Dictatorship chronicle: Timur Kulibayev and the ‘Respublika’ suppression

Timur Kulibayev tries to keep distance from politics. It’s virtually impossible because being son-in-law of the Kazakhstan’s “leader of the nation” leaves no options. But there are cases when Kulibayev used his power to directly suppress the media and free speech in his country.

Timur Kulibayev (Тимур Кулибаев – kz), President Nazarbayev’s influential son-in-law and Deputy Chairman of National Welfare Fund Samryk-Kazyna, filed a libel suit on 01 February 2010 against four newspapers — “Respublika,” “Golos Respubliki,” “Vzglyad,” and “Kursiv” — after they published a story accusing him of corruption. An Almaty district court, acting with uncharacteristic swiftness on the same day, ordered the confiscation of all print runs containing the story and placed a ban on future stories that “insult the honor and dignity” of Kulibayev. Moreover Timur Kulibayev in fact banished the newspapers from existence.

The source of the offending story was a letter to media outlets from Mukhtar Ablyazov, the ousted and self-exiled chairman of the Bank Turam Alem (BTA) bank who fled the country following accusations of embezzlement and financial fraud. In the letter, Ablyazov accused Kulibayev of pocketing a portion of the proceeds from the sale of a government stake in a Kazakhstani oil company to the China National Petroleum Company in 2003. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Ablyazov has documents proving Kulibayev’s illegal machinations. Ablyazov’s accusations appeared in the media at the same time as a story that Dinara Kulibayeva, Kulibayev’s wife and Nazarbayev’s daughter, bought a luxurious villa in Switzerland for a record 74 million Swiss franc (approximately $68.4 million).

The court reversed its ruling on a technicality after an outcry from civil society leaders and criticism from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media. Ousted, self-exiled chairman of Bank Turam Alem (BTA) bank Mukhtar Ablyazov is the source of the corruption allegations. The Financial Police opened an investigation into Ablyazov’s allegations on February 11.

Ablyazov’s allegations started a flurry of guessing games about the state of play in the power games among the Kazakhstani elite. Most independent political analysts agree that Ablyazov must have received the incriminating evidence from a third party — either Rakhat Aliyev, Nazarbayev’s exiled former son-in-law, or someone high enough in Kazakhstan’s power echelons to have access to this kind of information. Some allege that Ablyazov is the front man for interests in the oil industry that want to diminish Kulibayev’s far-reaching influence in the energy sector. Others speculate that this is a power play from one of the rival political clans.

Although the Kazakhstani Criminal Code contains special penalties for accepting and giving bribes, corruption is common throughout Kazakhstan. The President issued an anti-corruption decree in April 2009 that provides whistle-blower protection, punishes state officials who fail to report corruption cases, and tries to prevent conflicts of interests. Amendments to the anti-corruption law were signed on December 7, 2009 increasing punishments for corruption, instituting mandatory asset forfeitures, broadening the definition of corruption crimes to include fraud committed by government officials, and criminalizing the acceptance of a bribe on behalf of a third party. The law also extended the definition of government official to managers of companies in which the government holds more than a 35% stake.

Famous Kazakh oligarch and businessman Timur Kulibayev (Тимур Кулибаев – kz), married to the middle daughter of the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is the republic’s largest taxpayer among all individuals. According to the Ministry of Finance of Kazakhstan, over the past 5 years, the amount of income tax withheld from Kulibayev amounted to more than $ 3.1 billion.

Pavel Kazantsev request on Timur Kulibayev (Тимур Кулибаев – kz) to the Prosecution General

Despite Timur Kulibayev wealth and power there is brave people who try to stand against him or at least investigate the allegations. Pavel Kazantsev is one of them. He asked Prosecution to check the data provided by journalists. On June 17, he made an official request to the Prosecutor General of Kazakhstan Gizat Nurdauletov, in which he raised issues related to the mechanisms of oil and gas export:

“The oil industry, providing employment, local content, and tax payments to the budget, is one of the key and significant for the state economy. Recently, various issues have been raised in Internet publications related to the mechanisms for selling oil and gas for export, the activities of foreign intermediary companies in this area and their access to the domestic market, as well as the issues of targeted spending of funds of foreign subsidiaries of the national oil and gas company. Unjustified publications of this kind entail significant risks of damage to the business reputation of the domestic oil and gas industry, and also negatively affect the country’s investment climate. I ask the General Prosecutor’s Office, in the manner prescribed by law, to provide the deputy corps with answers to the questions posed in the publications and to give an objective legal assessment. I ask to inform on the measures taken in writing within the time frame established by law, ”Kazantsev wrote in his request.

