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U.S. Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Linked To Kazakh Family Feud

  • Mike Eckel

Rakhat Aliev, the former son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Rakhat Aliev, the former son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. federal judge has thrown out a defamation lawsuit brought by a close business associate of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's former son-in-law, who was found dead in an Austrian jail cell last year.

The lawsuit filed by Devincci Hourani was the latest skirmish in an ongoing family feud tied to Nazarbaev's relatives and allegations of extortion, money laundering, murder, nepotism, and millions of dollars in assets in the Central Asian nation.

"This case shows how small the world has become," Judge Rosemary Collyer quipped in her February 18 order dismissing Hourani's lawsuit against Psybersolutions LLC, a U.S.-based political consultancy.

Hourani accused the firm of "assassinating his character" with a public relations campaign to connect him to the death of a woman believed to be the mistress of Rakhat Aliev, the ex-husband of Nazarbaev's daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva.

The woman, Anastasya Novikova, died in 2004 after she fell from the upper floor of a Beirut apartment owned by Hourani and his brother.

Aliev served as a top tax official, deputy foreign minister, and deputy chief of the main Kazakh security agency. Beginning in 2007, however, after Aliev publicly challenged Nazarbaev's longtime reign, Darigha divorced him and prosecutors opened criminal cases against him.

In 2008, a Kazakh court convicted Aliev of plotting to overthrow the government and organizing a criminal group that abducted people. He was found hanged in a Vienna jail in February 2015 after Austrian authorities charged him with the murder of two Kazakh bankers in 2007. Austria investigators ruled his death a suicide.

Hourani, a native of Lebanon, was a longtime investor in Kazakhstan in the 1990s and 2000s, with millions in assets in oil, broadcasting, and publishing, among other ventures. His brother, Isaam, was married to Aliev's sister.

Hourani has also accused the Kazakh government of expropriating billions of assets from his family's holdings in Kazakhstan.

In June 2015, Hourani sued Psybersolutions in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that the company defamed him by trying to link him to Novikova, Aliev's alleged mistress who fell to her death from the Beirut apartment.

But Judge Collyer rejected Hourani's arguments, in part, she said, because Hourani had received prior publicity due to his relationship with Aliev and the controversy surrounding Novikova's death.

None of the court documents indicate what Psybersolutions' underlying goal was, or whether the company, which the court said was registered in Wyoming and has an office in Washington, had been paid by another person or company.

The lawsuit wasn't the first filed by Hourani in U.S. courts related to Kazakhstan. In a case filed in 2010, Hourani sued a man named Alexander Mirtchev, whom he accused of working on behalf of the Kazakh government to seize control of the Hourani family's assets in Kazakhstan.

That case was dismissed in 2013.

A voicemail left at the law firm representing Hourani was not immediately returned.