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Kazakh suspect finds refuge in Austria

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan

Kazakh authorities have renewed appeals for Austria to extradite the former son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to stand trial on charges of kidnapping two bankers who disappeared two years ago.

The accused, Rakhat Aliyev, a businessman who previously served as deputy head of the state intelligence agency and as a top diplomat, has already been convicted in absentia on charges of plotting a coup and racketeering.

He lives in Austria, which has refused to extradite him over concern he will not receive a fair trial.

In a Dec. 3 story in The Washington Times, Mr. Aliyev claimed he is being punished for revealing plans to challenge Mr. Nazarbayev, the country's longtime leader, in 2012 elections.

In support of his claims, Mr. Aliyev cited the summary arrest and imprisonment of a group of former associates after a closed military hearing and purported attempts by agents hired by the Kazakh government to forcibly bring him home.

Since publication of the story, several convicted members of that group have been released.

In a letter sent to then-Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey last month, Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, expressed skepticism because of Mr. Aliyev's record as a purported human rights violator.

The letter, obtained by The Times, recommended that prosecutors "refrain from granting him immunity until it is determined that Mr. Aliyev himself was not involved in these matters."

Kazakh authorities maintain that Mr. Aliyev is a manipulator driven by personal gain, a view shared by several former associates who say that his large financial and media holdings and marriage to the president's influential daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, enabled him to operate above the law and strong-arm those who stood in his way.

The two are now divorced.

The charges against Mr. Aliyev involve the Jan. 31, 2007, abduction of two managers from the headquarters of Nurbank, a mid-level bank then under his control.

According to Kazakh police, Joldas Timraliyev and Aibar Hasenov were taken to one of Mr. Aliyev's residences, a farmhouse about 20 miles from the commercial capital of Almaty, and were held and beaten. The two have not been heard from since.

A week earlier, Mr. Timraliyev and Mr. Hasenov had been called to a meeting with Mr. Aliyev and detained at gunpoint until they agreed to sign over their stake in a bank property well below value, according to the police.

Col. Gashi Mashanlo, head of the Interior Ministry's organized-crime unit, said investigators have gathered DNA and other physical evidence that prove the bankers were held at Mr. Aliyev's property and also have eyewitness testimonies from former bodyguards.

The only thing missing, he said, are the bodies of the two men.

Mr. Aliyev has rejected the charges as politically motivated. He points out that several Kazakh journalists and opposition figures have vanished or been killed in recent years, raising doubts about the legitimacy of the country's legal system.

Such doubts have so far stymied cooperation from the Austrian government.

Ergali Merzadinov, Kazakhstan's deputy prosecutor general, said it's not Austria's right to dismiss the legal system of another country when clear crimes have been committed.

"If a man is behind a premeditated kidnapping - or worse - how can you talk about political matters?" he asked. Mr. Aliyev "is a criminal. This is all a very pathetic attempt to save his skin."

Some former Aliyev associates are speaking out against him. Vyacheslav Denissenko, a diplomatic officer at the Kazakh Embassy in Austria while Mr. Aliyev was ambassador there, said his former boss is a "troublemaker" who has tried to cast his case in a political context to deflect criminal charges.

Mr. Denissenko said he opted to return to Kazakhstan rather than spend the rest of his life in exile. He would not discuss particulars of the crimes, saying that state secrets were involved.

However, he included himself in saying that those convicted of being Mr. Aliyev's co-conspirators "got what they deserved."

Critics of Mr. Aliyev argue that the corrupt state system in which he thrived for years is what allowed him to commit crimes in the first place and escape.

When police were first called to the Nurbank office where the bankers were detained, they were arrested and prevented from entering by members of the financial police, an outfit then operating under the authority of Mr. Aliyev.

The official police investigation into the abduction was begun in late May, nearly three months after the bankers' wives began reaching out to media and police. By then, Mr. Aliyev had flown back to Austria.

Asked whether the police could have responded faster, Col. Mashanlo, the lead investigator, conceded that initially there was "some resistance to the police's work" from Mr. Aliyev's associates within the government.

He went on to suggest that Mr. Aliyev's stature and control of the financial police slowed authorities from taking charges against him more seriously.

"The political system in Kazakhstan is to blame," said Gulnara Timeraliyeva, the sister of one of the kidnapped bankers. "We don't care about the politics, though. All we want is to get my brother back."

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