Note that the request refers to several publications that have passed in several different Kazakhstani and foreign media over the past few months. For example, on May 3, the British edition of Talk Finance published an article titled — How a parasite outgrows its host: Daniyar Abulgazin is no longer happy about his role in Kulibayev’s affairs. It tells about an associate of Nazarbayev’s son-in-law Daniyar Abulgazin, nicknamed Khyurrem Sultan (Khyurrem Sultan or Roksolana – the concubine, and then the wife of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent – ASSA). This nickname for Abulgazin was by no means accidental: everyone who knows him personally calls him an insidious and unprincipled person. The article tells about Dias Suleimenov, the son of Tuleutai Suleimenov, who is a friend and ally of Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Timur Kulibayev meets the current president of Kazakhstan.

“Dias Suleimenov follows in the footsteps of his father. The only difference is that instead of Nazarbayev, he sticks to the president’s son-in-law. Dias Suleimenov has always been in the top management of state corporations and banks. At the age of 24, he was appointed head of one of the departments of the National Bank, with no previous experience. Dias Suleimenov joined Timur Kulibayev, who was considered one of the main contenders for the throne. Daniyar Abulgazin, the brother-in-law of Dias Suleimenov, also joined them. Since then, although Dias Suleimenov and Daniyar Abulgazin officially received salaries from the state, they received hundreds of millions to bank accounts, in the form of shares in companies and real estate. Daniyar Abulgazin and his son-in-law run Timur Kulibayev’s business empire – speculating on the vast and complex bookkeeping of their boss. In return, the relatives provide Timur Kulibayev (Тимур Кулибаев – kz) with their schemes. It was Daniyar Abulgazin who invented much of tax evasion and money-laundering for the Kazakh regime. As an accomplice of Timur Kulibayev, he receives his share of oil and gas revenues. In fact, he is helping his boss to take more and more from public finances, and participate in increasingly risky business. His status as the main conspirator gives him leverage against his own master, ”the newspaper notes.

Another article “Daniyar Abulgazin and a hole in the Kazakhstani Olympic budget” published on the American website The Unfiltered Lens also claims that this trio – Kulibayev, Suleimenov and Abulgazin – made a lot of money selling Kazakhstani oil assets for kickbacks, which were very difficult to track:

“The correspondence between Daniyar Abulgazin and Dias Suleimenov about oil affairs was leaked on the Internet and became the so-called Kazaworld leak. It sheds light on the secretive community around Timur Kulibayev and the golden years of oil affairs. Timur Kulibayev was appointed head of the National Welfare Fund, followed by Daniyar Abulgazin. Abulgazin was the head of the oil and gas industry, including KazMunayGas, the Kazakh state giant. Timur Kulibayev and Daniyar Abulgazin acted in the interests of Vitol Corporation while maintaining their own corporate positions. They allowed the Vitol monopoly to acquire Kazakhstani oil resources for kickbacks provided in a complex scheme to avoid tracking and prosecution. Vitol gained control over the two most important oil fields by providing a loan to KazMunayGas. Raw deal cash gave Vitol privileged access. In itself, there is nothing criminal in this, such things are often practiced in third world countries in need of money. However, the way it was done shows that almost one billion US dollars ended up in the pockets of the Nazarbayev/Kulibayev clan, ”the article says.

Daniyar Abulgazin
Daniyar Abulgazin is one of Timur Kulibayev sidekicks.

