Kidnapping, assault, corporate raiding, money laundering, and perhaps even murder could all feature in testimony in the case against Kazakhstan's one-time golden boy, who was once considered a possible candidate for the presidency.
Aliev is not there to hear the charges against him. He is in Vienna, where he remained after being dismissed this May as Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria. In August, an Austrian court turned down Astana's extradition request for Aliev, saying he could not expect a fair Kazakh trial.
Aliev was formerly the son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, and was once one of the most influential people in the country. His career took him from a minor post in the Health Ministry to the top of the tax police and the deputy chairmanship of the powerful National Security Committee in less than 10 years. He also acquired large shares of media outlets and banks, making him one of the wealthiest people in one of the CIS's richest countries. And, of course, he was married to the Kazakh president's eldest daughter -- who divorced him by fax after he refused to return to Kazakhstan from Austria as the scandal took shape.
"If he were in the country facing trial, he would give detailed facts on very sensitive issues while in the courtroom. That is why his being present at his own trial is undesirable for many in power." --Opposition leader Amirzhan Kosanov
In the Almaty City Court where proceedings began today, witnesses are expected to testify that Aliev was a rogue element in the government, a person who used ruthless tactics to get what he wanted. His list of alleged offenses includes ordering abductions and beatings to force business rivals to sell off their interests in enterprises.
Among the charges against Aliev is an allegation that he ordered the abduction of two officials of Nurbank, who have been missing since January. Officials have suggested that a corpse found recently near Aliev's father's property could be one of the missing Nurbank officials, although several weeks have passed since they vowed that DNA tests would confirm the dead man's identity.
Armangul Kapasheva, the wife of missing Nurbank manager Joldas Timraliev, has seen the prosecutors' case. She told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the alleged abductions are among the charges contained in Aliev's indictment. "Currently I am reading the final indictment. It is over 500 pages. They are accused of double kidnapping" in January, Kapasheva said. "Other accusations are about extortion, double-crossing, falsification of documents, and so on."
All Eyes On Aliev
There is great interest in the case in Kazakhstan, and a small army of journalists turned up today for the opening of the trial.
The proceedings are open to the public, but Karpasheva said the size of the courtroom probably won't allow for many observers. "They said it would be open, but we have a problem here: the courtroom is just tiny. There will be five or six of them in a cage, behind bars, [and] others will be sitting with the lawyers. All of them will have their lawyers. Our lawyers will be there as well. I really don't know how we are all going to fit," she said.
Other defendants include Aliev's former boss, the chairman at the National Security Committee, Alnur Musaev. Like Aliev, Musaev is abroad and is being tried in absentia, as are several others.
Two of Aliev's former bodyguards, Aydar Bektybaev and Sergei Koshlai, who returned from Vienna in September, are expected to testify for the prosecution, telling the court that Aliev ordered the kidnapping of the bank officials.
The desertion and public trial of such a high-level presidential confidant is politically explosive. Aliev has already fingered President Nazarbaev in the 2006 murder of an opposition leader, Altynbek Sarsenbaev. Nazarbaev's critics now hope to gain a clearer view into the methods of the heavy-handed administration. But the domestic opposition and rights activists clearly wish to maintain their distance from Aliev in light of his own record serving as a senior member of what they regard as a criminal administration.
Amirzhan Kosanov, a leader of Kazakhstan's opposition Social Democratic Party, told RFE/RL that the Kazakh government prefers to have Aliev absent from the courtroom.
"Rakhat Aliev, having spent many years in power and around the president himself, has a lot of information, that's for sure," Kosanov said. "If he were in the country facing trial, he would definitely elaborate on many things -- giving detailed facts on very sensitive issues while in the courtroom. That is why his being present at his own trial is undesirable for many of those in power."
Kosanov continued that it is crucial for Aliev's trial "to be as open and transparent as possible, with free access for experts and the media. Because Rakhat Aliev's case is not just an ordinary case -- it is a special case that could dramatically affect the social and political life of the nation."
Kazakh prosecutors are likely to work quickly to get a verdict in the case, as Kazakhstan is in the midst of key international negotiations. It is bidding to chair the OSCE in 2009, and expects a decision at the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Spain on November 29-30. Aliev was Kazakhstan's ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna, and he led the administration's early efforts to win support for a Kazakh OSCE chairmanship.
From his Viennese exile, Aliev has vowed to release information about corruption in the Kazakh government to Austrian authorities. But a guilty verdict could help Nazarbaev's government discredit any statements that Aliev makes prior to the OSCE ministerial meeting.