The former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan on Rakhat Aliyev's false testimony, the political situation in Russia and what we can expect in Kazakhstan after January 15th
"Novaya Gazeta – Kazakhstan" continues its series of interviews with the best-known Kazakh opposition politician, the country's former Prime Minister, Akezhan Kazhegeldin. Two events form the backdrop to his latest interview with Vitaliy Volkov: the protests relating to the results of the parliamentary elections in Russia and the court cases in the West where Rakhat Aliyev is appearing as a witness against Kazakhstan. Akezhan Kazhegeldin has also turned to the High Court in London with regard to Aliyev's statements...
Vitaliy Volkov: When we spoke a week ago, you said you expect the European Union to clear up the issue of where Rakhat Aliyev is and under which country's jurisdiction he falls. In recent days, material has appeared in the Maltese press which states unequivocally that he is in Malta. Does that in any way change the situation regarding the lawsuits which many of Aliyev's victims – including your former bodyguards - have already filed and are still intending to file against him?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: Not at all. We assumed that Aliyev was there, especially since we had an official statement from the Austrian authorities saying that he was in Malta, but we weren't born yesterday and we understand how things work. This person is being looked after by several different secret services. I don't know why that is the case and I don't want to go into that yet. I'm interested in the legal side of the case and what this person's situation is with regard to EU jurisdiction. Having said that, Rakhat Aliyev's Maltese interviews are a demonstrative show of, like, look, I'm here. He'd given interviews to the channel K+ several times before but never shown where he was. At best the date might have been shown. Yet this time there was even a backdrop which looked like the harbour at Valletta. Why did he need to go and do that?
But this gives Petr Afanasenko and Satzhan Ibrayev's lawyers the chance to file civil and then criminal charges in Malta. The matter needs to be looked into, but we need an official answer from the Maltese authorities. But regardless of where in the European Union Aliyev is, he has to be prepared to answer the charges against him in a free and fair trial. The allegations against him are of a serious nature, there is no statute of limitations and I think that legal bodies within the EU will deliberate over them sooner or later. I don't think that the country which first gave him refuge in Europe can now try to avoid involvement in the matter although I surmise that this current demonstration of his presence in Malta bespeaks a desire by the Austrian Republic to do just that. The disclaimer that Austria wouldn't be within its legal rights to prosecute Aliyev because he isn't on Austrian territory cannot be taken entirely seriously; Aliyev is still subject to Austrian law one way or another, which our lawyers will try to convince the Austrian authorities of in the immediate future. There isn't just a Prosecutor General there. There are also the courts.
V.V.: However, in the West, Rakhat Aliyev isn't currently appearing as the accused; he is the witness in a number of trials against Kazakhstan. And that gives him at least temporary immunity...
A.K.: Yes, in France, Aliyev used the immunity from detention and arrest that the local court granted him. He went there and used that immunity to appear in public. He gave an interview about the trial in Paris and about his appearance as a witness. As regards litigation in the US, the first case wasn't looked into there as it concerned allegations being made by the Hourani brothers against the country and the court ruled that it was not within its rights to take on a case being brought by private individuals against a state. In a second instance, the Hourani brothers are trying to launch a private case: the Houranis against a Mr. Mirchev, an agent of the Republic of Kazakhstan and citizen of the United States, who worked as a paid lobbyist for Kazakhstan on US soil. In all these cases, Aliyev is, as he states himself, a key witness. And finally, in the UK he is appearing as a witness for Mukhtar Ablyazov in a trial which is proceeding with his involvement. But both the arbitration hearing in Paris and the High Court in London have received statements which claim that Rakhat Aliyev is giving false testimony. One of those statements has been made by Kazakh businessman Serik Medetbekov, whose property in Kazakhstan was seized extrajudicially by Rakhat Aliyev. Aliyev has referred to this very property as his own in his witness statements! I think that Serik Medetbekov's integrity as a witness is well-founded enough for Aliyev to be declared an unreliable witness at the very least. If he continues to insist on his own position, he will end up facing perjury charges. In the UK, this is an imprisonable offence.
V.V.: You are following these proceedings very closely. Do you intend to directly involve yourself in them somehow?
A.K.: From 1996 on, Rakhat Aliyev, whether directly or using his media resources – the archives testify generously to this – levied allegations against me fairly regularly. He started out by using a very well-known, now deceased politician – Zamanbek Nurkadilov – giving him a document saying I owned shares in the Chimkent oil refinery. Those were tempestuous times. I was still Prime Minister and I turned to the Prosecutor General's Office which confirmed that I was not a shareholder. To Nurkadilov's credit I can say that he publicly apologised to me on more than one occasion and said that he had been duped and manipulated and even said who had been behind it: his neighbour at work, Rakhat Aliyev. I was stunned by Aliyev's lies, which didn't let up even when he was under oath in the British High Court. I had to react. I contacted the High Court and gave them my own statement which pointed out where Aliyev was lying. I was surprised as to why Mukhtar Ablyazov had used as evidence this strange, huge opus of more than 60 pages in which Aliyev talked about his favourite subject – himself – and only talked about Mukhtar Ablyazov a little on one single page.
