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Kazakhstan: Official Vows Not To Interfere In 'Kazakhgate' Trial

Qasymzhomart Toqaev (file photo) Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev says Kazakhstan will not interfere in court proceedings in the so-called Kazakhgate case. Speaking to RFE/RL, Toqaev says the Kazakh government considers the proceedings a U.S., not a Kazakh, matter. The statement is significant since the case, involving a U.S. businessmen suspected of bribing Kazakh officials, could implicate Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

New York, 7 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev has reaffirmed that his government will not get involved in the so-called Kazakhgate case now unfolding in a U.S. court in New York.

Speaking to RFE/RL on 4 June in New York, Toqaev stressed that the case is focused on a U.S. citizen, businessman James Giffen, not Kazakhstan. He said Kazakhstan will maintain a respectful distance.

"It is a court matter involving a U.S. citizen, and therefore we do not have the right to interfere with these judicial procedures. This is a matter concerning the United States of America. With regard to whether there was an involvement of the representatives of Kazakhstan or there wasn't -- this is a separate issue. In any case, the president [of Kazakhstan] stated in a [TV] interview [on 14 May] that he has nothing to do with this matter. Therefore, there aren't any grounds for us to comment in any manner on what is going on now in New York," Toqaev said.
The Giffen case appears to be part of a wider investigation by the U.S. Justice Department of U.S. companies involved in developing Kazakh oil resources.

Giffen is accused of paying more than $78 million in bribes to Kazakh officials -- including President Nursultan Nazarbaev -- in return for lucrative oil contracts. Nazarbaev has denied that he gained personally from the transfers, but the case has embarrassed the president and strained U.S.-Kazakh relations.

In talks with RFE/RL, however, Toqaev denied the case was having any adverse effect on bilateral ties. "Such concerns do not exist. I have just met in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. We acknowledged significant progress in U.S.-Kazakhstan relations, progress that is to a large extent due to the development of democracy in Kazakhstan, something that Powell noted with satisfaction," Toqaev said.

Toqaev did acknowledge the existence of corruption in Kazakhstan, but said the government has in place a legal framework to fight it. "We don't deny corruption exists in Kazakhstan as well as in many countries, including some developed Western states. In some countries, corruption exists openly; in other countries, it is hidden. We think it is a global phenomenon that requires the united efforts of the international community. On the national level, an anticorruption commission exists in Kazakhstan. A special anticorruption program was adopted and an anticorruption law," Toqaev said.

Toqaev's words that Kazakhstan would not interfere in the trial appear to contrast with previous government actions. Between 2000 and 2003, the Kazakh government mounted vigorous efforts to suppress the investigation. These actions prompted the U.S. Senate to pass a resolution in May 2003 urging the government of Kazakhstan to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

Rinat Akhmetshin, the director of the International Eurasian Institute for Economic and Political Research in Washington, told RFE/RL that the Kazakhs did everything they could to stifle the investigation. "There is a chance for Nazarbaev to distance himself and to do the right thing in this case. He should start cooperating with the U.S. government investigation, because until recently [the] Kazakh government did everything to stifle this investigation and they put a number of hindrances [in] the way of the U.S. prosecution. For example, they filed numerous motions in Swiss courts trying to prevent [the] Swiss government [from providing] banking documents to U.S. authorities," Akhmetshin said.

The Giffen case appears to be part of a wider investigation by the U.S. Justice Department of U.S. companies involved in developing Kazakh oil resources.

During pretrial hearings last week, Giffen's attorneys argued that the case should be dismissed on grounds that the actions took place in Kazakhstan -- not in the United States. The judge is expected to rule soon. If the judge decides to proceed with the trial, it could start as soon as October.