Crossroads Asia

Kazakhstan and Shady London Real Estate Deals

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Crossroads Asia

Kazakhstan and Shady London Real Estate Deals

A Global Witness report traces some high-end property deals to the Kazakhstan elite.

Kazakhstan and Shady London Real Estate Deals

Rakhat Aliyev

Credit: Mikhail Evstafiev

An investigation by money-trail watchdog Global Witness has concluded that Rakhat Aliyev and his son Nurali are closely linked to shady real estate deals in London. According to the report Mystery on Baker Street, out on July 22, the deals involved properties worth £147 million ($229 million).

Aliyev died in his cell in Vienna last February, weeks before his trial before an Austrian court. He had been accused of orchestrating the murder of two bankers. Aliyev had turned himself in, flying to Austria in June 2014 from his residence in Malta. According to some analysts, he was confident of receiving preferential treatment in Austria, where the Minister of Justice was his former attorney. Instead, the minister recused himself, acknowledging the conflict of interest, and the trial was conducted by a special court of elders. Kazakhstani authorities did their best to help the prosecutor.

In Kazakhstan, Aliyev was sentenced to twenty years in absentia for plotting a coup. He had fallen out of favor with President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2007, and his marriage with the president’s daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva was terminated. Aliyev fled the country and hid for a number of years in Austria, Cyprus and Malta, until a Maltese court found him guilty of money laundering and froze his assets in February 2014. Cornered, he chose to face trial in Austria where perhaps dirt could be unearthed about his nemesis at the helm in Astana.

The Global Witness report says that with Aliyev’s death the indirect ownership of properties in London has become even more opaque. Had it existed in real life, Sherlock Holmes’ fictional home at 221b Baker Street would have been part of the £137 million commercial and residential block spanning from 215 to 237 Baker Street, owned by anonymous companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, a favorite offshore destination for Kazakhstan money in the 1990s.

“By tracing links between these companies and companies known to be owned or directed by Aliyev and his son, Global Witness has pieced together evidence that suggests that someone close to Rakhat Aliyev was the true owner of the BVI company that controls this big chunk of Baker Street, including some of its most famous property,” said the report.

Between 2008 and 2013, in a matryoshka-like scheme, a handful of interlinked BVI companies purchased and resold real estate in Baker Street and Highgate. Global Witness’ learned that these purchases were not carried out via mortgages or bank loans.

Global Witness was able to trace these secretive companies to Rakhat Aliyev by following the money trail of other companies in Germany and Austria that led to Aliyev’s second wife, Elnara Shorazova. According to the findings in the report, the link to the British properties is an Italian manager, Massimiliano Dall’Osso, who worked for these companies in Germany and Austria and later became a director of the BVI companies. Bernard Enry, a French national had a similar story with other BVI companies that are allegedly associated with Aliyev.

But perhaps the strongest link between high-end London real estate and Aliyev is Greatex, a name that three companies shared when they were registered in 2007, in the U.K., Switzerland, and the British Virgin Islands. Mukhamed Kurmanbayev was simultaneously the director of two of these companies, and was the predecessor of Dall’Osso at the other British Virgin Islands companies.

During his time in government, Aliyev held several key positions, including that of chief of the security service, a vantage point he used to conduct business and, allegedly, crush his enemies. Aliyev later claimed that these accusations were the false product of machinations organized by Nazarbayev. His recent death in prison is believed to have been suicide, but an investigation is still ongoing.

In the summer of 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Kazakhstan and met with Nazarbayev. Several Western human rights watchdogs denounced the diplomatic mission, because it failed to address the “grave abuses” alleged to be occurring in Kazakhstan. Now Global Witness has added some spice to the pot. In the report there are several patterns that, if confirmed, could lead to a massive money laundering scandal. So far, the parties involved have denied their links to Aliyev, but the circumstantial evidence and the web of companies uncovered by Global Witness seems to suggest otherwise.