V.V.: The witness statement by Aliyev which you are speaking about includes points 117, 118 and 119 which concern you and a number of other well-known figures who established the Economic Reform Fund in Kazakhstan in 1994 through which, according to Aliyev's statement, money from foreign firms was "extorted" and transferred into the pockets of Nazarbayev and his entourage. What do you say to that?
A.K.: It's not true. None of the people Aliyev names received a penny. Not Kulibayev, not Abykayev, not Nazarbayev, not me. We inherited huge State Reserve funds set aside for war from the USSR. This meant millions of tonnes of copper, bauxite, the titanium reserves and so on and so forth. But we didn't have money. We started by selling these materials through a network of our trading houses abroad, but nothing came back into the country from them. The government sold those houses and what was left in the accounts was transferred into this fund, and we announced a tender for private companies which took shares in the State Reserves, sold them and took a 3-5% commission and then the remaining proceeds were left in the fund.
Then in 1995 we established a treasury, everything was transferred to the treasury accounts and the fund was closed. Aliyev didn't know what he was talking about. The twist here is that I have the originals of these documents. No-one else has them. When I resigned and felt that someone might try to set me up, I gave these documents to a trust on the Isle of Man via my lawyer. They were kept there until this autumn when, in view of Aliyev's testimony at the British High Court, my lawyer passed them on to another lawyer for safe keeping. I've always been ready to argue with Aliyev with documentary evidence to hand, but here.
The biggest mistake the Kazakh authorities have made has been to try Aliyev in absentia. They should have brought all the material to Europe, including the material relating to the bankers being kidnapped. If there is hard and fast evidence, it needs to be proved here. Back in the day, even Aliyev himself wouldn't come to Europe to corroborate his allegations against me. In 2008, he apologised to me via Skype. But this wasn't like accidentally stepping on someone's toes on the bus. I told him at the time that that was the right thing to have done but that we needed to discuss things. Then he sent his lawyer to Washington who was told in no uncertain terms that this was not the kind of matter one could simply brush under the carpet. The matter needed to be dealt with legally and Aliyev would have to give a legal assessment of his actions against me, because he didn't just badmouth me to the press; he also manipulated the Prosecutor General, brought the case to court and had me tried in absentia. It is very important for me to show the citizens of Kazakhstan that he must either prove he was right in a Western court or get what's coming to him, but also in court. I have waited for a long time, but I now intend to achieve that end. We argued over the statute of limitations regarding his actions but none applies in this case because the years that he served as ambassador in Austria are subtracted from the overall statute of limitations.
V.V.: When did you tell the High Court about Aliyev's false testimony?
A.K.: Just recently... This isn't Kazakhstan, where Aliyev only needed a couple of hours to come up with an allegation and dream up events, arrange everything, produce false evidence and force people to make statements. Here in Europe, everything is a lot more complex. I needed six months to clearly set out my arguments regarding Rakhat Aliyev lying to the court in London. In addition to statements from me and Serik Medetbekov, there is also a statement from well-known Kazakh journalist Ermurat Bapi, refuting Aliyev's assertions.
V.V.: Does that mean you're taking an important witness away from Mukhtar Ablyazov?
A.K.: It is made clear in my statement that I am not taking anyone's side in the trial which Mukhtar Ablyazov is involved in in the United Kingdom. It is a very complex trial. I simply point out that, unfortunately for Ablyazov, his witness, Aliyev, is lying in his statement. I have that right as Aliyev posted his statement on his blog, i.e. in the public domain. I had to respond. I have always answered his statements with documentary evidence and I am doing so now. In this case he isn't only lying about me. By a twist of fate I am also forced to point out that Rakhat Aliyev is lying in part of his allegation against Timur Kulibayev too. Nobody could say that Kulibayev is my brother or friend, but this is not the time and place for using whatever means at your disposal to fight an enemy.
V.V.: Since we last spoke there have been momentous events, namely the protests in Russia where huge numbers of people have expressed their disagreement with the results of the elections to the State Duma. Will this affect Kazakhstan where elections to the Majilis are due in January?
A.K.: I am absolutely convinced that this must be food for thought for a great many people in Astana, including those in the presidential administration and government. What has taken place in Russia since the elections to the Duma on December 4th is amazing. I have been following it online through the eyes of western and Russian TV stations. What stunned me was that it wasn't a protest by hungry people. It was a moral protest. It wasn't just people who were dissatisfied with life, it was people who were dissatisfied with the morals of the situation, dissatisfied that there were people trying to manipulate them. I'm happy that that's the generation of young people growing up in Russia. The problem is that if opposition parties can't surpass the 5-7% barrier legally, it becomes hard for the people to vote for them as they disappear off the TV screens for years at a time and people get used to the same old faces. But you've got to understand that it was mainly the intelligentsia out on Bolotnaya Square on the one hand, but on the other there were also people from the authorities there. Former Prime Minister [Mikhail] Kasyanov was there, former Deputy Prime Minister [Boris] Nemtsov was there.
