Skype calls undermine murder case alibi

New evidence has emerged in the long and complex case of Rakhat Aliyev - a millionaire ex-ambassador of Kazakhstan to Austria and former son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's president-for-life.

Skype calls undermine murder case alibi
Rakhat Aliyev was sentenced to 40 years' jail in Kazakhstan, but remains in Austria. Photo: Wikimedia/Mikhail Evstafiev

According to a report in Die Presse newspaper, Skype calls implicating Aliyev (also known as Rakhat Shoraz) in serious crimes have been authenticated, thereby undermining Aliyev's defence claims that the evidence was politically-motivated and therefore manufactured.

He now faces the prospect of serving a life sentence in an Austrian prison.

Aliyev's problems first began in 2007, when he was implicated in the disappearance of two former executives of the Kazakh bank Nurbank, both of whom were under investigation for fraud. Aliyev was the de facto owner of the bank at the time.

The Skype calls allegedly capture Aliyev discussing the location of the executives' bodies – which were only discovered seven months later by Kazakh authorities. Additionally, a manufactured alibi at the time of the disappearance of the executives was said to have been discussed.

Days after the disappearance, Aliyev was appointed as Kazakhstan's official Ambassador in Austria, as well as Permanent Representative to the OSCE, thereby granting him diplomatic immunity.

Later that year, Kazakh law enforcement bodies asked for permission to investigate the alleged abduction of the bankers "without regard for rank", with Aliyev formally accused of being involved by May 2007.  

Later that same month, Nazarbayev signed a constitutional amendment that made himself effectively president-for-life, a move that was widely opposed, including by Aliyev.

In addition to charges of abduction and extortion relating to the missing executives, Aliyev was also implicated in the kidnapping of a Russian TV executive working in Kazakstan in the mid 1990s.  These charges led to Kazakhstan issuing an international arrest warrant, requesting Austria to extradite Aliyev back to Kazakhstan to face charges relating to the kidnapping.

In August 2007, a court in Vienna rejected Kazakhstan's warrant, saying that Aliyev would not face a fair trial, and that his human rights would likely be violated.  The Almaty district court sentenced Aliyev in absentia to 20 years in a high-security prison, as well as confiscation of all his assets.

The following year, a military court also tried Aliyev in absentia, finding him guilty of treason and the planning of a coup d'état, and also sentencing him to a subsequent 20 years in prison.

A subsequent extradition request in 2011 was again denied by the Austrian courts, due to the belief that the charges were politically motivated.  At that time, Austria opened its own investigation into the charges, based on documents provided by the Kazakhstan government.  The same year the bodies of the bank executives who went missing in 2007 were found. 

The latest court hearings began early in June 2014, when Aliyev was invited to Vienna for questioning by Austrian investigators from his home in Malta, whereupon he was arrested and detained. Additionally, two of his alleged accomplices, including the former head of the Kazakh secret service, were also detained in Vienna.

The latest evidence provided by the Kazakh authorities suggest that Aliyev was also implicated in the 2006 murder of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, an opposition leader who was executed along with his bodyguard and driver near the city of Almaty.  

Nine people, including five officers of Kazakhstan's KNB security service were arrested and sentenced for these murders.  The fresh charges were based on the 2012 confession of one of the alleged killers-for-hire, who stated that Aliyev had paid for the killings.

With the latest arrest, Aliyev will remain in jail until the investigation and court process against him are complete.  According to Tengri News, the spokesman of the Vienna Prosecutor's office, Thomas Vecsui, said that Aliyev would not be released on bail.  "Releasing individuals on bail is not envisaged by Austrian procedural law for murder cases," he said.

According to Tengri News, Austria has asked Kazakhstan not to interfere with its investigation into the kidnap and murder of the two bankers, whose widows are represented in the latest action by Austrian lawyers.  

Aliyev has been living since 2010 in Malta, as the husband of an Austrian citizen, Elnara Shorazova.  If he returns to Kazakhstan, he faces the prospect of 40 years in prison, while the Austrian charges carry with them a maximum sentence of 20 years.

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