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New Life For Kazakhgate?

President Nursultan Nazarbaev is named in the case, but is immune from prosecution.
President Nursultan Nazarbaev is named in the case, but is immune from prosecution.
A new prosecutor has been appointed in the long-stalled bribery case in which Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his allies are implicated.

Anirudh Bansal appeared on April 13 at the federal court in New York to represent the U.S. government against James Giffen, the American businessman who is accused of funneling $84 million in bribes to Nazarbaev and others on behalf of major Western oil and gas companies for lucrative licenses in Kazakhstan.

Giffen was at one time the right-hand man to Nazarbaev. For the last seven years, he has been the main defendant in the so-called Kazakhgate case.

The April 13 court hearing was a technical one, but it was the first time that the 42-year-old Bansal, a recently appointed co-chief of the Complex Frauds Unit in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, stood before Judge William Pauley, who presides over the Kazakhgate proceedings in New York.

James Koukios, a lawyer with a solid experience in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), has also been added to the prosecution team.

As a head of a foreign state, Nazarbaev enjoys immunity from prosecution and is neither a defendant nor a witness in the case, but his name is all over the Kazakhgate documentation.

The bribery probe, initiated under the President Bill Clinton, is now a decade old. The trial is moving through the federal court in New York at a snail's pace and has been postponed numerous times.

The main point of contention is the refusal of the prosecution to allow Giffen’s lawyers to present classified material which the defense lawyers say will exonerate him.

Giffen claims he was acting as an informant for the CIA while in Kazakhstan, and that he should be immune to prosecution under the FCPA. In the mid-1990s he was officially appointed as an advisor to Nazarbaev, had unlimited access to the president, and was issued a Kazakh diplomatic passport.

Today, the 69-year-old Giffen wears an electronic bracelet and has been more or less confined to his home in a New York suburb since his arrest in 2003. It has been rumored that Giffen has spent more than $10 million dollars of his own money for legal expenses in the case, with no end in sight.

Meanwhile, Nazarbaev is enjoying a higher-than-ever profile in Washington, where he met with President Barack Obama on April 11 on the sidelines of a major nuclear non-proliferation summit.

Nazarbaev's worries about the possible implications of Kazakhgate now appear to be comfortably retired. But when the case broke in the media in the early '00s, the Kazakh government spent nearly a million dollars with established PR companies in DC to contain the political damage, according to some reports.

The new additions to Kazakhgate’s prosecution team may mean that the Obama administration is determined to inject new life into the flagging case, and to eventually bring Giffen to trial.

-- Nikola Krastev

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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