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Kazakhstan: Aliev's Bodyguards Return To Testify Against Him

Rakhat Aliev faces yet more accusations (file photo) (OSCE) September 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Two men wanted by Kazakh police voluntarily returned on September 17. The two were, until recently, bodyguards for Rakhat Aliev, once one of the most influential people in Kazakhstan and President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law.

Aliev had many business interests and has held several government posts, most recently as Kazakh ambassador to Austria.

Introducing the two men to journalists, Interior Ministry spokesman Bagdad Kozhakmetov said they "expressed their desire to voluntarily cooperate fully with the investigation" of Aliev.

Former Bodyguards Ready To Denounce Aliev

The return of Bektybaev and Koshlai is potentially very bad news for Aliev, who faces charges of abducting bank officials and assaulting them, as well as abuse of office. Aliev may also be connected to the killing of a television reporter three years ago.

Kazakh investigators are certainly hoping Bektybaev and Koshlai can provide more details about Aliev's alleged illegal activities.

In reading a statement on behalf of himself and Koshlai, Bektybaev sounded ready to help the investigators by denouncing their former employer.

"We were chosen by destiny to provide security for Rakhat Aliev. Unfortunately we only now clearly realize that we should have better assessed the situation much earlier; [a situation] that was formed due to the unrestrained deeds of Rakhat Aliev," Bektybaev said. "And [we should have] taken all the necessary measures not to allow any kinds of unlawful activities. We also declare that of our own free will we left our obedience to Rakhat Mukhtarovich Aliev and we used our own chances and operational experience to return to our country."

Bektybaev added that Aliev had tricked the two bodyguards and Austrian officials. "Only now do we clearly understand that when we were in Austria we received only information that was to the advantage of Rakhat Aliev," he said. "He deliberately led astray not only us but also the judicial and law-enforcement agencies of Austria, hiding [from us] the real situation. In order to achieve this, [Aliev] used his official and personal ties in Austrian circles, including those among influential businessmen."

Charges Against Aliev Grow

Aliev remains in Austria where he has been since he was stripped of his ambassador's post in May. He is being investigated in Austria on charges of money laundering and is free after posting a 1 million-euro ($1.4 million) bail.

Kazakh authorities have already tried to have him extradited but an Austrian court ruled that Aliev would not receive a fair trial if he returned to Kazakhstan.

Aliev's name has also come up in the investigation into the murder of television reporter Anastasiya Novikova. She disappeared in 2004 and was last reported to be in Lebanon on vacation. But her body was discovered in an unmarked grave in southern Kazakhstan in early August and some Kazakh media suggested that she and Aliev were once romantically involved.

Aliev has maintained his innocence from the beginning and said he is a victim of political persecution.

Elite Want Aliev Returned

Analysts say Aliev's close connection to the president's family and inner circle have given the former son-in-law intimate knowledge of the workings of the Kazakh government and possibly knowledge of its corrupt practices.

Such analysts believe Kazakh authorities want Aliev back in Kazakhstan before he talks to the international media or an international court.

Interior Ministry spokesman Kozhakmetov was cautious in estimating how much Aliev's bodyguards can help in the investigation into Aliev's activities. "Maybe they can shed some light [on the case]. Maybe," he said. "We're hoping."

Even if the two former Aliev bodyguards cannot provide exactly what Kazakh investigators are looking for, it seems clear the Kazakh authorities are gathering all the evidence they can before they make another attempt to have Aliev extradited.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhan contributed to this report.)