Foreign Policy Blogs

Kazakhstan: Nurbank scandal widens

Nurbank BranchesOJSC (Open joint stock company) Nurbank is the seventh largest of Kazakhstan's banks, opening for business in 1992.  According to its Web site, it is owned by the largest oil, food, publishing and foreign trade firms operating in Kazakhstan, and also currently lends to oil, food, foreign trade, and publishing & information firms.  Already part of many loan syndication networks (where banks get together to finance large loans), JSC Nurbank has recently positioned itself to improve its access to the global finance community by adding an Export-Import banking division.   This good positioning is now in jeopardy as further scandal rocks the bank's reputation.

Mr. Rakhat Aliyev's father, Mukhtar Aliyev, owns 6.73% of Nurbank, but he remains the only shareholder with a published stake.  Most commonly, it is felt that the most important and visible shareholders are Rakhat Aliev and his wife, Dariga Nazarbaeva.  Mr. Rakhat Aliyev's son, 22-year-old Nurali Aliyev,  assumed a position on the board on January 15, 2007.

Those were not the only changes at Nurbank last January.  A competition of tales concerning kidnappings, hostages, police efforts, and media wars began in January 31, 2007, when five armed personnel stormed the Nurbank building, only to be stopped by bank security guards.  As it turned out, the five armed attackers were security forces, bent on releasing hostages held inside the bank.  The alleged hostage-holder was Mr. Rakhat Aliyev, supposedly holding Mr. Abilmazhen Gilimov, the chairman of the bank, and Mr. Zholdas Timraliev, vice president of the bank.  Both have subsequently resigned.  The allegations against Mr. Aliyev include that he called both officials for a meeting, and held them for 24 hours in order to Nurbank Buildingcompel them to sell interest in a building in Almaty–in fact, the Nurbank building itself.  Mr. Timraliev's wife, Amangul Qapasheva, has subsequently said that her husband was beaten during that period.  He disappeared again on January 23, 2007, after a summons from the Tax police. According to news reports of February 21, 2007, he had still not yet reappeared.  and the Almaty building has changed ownership at an under-market price.

When Mr. Gilimov's and Mr. Timraliev's wives could not find him, Ms. Qapasheva went public with her husband's story; Mr. Gilimov's wife, Ms. Nazira Bazarbaeva, has not commented publicly based upon advice from her lawyer. 

By the first part of February, Dariga Nazarbaeva was indicating that subsequent financial investigations were due to changes in management.  The criminal charges she referred to appeared to be of a financial nature, “although politics was involved.”  It seems from these statements, that previous management was to blame for financial indiscretions.  Indeed, Kazakh authorities arrested Mr. Gilimov and have said that Mr. Timraliev is “in hiding“, ostensibly to avoid charges of financial misdeeds.  One charge concerns an illegal USD 6.5 million bank transfer. 

Rakhat AlievIn mid-February, Mr. Aliev sued the two wives for defamation of character.   He has been demoted from First Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan to the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Austria.  This was widely believed to be an attempt to defuse the public scandal.    

Yesterday, news broke that Ambassador Rakhat Aliev is being investigated for disturbances at Nurbank earlier this year. 

Sean Roberts has a great backgrounder as of February 16th on Mr. Aliev here
Leila at neweurasia.net has a current post that gives a local perspective.