In Kazakhstan, a spicy palace feud between the country’s probable president-for-life Nursultan Nazarbayev and his former son-in-law is shining a rare light on the underbelly of the ruling family. Until Rakhat Aliyev’s summer divorce from the president’s ambitious eldest daughter, the former senior intelligence official and banking tycoon was considered a likely successor to the presidency. No more. Within days, he will face a criminal trial, the result of an investigation ordered by the president. He is accused of corruption, and of kidnapping two Kazakh banking executives, one of whom is feared dead.
Aliyev, who has long been trailed by the whiff of criminal wrongdoing, denies the accusations—and accuses his old mentor of ordering the murder last year of an opposition leader. It’s a high-stakes titfor-tat that began when Aliyev was sacked as ambassador to Austria in May, the apparent victim of a purge. Then, as his wife remained loyal to her father, the self-styled democrat criticized his father-in-law—at the helm of the former Soviet republic for 16 years—for tinkering with the constitution. A curious amendment, which only applies to Nazarbayev, now allows him to run as many times as he likes, even as, postSasha Baron Cohen’s satirical portrayal of the country in Borat, Kazakhstan is casting itself as a pro-business, “developing democratic” country-with the help of a European PR agency.
Meanwhile, the regime closed four opposition websites in the oil-rich central Asian state last week after they posted transcripts of wire-tapped conversations allegedly involving government officials in serious wrongdoing (Aliyev is thought to have been their source). “Developing democracy,” indeed— to critics of Nazarbayev’s near-absolute authority, like the country’s jailed or exiled journalists, political opponents, and now, remarkably, Aliyev, it’s just a regular oppressive kleptocracy. M
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