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Ex-Kazakh PM Akezhan Kazhegeldin targets EU Politicians in next phase of anti-kleptocracy campaign

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A controversial former Kazakh prime minister accused of corruption by US authorities is urging European Union politicians to sanction oligarchs from his homeland. Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who fled Kazakhstan in the late 90s, has spearheaded a tireless anti-Kleptocracy campaign in Britain and the US.

He has now turned his attention to the EU with the hope of securing sweeping sanctions against acolytes of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev and the ex-leader's family.

In a recent interview, Kazhegeldin announced plans to lodge sanction requests and supporting material with the EU’s European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which handles fraud, corruption and money laundering crimes.

“We are present in a few jurisdictions and have already submitted the legally-required request to enforce sanctions against the kleptocrats of Kazakhstan in the UK and US. We also have our ways to approach the EU through European Public Prosecutor’s Office. The law is on our side,” he said.

“We are talking about financial crimes: fraud, credit fraud, tax evasion and crimes committed from the position of power – various bribes.”

But Kazhegeldin’s request to European prosecutors comes amid growing concern that the exiled former prime minister is himself a product of the kleptocratic system he claims to oppose.

During the Soviet era, Kazhegeldin was a KGB spy in Moscow entrusted with some of the most important secretive tasks but after independence, he moved into politics in Kazakhstan and faced a slew of corruption allegations.

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The US Department of Justice (DoJ) concluded that as prime minister, Kazhegeldin was handed “unlawful payments” of $6 million as part of the massive bribery scandal known as Kazakhgate.

Alongside another high-ranking Kazakh official, Kazhegeldin was identified as a key politician alleged to have received bribes from American middleman James Giffen, who was negotiating corrupt oil deals in Kazakhstan.

According to the DoJ, the illegal payments were funnelled through opaque offshore structures in the British Virgin Islands and Liechtenstein in an effort to hide the transactions.

After fleeing Kazakhstan, Kazhegeldin was convicted of abuse of office after prosecutors identified examples of the ex-prime minister allegedly receiving bribes to sell public assets at vastly reduced prices. The Kazakh Supreme Court sentenced Kazhegeldin to 10 years in prison.

In London, where Kazhegeldin now lives in exile, the former politician has led a luxury lifestyle. For years he lived in a £3.75 million townhouse in well-heeled Belgravia, owned through a string of opaque offshore companies.

Kazhegeldin has also reportedly lived in properties owned via companies based in a string of low-tax jurisdictions such as Liechtenstein and Jersey.

The EU body Kazhegeldin is lobbying to impose sancitons on his former countrymen was established in 2017 to investigate and prosecute crimes affecting the financial interests of the EU. The EPPO is the EU’s first independent prosecution office.

In the UK, Kazhegeldin has been at the forefront of the anti-kleptocracy movement and played a role in supplying the names of 30 Kazakh oligarchs read out by Margaret Hodge in the British parliament.

In the US, Kazhegeldin’s anti-Kleptocracy campaign has been just as active, seeking to convince US politicians to criticise the Kazakh elite.

Kazhegeldin has also embarked on a media campaign. In January, in the wake of the deadly unrest that swept Kazakhstan, he told Reuters that incumbent president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev needed to show he was in charge a prevent a resurgence of the Nazarbayev faction by returning its wealth to the country, including that held in the UK.

More recently, in a panel discussion with the thinktank Liberal International, Kazhegeldin reiterated demands that US President Joe Biden’s administration apply sanctions to members of the Nazarbayev family so that they are unable to use their Western-located funds to push back against President Tokayev.

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