7.7 million.

Credit: yyedilov / Telegram

During those years Tokayev held a series of senior gov­ern­ment posi­tions, includ­ing min­is­ter of for­eign affairs, prime min­is­ter, and Senate chair. Neither he nor his wife had any known busi­ness­es or sources of wealth. Only their son Timur has ever been con­nect­ed to any real busi­ness — and even that deserves con­sid­er­able scruti­ny. As report­ed by Kazakh media, he was list­ed as the co-own­er of an oil com­pa­ny that won lucra­tive devel­op­ment rights to a Kazakh oil field, and lat­er earned mil­lions in prof­its, at just 18 years old.

One of the only known pho­tos of Timur Tokayev, the son of Kazakhstan’s pres­i­dent. It was post­ed in a Telegram chan­nel run by a pop­u­lar com­men­ta­tor who was also an advi­sor to the prime minister.

Timur may also be the family’s orig­i­nal con­nec­tion to Switzerland. It recent­ly emerged that he attend­ed College du Leman, one of Geneva’s most expen­sive board­ing schools, and also has a diplo­ma from the U.S.-accredited Webster University branch in Geneva.

The Tokayevs also made prop­er­ty acqui­si­tions in and around Geneva, all in Timur’s name: An apart­ment in a qui­et dis­trict in the city, an apart­ment in a lake­side town­house in the near­by munic­i­pal­i­ty of Versoix, and anoth­er town­house apart­ment in the vil­lage of Saint-Prex.

Credit: Edin Pasovic / Google EarthTimur Tokayev’s prop­er­ties in Geneva.

It is unknown how long Timur spent in Geneva after grad­u­at­ing, but his father did live in the area while he was serv­ing as Director-General of the United Nations’ Geneva office in between 2011 and 2013.

Meanwhile, Timur had moved on to Moscow, report­ed­ly cruis­ing around the Russian cap­i­tal in a Lexus and BMW with diplo­mat­ic plates and receiv­ing an advanced degree from the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

He and his moth­er also acquired sev­er­al expen­sive apart­ments in Moscow. Curiously, as an inves­ti­ga­tion by now-impris­oned Russian oppo­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny showed, the Russian gov­ern­ment appears to have wiped any men­tion of them from Russian prop­er­ty records. (Navalny’s team dis­cov­ered the Tokayevs’ own­er­ship from records they had down­loaded before they were delet­ed from the registry.)

Some of their real estate has since been sold. Their remain­ing Moscow prop­er­ties include a large apart­ment in an elite down­town res­i­dence called Fusion Park, and anoth­er large, two-floor apart­ment two kilo­me­ters from the Kremlin. Tokayeva was also reg­is­tered at a third apart­ment in the city’s northwest.

Credit: Google Street View

The Fusion Park apart­ment com­plex in Moscow where Timur Tokayev has an apartment.

The Tokayev’s secrets also extend out­side of Europe. Thanks to doc­u­ments from the Pandora Papers — a trove of files from off­shore ser­vice providers that were shared with OCCRP by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — reporters were able to trace their activ­i­ties to the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a juris­dic­tion used by wealthy peo­ple around the world to secret­ly hold their assets.

In 2012, the year after the Tokayevs’ Credit Suisse account was closed, the fam­i­ly estab­lished two off­shore com­pa­nies in the BVI. The com­pa­nies — Wishing Well Group Inc, owned by Tokayev’s ex-wife, and Wisdom Invest & Finance Inc., owned by Timur — appear to be cor­po­rate vehi­cles cre­at­ed for the pur­pose of own­ing a U.K. com­pa­ny called Edelweiss Resources. (Records also indi­cate that each of these shell com­pa­nies also held its own Swiss bank account.)

Because Edelweiss has only filed abbre­vi­at­ed finan­cial state­ments, lit­tle is known about its activ­i­ties. But its lat­est fil­ing from March 2014 does show that it had just over $4 mil­lion cash in the bank and near­ly $1 mil­lion in invest­ments that year.

The same sum­mer, the Tokayevs took anoth­er step to hide their invest­ments even more deeply. A Cyprus reg­is­tra­tion agent involved in the for­ma­tion of their com­pa­nies asked its BVI office to remove the Tokayevs as share­hold­ers and replace them with nom­i­nee, or proxy share­hold­ers that would effec­tive­ly hide their own­er­ship. The request came in an email leaked in the Pandora Papers. The three Tokayev com­pa­nies have since been shut down.

Kazakhstani offi­cials’ are not oblig­ed to make pub­lic their asset dec­la­ra­tions, leav­ing the source of the Tokayevs’ mil­lions a mys­tery. The fam­i­ly did not respond to requests for comment.

In response to inquiries from OCCRP and Süddeutsche Zeitung, Credit Suisse said it could not com­ment on indi­vid­ual client rela­tion­ships and reject­ed “alle­ga­tions and infer­ences about [its] pur­port­ed busi­ness prac­tices.”

Original source of arti­cle: OCCRP