The entire scheme, as reported in the publication, is described in the Kazaworld archives. In short, it says that the kickback scheme was based on the creation of a joint venture. It was registered in 2003 by Vitol in Rotterdam. The name of the company is Ingma Holding BV. The company was created to invest in Kazakhstan, but, in fact, the documents of Ingma Holding BV refute this. Daniyar Abulgazin and his group set up a company to rob Kazakhstan of money and bribe local government agencies. The small and seemingly unknown company is a world-class hidden oil trader with billions in sales and revenues. In 2009-2016, the company’s turnover amounted to $ 93.3 billion. This is 1/5 of the total volume of oil exports from Kazakhstan. Ingma announced more than $1 billion in revenue paid to shareholders of a private entity, without specifying who they are.

This data is confirmed by the non-profit Swiss organization Public Eye in the investigation “Vitol – the oil king of Kazakhstan”, devoted to corruption in the oil sector. Vitol is the largest private oil trader in the world and the second-largest corporation in Switzerland, whose income in 2017 amounted to $ 181 billion. Today Vitol almost completely owns the Kazakhstani market together with Chinese companies, leaving crumbs of this market to other players.

From 2015 to 2018, Vitol made a masterful move, winning two tenders for loans totaling $ 5.2 billion to the national oil company KazMunayGas. Payments will be made within five years through oil supplies from two of Kazakhstan’s largest fields, Tengiz and Kashagan, which are owned by KazMunayGas. This contract, which is called in professional slang “cash for a dirty deal” or cash for the crude deal, provides Vitol with guaranteed access to Kazakhstani oil and an excellent opportunity to build long-term relations with the state.

However, in the General Prosecutor’s Office of Kazakhstan, respond to an inquiry by Deputy Kazantsev based on these publications, states that the investigation by American and British journalists is not true:

“We have studied the general structure of Kazakhstan oil exports for 2009-2019, including the share of exports of the Vitol Group of companies. It has been established that during this period a total of 752 million tons of oil were exported. At the same time, 482 million tons or 64% of all exports are accounted for by 4 companies (Tengizchevroil, Karachaganak Petroleum Operating BV, North Caspian Operating Company BV, CNPC-Aktobemunaigas JSC) with the participation of such large investors as Chevron, Eni, Royal Dutch Shell plc, CNPC, etc. During the same period, the Vitol Group of companies purchased 75.6 million tons of Kazakh raw materials or only 10% of the total export, i.e. the statement that it occupies the “lion’s” share of the export oil sales market or almost a quarter of the country’s market is not confirmed, “the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a response signed by the acting Prosecutor General Yerlik Kenenbaev.

It also states that all transactions related to the export of Kazakhstan oil are subject to constant monitoring by the Ministry of Finance in terms of compliance with transfer pricing legislation.

The Prosecution General answer is ridiculous from the very start. There is no sense in analysing ‘the general structure of Kazakhstan oil exports’. The request was not served at all. True investigation on Timur Kulibayev’s affairs could demand months if not years.

Moreover Prosecution General of Kazakhstan refers to Swiss investigation which ended with nothing due to the more political considerations than facts itself:

“It should also be noted that the facts indicated in the publications, including the circumstances of the involvement of Kulibayev and other persons to allegedly illegal operations with Kazakhstani oil and money laundering, based on the statements of a number of citizens, were investigated by the Swiss prosecutor’s office during 2010-2013. The law enforcement agencies of Kazakhstan, within the framework of providing legal assistance in this case, at the request of the Chief Federal Prosecutor of the Swiss Confederation, granted all the necessary information to facilitate an objective investigation. Following the review of materials, the investigation by the Swiss prosecutor’s office was terminated due to the lack of grounds for criminal prosecution. Thus, the “facts” presented by the authors of several publications in the Western press, regarding violations in the export of Kazakhstani oil, the presence of any collusion, a monopoly position and the granting of unreasonable privileges to the Vitol group of companies, do not correspond to reality, ” assures Kenenbaev.

There is no sense, except of PR stunt, to mention the tax paid by Timur Kulibayev and his companies:

“An analysis of tax revenues from individuals for this period shows that Timur Kulibayev is in first place of the ranking of the 50 largest taxpayers – individuals in Kazakhstan, ”notes the Acting Prosecutor General.

