Monday, 12 November 2012

Independent: This Aliyev case is ‘Fishy’
Sunday, 11 November 2012, 09:41 , by Noel Grima

Despite all the naysayers, I still believe Tonio Borg can make it this week.

The main fear seems to be that of a re-run of the Rocco Buttiglione case some years ago when the personal theologian of the Pope walked head-on into a controversy regarding some comments he had passed on gays and refused to back down.

That, given Dr Borg’s personal convictions, can still happens but so far it is only the Greens and the Liberals who are speaking against his nomination, and they are relatively small parties in the European Parliament.

Of them, the most aggressive seems to be German MEP Holger Krahmer, who was in Malta for the Gay Pride march in July 2010( and who has not only spoken against Dr Borg’s nomination, but even before Dr Borg was nominated, argued that “The revision of the tobacco products directive is now likely to be off the table for this legislative period. “It is good that we now have more time to reflect on the meaning of further sales restrictions on tobacco products” (European 18 October).

Then there was fellow Liberal MEP, Cecilia Wikström, a Swedish MEP and vicar of the country’s Lutheran Church of Sweden who told committee colleagues not to accept Dr Borg’s candidature: “He is a dinosaur that does not belong in our modern world.”

The bulk of votes in the European Parliament come from EPP and PES and these, one must be warned, are no pushover.

From what has so far percolated to public awareness, it would seem that German MEPs members of EPP are asking direct questions. In particular Elmar Brock, a long-time friend of PN, has been asking questions about what we can call the Aliyev case.

It will be no walkover for Dr Borg and he will have to come up with more than what he said in his statement to the Maltese media last week.

Now, about the Aliyev case.

In June 2011, I was the first to break the Aliyev story in the Maltese media. This is what I had written then:

“Kazakhstan’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’ reported seeking sanctuary in Malta”

“Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev – now referred to as Kazakhstan’s Public Enemy Number One – is facing murder charges after two bankers he is alleged to have slain disappeared over four years ago.

“Aliyev’s whereabouts are unknown; but he was last reported seeking sanctuary in Malta.

“Evidence ‘irrefutably proving’ the bankers’ murder by Aliyev and his associates has emerged, Prosecutor-General Askhat Daulbayev said on 15 June in remarks quoted by KazTAG.

“He said the men had been tortured, suffocated, put in barrels and hidden in the Remizov Gorge outside Almaty, where their bodies were finally found this May.

“Daulbayev didn’t explain why it took over four years to locate the bodies of the bankers – Zholdas Timraliyev and Aybar Khasenov − or why law enforcement officers ignored the pleas of their relatives, who pointed to a business dispute with Aliyev, as the key to the mystery.

“It was reported at the time, Timraliyev’s wife, Armangul Kapasheva, alleges that prior to his disappearance, Timraliyev was kidnapped and subjected to violence and intimidation in an attempt to force him to ensure that management of a lucrative business centre in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial capital, passed to the President’s son-in-law.

“Investigators now agree this is precisely what happened, but at the time no case had been launched against Aliyev, then deputy foreign minister. He was dispatched to Vienna as ambassador in a bid to get the embarrassing case out of the headlines.

“In May 2007, three months after the disappearance of the bankers, Aliyev finally fell out of favour. He was accused of crimes including plotting to overthrow Nazarbayev, kidnapping the bankers, fraud, and was divorced by the president’s daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva. In 2008 he was tried twice in absentia and given two 20-year prison sentences.

“Aliyev denies any criminal activity and positions himself as a wronged democrat, an image the administration and opposition alike in Kazakhstan reject.

“Now he’s facing murder charges, but there is little chance of him being extradited to face trial.

“Vienna previously denied his extradition on the grounds that he wouldn’t be guaranteed a fair trial at home. Astana has vowed to seek his extradition again but – given Kazakhstan’s skewed justice system – there is no reason to believe any European country would grant it.”

Since then, the story has surfaced again and again in the Maltese media, usually at a time when delegations from the Kazakh government came to Malta. They will soon be coming again, accompanied by the last DDR prime minister Lothar de Maiziere.

It is easy to go astray in these plots and counter-plots. A day or two after my original story was run, I received a phone call from a friend of mine who relayed a complaint from an acquaintance who is involved in the fish-farming sector regarding the story. That could mean, or not mean, that Mr Aliyev was involved in the fish-farming sector. It could mean or not mean that he was hiding from international justice in Malta. And there was no indication who was behind this issue locally on the political level.

Even the Kazakh people are not sure about Dr Borg’s alleged involvement. The most they could say was: “Most recently, a storm has been gathering around Tonio Borg’s nomination to be an EU commissioner due to allegations that he may have played a part in Aliyev’s getting the residency permit in Malta, despite police objections, apparently.”

There are enough issues here to fill a paper.

This is what I know personally. The thorny issue of residence permits is split between the Home Affairs ministry, with an office next to the Police HQ, and an OPM office situated on top of DOI at Castille Square.

As far as I can see, there is no involvement from the Foreign Ministry, although Dr Borg was Justice and Interior Minister before becoming Foreign Minister some years back. However, I also know of a case involving visas which involved Dr Borg’s ministry.

Secondly, the issue seems to have surfaced in a court case involving Dr Pio Valletta and Mr Aliyev’s wife. This paper has been told that this court case never even began being heard by the Court and has now been solved by the parties. Is that so? And, whatever, what then happens to the allegations that were made of huge sums presumably to be used as bribes.

And if the allegations have been made, why did Dr Borg not sue to protect his image? And did he know about them when he accepted to become Commissioner?

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I said in my story that Vienna has already rejected the extradition request. And since Aliyev is married to an Austrian citizen, he has right of residence in Malta. Or does he?

The issue regarding the visas problem has been a football kicked about between the various authorities or bodies involved, with huge in-fighting all over the place. It has not been settled or solved that I know of and splitting the responsibility between different ministries certainly does not help.

There are also other forces at play. When a journalist raised the issue during the Commission’s Mid-Day Express (the daily press conference at noon at the Berlaymont), stumping the Commission spokesperson, within one minute, I am informed, the clip was on Maltastar. Within two minutes it was on MaltaToday and iNews.

If the worst comes to the worst, we have a problem Houston. Malta’s name has already been dragged in mud, rightly or wrongly, with the John Dalli affair. If Dr Borg is refused, it will be a double whammy for Malta. Once again, the famous short-termism would have asserted itself and many people were too quick to jump on the bandwagon to get rid of a Deputy Leader who is not felt to be pulling his weight and to shove in his place the person who may be the next Designate Leader after an election defeat.

I said and will say this again: being in the EU is no glory trip. That is a level we have no real idea of, a playing field that is far beyond most of us. To have succeeded in Malta does not mean one can also succeed in Brussels. It’s a very different game they play over there and SANCO in particular is a vast ‘ministry’ with huge issues that involve the lives of 500 million Europeans.

All this while we should already have begun preparing for 2017 and the Maltese presidency as the ones immediately before us have already started preparing. But we have an election coming, don’t forget, where one half of Malta gets the right to lord it over the other half.

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