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Kazakhstan: President's Former Son-In-Law Sentenced To 20 Years In Jail

Rakhat Aliev (file) (OSCE) Rakhat Aliev was once one of the most powerful and influential people in oil-rich Kazakhstan. But after an Almaty court ruling late on January 15, he's now a fugitive from the law.

The court found Aliev guilty of kidnapping, organizing a criminal group, extortion, robbery, misappropriation of state property, and fraud, and sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in prison along with the confiscation of his property.

Aliev's sentence begins the moment he is detained, if he is ever detained. The judge also recommended that Aliev be stripped of all the state titles and awards he collected during his years in government. But his former father-in-law, President Nursultan Nazarbaev, has to make that decision.

Aliev was tried in absentia since he lives in Austria. He had just been dismissed as Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria and to the international organizations based in Vienna -- notably the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- when allegations against him were first made public in May 2007.

Nazarbaev had made Aliev the ambassador to Austria after accusations surfaced in January 2007 that he had kidnapped three top officials from Nurbank and beat and threatened them into selling their stakes in the bank at very low rates. Two of those bank officials are still missing.

Armangul Qapasheva -- whose husband, Zholdas Timraliev, is one of the missing bank officials -- sent her lawyer, Marzhan Aspandiarova, to the trial. Aspandiarova expressed her client's outrage at the verdict, which she described as "too lenient."

Aliev was on trial with more than 20 other people. The state-appointed lawyer for the defendants was Lena Rebenchuk, who surprisingly seemed to agree with the court process and the outcome. "Some accusations were dropped and we supported that fully," she said. "I think the process was objective."

Rebenchuk's comments contrasted, again strangely, with those of the prosecutor, Almas Khudaibergenov, who indicated he thought the case would probably be subject to appeal.

"For now we cannot say the verdict was completely legitimate, because [the sentence] might be appealed and overturned," Khudaibergenov said. "Every incident should be checked again and all the laws applied to the case should be reviewed. After that everything should be clear."

The court also handed out sentences to others involved in Aliev's illegal affairs. The former head of the National Security Committee, Alnur Musaev, received a 15-year prison sentence and the confiscation of his property. He was also tried in absentia.

Questions Remain

A physician by training, Aliev served as first deputy foreign minister, tax police chief, and first deputy chairman of the National Security Committee. He also headed the Kazakh Olympic Committee and was the point man in negotiations with the OSCE for Kazakhstan's bid to be chairman of the organization, a goal the country recently achieved.

While serving in these posts, Aliev acquired vast wealth. Among the property the court ordered seized were all of Aliev's homes and other property, cars, and an airplane. Aliev is free in Austria because he was able to post the 1 million-euro ($1.45 million) bail an Austrian court imposed on him when Kazakhstan first asked for his extradition. Another Austrian court later rejected the extradition request, ruling that there was no guarantee that Aliev would receive a fair trial in Kazakhstan.

But while the Almaty court verdict brought to a close at least one chapter in the "Aliev Affair," several questions remain.

Among those are: who gets Aliev's confiscated property? When his wife Darigha, President Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, divorced Aliev last year she received some of his possessions and property. Does she get the rest now? And what about their eldest child, Nurali, who now, at the age of 22, is chairman of the board at Nurbank, the company in which his father used strong-arm tactics to acquire a majority stake? It seems he will keep his position.

The biggest question is how much more jail time Kazakh courts will give Aliev. This first trial is over, but another trial is set to start on January 23. That trial will be held by a military tribunal behind closed doors and will hear evidence that Aliev and about 12 other people planned a coup d'etat and disclosed state secrets.

Aliev is suspected of being responsible for a number of audio recordings leaked late last year to opposition websites that were purportedly conversations between high-ranking Kazakh government officials -- both current and former -- talking about illegal or unethical activities. Aliev has said he is collecting evidence about corruption in the Kazakh government and will hand that information over to prosecutors in Austria. So Kazakhstan has probably not heard the last of Rakhat Aliev.

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

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