Recall that Timur Kulibayev, according to the Forbes magazine rating, ranks first in the top 50 most influential businessmen in Kazakhstan. He owns the holding company Halyk Group, which includes Halyk Bank of Kazakhstan, Altyn Bank in Kazakhstan, and AKB Tenge Bank in Uzbekistan. Halyk Bank is also represented in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Tajikistan. The Halyk Group also includes Mercury Properties, a rental and property management company. Currently, the company’s portfolio includes 39 commercial real estate objects, including logistics centers, shopping, and business centers in Almaty, Nur-Sultan, Atyrau, Aktobe, Aktau, Shymkent, and Dubai. Among them are the Forum Almaty shopping and entertainment center, Lukoil business center in Nur-Sultan, and Kainar in Shymkent. Also, the businessman owns a majority stake in the Singapore-based Steppe Capital Pte Ltd, Viled Group, Joint Technologies, Joint Resources, Caspian Oil, Kazazot. Timur Kulibayev’s fortune is estimated at $ 3.1 billion.

Among Timur Kulibayev assets there is significant portion of property outside of Kazakhstan. He owns the most expensive villa in Switzerland. His input in Swiss property may explain why Chief Prosecutor of the country turned the blind eye on the data provided by journalists. For much shame as it takes Britain seems to follow.

Prince Andrew and three million pounds extra paid by Timur Kulibayev

Sunninghill Park home, often referred to as ‘South York’, was not exactly a masterpiece in trendy architecture. It was outdated while not historically valued. Prince Andrew, the owner of the estate, wasn’t big fan of it. The maintenance of property were also high. Andrew knew much better ways to spend the money. Timur Kulibayev, the wealthiest Kazakhstani and dictators son-in-law came to the rescue.

Royal Sunninghill Park was torn by order of new owner, Timur Kulibayev.
Royal Sunninghill Park was torn by order of new owner, Timur Kulibayev.

As a result Prince Andrew decided to sell the property. Five long years the mansion was advertised for £12. Nobody came in except for tabloid press journalists who posted photos of the rotting royal estate on a regular basis. Things changed in 2007, as it was sold for £15 million in 2007 to an offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands. It was £3 million over the asking price, and it raised reasonable suspicions.

Soon it was revealed that the new title owner of the mansion is Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of Kazakhstan ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev and the wealthiest man in the Central Asian nation. Timur Kulibayev had common business interests with the prince and it alarmed UK. The extra three million pounds are viewed as a bribe to British royal. Something that is not so common in the United Kingdom.

Timur Kulibayev and the Sunninghill Park

The new owner, Timur Kulibayev, it seemed, had no intentions to move in or renovate it. The state of decay intensified every month. Tramps broke in and made a nest in the former royal estate. It had doors hanging wide open, weeds sprouting through the paving, broken windows and grass growing in the empty swimming pool.

It was intentional move from Timur Kulibayev. Once the state of the mansion gone beyond repair he applied for demolition and construction permit for a new house. It was granted in 2013 and the great new construction begun.

Now it is nearly complete with six bedrooms, a sauna, an ice room, steam room, gym, treatment room and games parlour. It is bigger and better in all senses than the house that was demolished. It appears that Timur Kulibayev and his family (one of his families, actually) plans to live there. Judging from the presence of children’s wing and nanny quarter we may speculate that it will be home for generations of Kulibayev’s to come.

Kazakhstani Tycoon Timur Kulibayev and Prince Andrew investigation

But what about Duke of York’s highly questionable activities? What was the purpose of the extra paid by Timur Kulibayev? There is reliable information that in exchange of the sum Andrew planned to lobby the interests of Kazakhstan and Nazarbayev dynasty in particular. Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of Nazarbayev is kind of a prince himself, with hundreds of companies under control and a massive offshore empire. He used all the suspicious schemes to get filthy rich. Despite his close association with corruption and money laundering he managed to evade all investigations.

Timur Kulibayev's villa near Geneva, the most expensive property in Swiss.
Timur Kulibayev’s villa near Geneva, the most expensive Swiss property.

Maybe Prince Andrew who is now in the hot water for Epstein connection will finally reveal the truth about his close association with Timur Kulibayev and the case will go on further than just talks about Britain being safe haven for the international money laundering.

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