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'First Brother': Bolat Nazarbaev Goes From Plumber To President's Spoiled Sibling

Bolat Nazarbaev's family connection has helped make him fabulously wealthy.
Bolat Nazarbaev's family connection has helped make him fabulously wealthy.

They say you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family.

But if given the choice, many people would probably choose the relatives they already have, or at least some of them.

Bolat Nazarbaev -- the younger brother of Kazakhstan's first president, Nursultan Nazarbaev -- is likely one such a person.

Bolat has been called "Kazakhstan's first brother" and his family connection has helped make him fabulously wealthy.

Just how wealthy is difficult to say. He is widely rumored to control the bazaars in and around the commercial capital, Almaty, as well as trade along the Kazakh side of the Chinese-Kazakh border, including the lucrative Khorgos dry port, among other things.

For someone who was a plumber when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, it is an impressive jump.

Bolat, 68, is the youngest child of the Nazarbaev family. Nursultan, who is 81, is the eldest.

Another brother, Satybaldy, who was born in 1947, died in a car crash when he was 35.

Sister Anipa Nazarbaeva, 71, lives a reportedly quiet life in a home near Almaty, where she is a businesswoman and the honorary head of the Association of Businesswomen of Almaty Province.

The Family Name Is Enough

Bolat was recently the subject of an extensive report by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq. The report revisits a day in October 2019 when Bolat arrived by helicopter to an event in the southern city of Shymkent.

Hundreds of people were in attendance as various forms of entertainment and copious amounts of food were provided -- all while police and special Interior Ministry troops stood guard.

The event turned out to be a circumcision party for a young son of Bolat's, and there were questions about who was paying the bill for everything, though Bolat demonstrated he personally was not short of money when he started distributing hundred-dollar bills to guests like it was candy.

The Azattyq report also recalls another moment, when Bolat answered a question from journalists about where he got his money by replying "the surname is enough."

Enough to land him a seat in 2000 on the board of directors at one Kazakhstan's most lucrative companies, Kazakhmys, the country's largest copper producer and the 20th largest copper producer in the world.

Enough that Bolat appeared on documents seen in 2014 as a shareholder in Kazakhstan's RBK bank with a 7.83 percent stake. The RBK bank is connected to Kazakhmys owner Vladimir Kim, who is reportedly a close confidant of Nursultan Nazaerbaev.

Kim is also considered to be the richest man in Kazakhstan.

After Maira Kurmangalieva divorced Bolat in 2012, they got into an ownership dispute over a luxury apartment in the Plaza Hotel building and two apartments on Wall Street in New York City. The properties were worth a combined value of more than $25 million. They also fought over apartments in Miami worth an estimated $3.4 million and a villa in Cannes, France, that the couple bought for $25.9 million.

The villa in Cannes said to be owned by Bolat Nazarbaev and his ex-wife.
The villa in Cannes said to be owned by Bolat Nazarbaev and his ex-wife.

Bolat ended up keeping all of that property, but reportedly gave Kurmangalieva a $20 million house in New Jersey in compensation.

20 Wives?!

Along with being a major holder of luxury real estate, Bolat is reputed to be quite prolific in matrimony, though the exact number of wives he has had is unclear.

His first wife, Guzhan, died in June 2020. In an interview with the Aina TV channel shortly after she passed away, Bolat said they had been together for 50 years and added that "I've never known a woman like Gulzhan."

But clearly Bolat did know other women, as the divorce and property settlement case in the United States with Kurmangalieva showed.

After Bolat divorced her, a different young woman named Gulnur Nazarbaeva was posting on social networks that she was married to Bolat.

Gulnur and Bolat
Gulnur and Bolat

At the circumcision party in Shymkent, there was yet a different young woman with two sons sitting next to Bolat.

Yermurat Bapi, a veteran opposition journalist who is currently the publisher of the Dat newspaper, said that according to unofficial information Bolat had "about 20 wives."

The website, which has reported on Bolat's lavish lifestyle many times, wrote in June 2020 that Bolat "changes his wives like he does his socks."

The report also selected Bolat, who "practically never crawls out of scandals," as the most likely sacrifice to be made from the Nazarbaev family after Nursultan dies, to mollify critics of the first president and keep the inner circle ruling the country in power by pretending to combat the previous excesses of the Nazarbaev family.

Many of first President Nazarbaev's family members have obviously enriched themselves during the nearly three decades Nazarbaev was the leader of Kazakhstan, but was probably correct in labelling Bolat the most expendable relative when Kazakhs demand justice for the many years of predation they endured at the hands of the Nazarbaev family.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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