The authorities may ignore that, but the public knows them! Furthermore, if it wasn't for journalists and the new media, who else, apart from the Communist Party, would be able to mobilise that number of people without having the resources of power on their side? This wasn't like United Russia, when the Kremlin calls for students to be shipped into a protest... This was a serious signal to Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] and the outgoing president, if he intends to remain in Russian politics, and to Russia's neighbours, including our own country.
A completely new type of people have appeared. As I said recently to a representative from the current authorities in Kazakhstan, "You don't have to worry about fighting Abilov and Kosanov. You need to look out for what's happening on the ground. More often than not it's not the opposition which does us any harm but bureaucrats with their hands in the till who have been appointed and who, you believe, are doing what they're told. But in actual fact they are lining their pockets and couldn't care less what the people think about them; they are minions with a high turnover but the President remains in power for a long time and all the bigwigs come down hard on him.
Events in Moscow have shown that everyone is expecting something new. Political life will reach boiling point in Russia again once the New Year holidays are behind us as there are elections in March.
We can expect decisions from the Kazakh President after January 15th. But what will the decisions be? I must say again that the current government's behaviour in view of the circumstances that have arisen is unacceptable. An accountable government cannot ignore its own citizens for four months when they are striking and making demands somewhere. If I am a Kazakh and the head of government and I see that 30,000 of my compatriots in the west of the country are striking and making demands of a Chinese, American or whatever company, I have to go there and find out what's happening, try to understand, look at things through their eyes. If need be, I would have to explain to them that we can't break the law that's in force, but we could change it and then they might get what they wanted. But that's only how a government that is accountable to its people would behave. But if it's only answerable to the Nur Otan party, and the party considers itself the main force in the country... Sooner or later you're going to end up with problems, which is what's happened with United Russia. They were convinced that everyone loved them, and then Russians voted against them.
V.V.: You mentioned the strikes in the west of Kazakhstan, a part of the country where there are massive natural resources. Isn't it possible that it could turn into a special territory, existing or wishing to exist with a greater degree of autonomy from the rest of the country?
A.K.: God has commanded that riches like oil and gas be located in very hostile terrain, in either the desert or the tundra... and Kazakhstan is no exception. Our country is huge, and the west is very ill-suited to agriculture, the living conditions there are tough and prices for everyday goods are high. So you have to be doubly attentive to the people who live there, and the situation there could be considerably improved with a well-thought-out policy. But unprofessional, cynical leaders within ministries, the authorities and in the regions take advantage of the fact that the people can't control what they're doing. The people have not shaped this executive, and you get the impression that people who have no connection to the area whatsoever are appointed to rule over those territories. So they end up feeling like guests there.
V.V.: But aren't there plenty of civil servants from the west of Kazakhstan in Astana? Aren't they secretly rubbing their hands in anticipation that they'll be able to take advantage of the current situation for their own ends?
A.K.: You assume correctly. I want to take you back to the events in Egypt in January-February of last year. You'll remember that half a million people gathered on the squares of Cairo and Alexandria and observers were amazed that there were no obvious leaders in the huge crowds. And yet the people on the squares achieved what they wanted. As it turns out, those observers who assumed that the real leaders of the crowds on the street were close to Mubarak were right. These were the people who had given up hope of power changing hands politically, people who feared that Mubarak had appointed one of his sons as his successor and who already planned to lead the party into the elections. And then the ruling political class snapped into action with the popular masses. The same thing is possible in other countries. I don't rule out that sort of thing happening in Kazakhstan or it could happen in Russia if there are no other mechanisms for changing the regime or the mechanisms don't work as they are supposed to by law. The people didn't like the type of authority that was being offered to them at the United Russia congress and so there were mass protests. Now Putin faces the very difficult task of how to deal with the new conditions. They are completely different, and you can see how he's realigning himself and calling on the National Front and not the party. Basically, it was a rushed and incorrect decision by presidents in a number of countries in the former USSR to head their own parties. The president should be above party politics. We have strong presidential power, and in such circumstances the party seems absolute nonsense. It's like a birdhouse without a bird in it.
V.V.: Kazakhstan will soon be celebrating 20 years since independence. What has the country achieved in that time?
A.K.: Instead of answering your question I want to take the opportunity to congratulate everyone who marked independence with us twenty years ago and all those who have since been born in our independent country on the occasion of this anniversary. We have been forced to live through difficult times, but these times will form the main chapters in books on the history of Kazakhstan. We are all historic figures, upon whom the well-being of our motherland and the future of our children depends so let us be wise and brave like our great ancestors.
Interview conducted by Vitaliy VOLKOV
"Novaya Gazeta [New Gazette] – Kazakhstan", 15.12.2011