Kazakh ex-president Nazarbayev’s foundation paid $5mn fee for fawning Oliver Stone miniseries, investigation finds

Kazakh ex-president Nazarbayev’s foundation paid $5mn fee for fawning Oliver Stone miniseries, investigation finds
Stone meets Nazarbayev. / Global Tree Pictures/YouTube
By bne IntelliNews March 13, 2024

At least $5mn was reportedly paid by a foundation controlled by former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev for a documentary miniseries centred on a lengthy star interview with US film director Oliver Stone criticised for boosting the strongman’s cult of personality and whitewashing the rot at the core of his regime.

The finding was made by an investigation conducted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Kazakhstan-based media site Vlast.kz, the full conclusions of which were released on March 5.

The probe, titled “From Nazarbaev To Lukashenka: Hollywood In The Service Of Dictators”, looked at how the authoritarian Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan for almost three decades to 2019, was personally involved in the making of the 2021 miniseries, “Qazaq: History Of The Golden Man”, also released as a film.

"Nazarbayev would constantly edit the film, trying to improve [the rendering of] his image," a member of the film crew was quoted by OCCRP as saying.

Critical responses to the documentary included comments from one film expert that it was a "hagiographic ode".

The documentary producer was US filmmaker Igor Lopatonok, 56. Born in eastern Ukraine, he emigrated to the US in 2008. He has frequently expressed pro-Kremlin views.

Stone, 77, a four-time Academy Award winner, has also made documentaries about Russian dictator Vladimir Putin—it was described as “obsequious” by The New York Times—Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

In “Golden Man”, Nazarbayev reflects on his childhood, political career, the demise of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Kazakhstan as an independent state in 1991.

Since the “Bloody January” anti-government unrest of January 2022, Nazarbayev, his cronies and his legacy have been sidelined by current Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who is seen as needing to dispense with the past in order to provide for the stability and ascent of his own administration.

The investigation found that the Nazarbayev Fund, a charity foundation established by Nazarbayev in 2010, paid at least $5mn to Lopatonok and Stone.

Nazarbayev did not respond to the investigators' request for comment.

RFE/RL reported that Lopatonok agreed to speak to OCCRP—a global network of investigative journalists—and Vlast, but became increasingly angry during the video interview held in February when the journalists put him on the spot over the financing of his films. "We're going after you, personally. We know you. We're going after your sources," Lopatonok threatened them. "We're going to destroy you, your credibility."

The documentary about Nazarbayev was shown on Kazakh state television in December 2021 on the eve of the unrest that led to the stripping of most of the power and influence he still held in Kazakhstan.

In the wake of “Golden Man”, Lopatonok and his team pitched similar films to other authoritarian leaders, including Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev and Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko, the investigation revealed.

A Lopatonok documentary about Lukashenko had already started filming at locations across Belarus, but work was halted after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.