Economist: The Cultural Learnings of Austria

Today the Economist reports on the arrest in Austria and subsequent extradition request for Rakhat Aliyev, the son-in-law of the president of Kazakhstan. Underneath the numerous layers of political intrigue, family in-fighting, drastic consolidation of power, and the competing regional energy interests of U.S. and Russia, there is also another Austrian banking scandal involving the sale of Nurbank – largely overlooked in this article. Raiffeisen (RZB) is considered a leading bidder to acquire Nurbank. Excerpt from the Economist:

A new political scandal hit the country in late 2005-early 2006 when two prominent opposition figures, both critics of Mr Nazarbayev, were murdered. A senior official close to the then speaker of the Senate, Nurtay Abykayev, was convicted of the killing of the second, following which Ms Nazarbayeva called publicly for Mr Abykayev to resign, on the grounds that he was the immediate superior of the convicted murderer. Having apparently weathered the controversy created by subsequent allegations by a member of the security services that Mr Aliyev had been involved in the killing (Mr Aliyev successfully sued the intelligence officer for libel), in January 2007 he became embroiled in the Nurbank scandal. Shortly afterwards Mr Nazarbayev appointed him as ambassador to Austria, a move that was probably already planned but that the president had to bring forward. Any hope that Mr Nazarbayev had that the move to Austria would isolate Mr Aliyev from domestic politics was dashed, however, as the allegations against his son-in-law refused to die down. Making a point, at home and abroad However much the Nurbank scandal was seen to be damaging the presidential circle’s reputation, the decision to initiate an international arrest warrant against Mr Aliyev was nevertheless unexpected. Notwithstanding Mr Aliyev’s claim that his presidential aspirations were the catalyst for his arrest, it is likely that there is a combination of motives. Mr Aliyev’s presidential ambitions were undoubtedly a factor; together with his wife he headed one of Kazakhstan’s main political factions, and was widely believed to be jockeying for power, in the event that Mr Nazarbayev were to leave office. If he did in fact confirm to Mr Nazarbayev earlier this year that he intended to contest the presidency, this presumably came at a time when the president was preparing to alter the constitution to remove the limits on his term. Mr Nazarbayev might have perceived the threat that Mr Aliyev would spend the next five years strengthening his position to contest the election as too high to risk, and therefore decided to act now to remove him from the political arena. Another reason why Mr Nazarbayev might have decided to act now against Mr Aliyev was that the ongoing scandal at Nurbank was damaging Kazakhstan’s aspirations to chair the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009—Mr Aliyev’s diplomatic remit in Vienna included the promotion of Kazakhstan’s bid. At their meeting in late 2006 the OSCE postponed until their next summit in 2007 a decision on whether to award Kazakhstan the chair, following concerns among some Western members that the country’s democratic record was incompatible with this role.