#SuisseSecrets report says leak unveils secretive offshore wealth of Kazakh president’s family

#SuisseSecrets report says leak unveils secretive offshore wealth of Kazakh president’s family
Tokayev is sworn in as president in June 2019. / State handout.
By bne IntelIiNews February 23, 2022

The family of President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had secretive wealth, safely stored in Europe, as far back as 1998, when nearly half of the Central Asian nation’s population lived under the poverty line, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), citing a leak of banking data from Credit Suisse.

Claims about the Tokayev family—presented by the OCCRP as part of the #SuisseSecrets global journalistic investigation into a leak of data by a whistleblower covering more than 18,000 private banking accounts at Swiss bank Credit Suisse—come at a particularly sensitive time for Kazakhstan’s president. Tokayev is seeking to distance himself from his strongman predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is blamed by many in Kazakhstan for vast wealth inequality and oil-fuelled oligarchy that arose in the country during his rule from 1990 to 2019.

In the wake of the early January civil unrest that broke out across Kazakhstan, Tokayev took a populist stand against inequality, saying: “Thanks to the First President [Nazarbayev], in the country there appeared a group of very profitable companies and a group of people who are rich even by international standards. I think it’s time to pay back the people of Kazakhstan.”

However, the OCCRP, an organisation supported by institutional donors, reported on February 21 that the foreign wealth of the Tokayev family includes lakeside townhouses, Moscow apartments, Swiss bank accounts and a money trail that goes far offshore.

The reporting project claimed that the #SuisseSecrets investigation showed:

• Tokayev’s then wife Nadezhda and son Timur had a Swiss bank account as early as 1998, when Tokayev was foreign minister. The account is said to have held 1.5mn Swiss francs ($1mn) at its peak value in 2005, but it is unknown how much money passed through it over the years.

• Documents from an offshore services provider, corporate files and property records show that in 2012—after the Swiss account was closed—the Tokayevs opened secretive offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands that had their own bank accounts in Switzerland and controlled a UK company with $5mn in assets at one point in 2014, while also amassing properties in Moscow and Geneva worth at least $7.7mn.

• During his years serving in senior government positions, including as prime minister, foreign minister and Senate chair, prior to becoming president three years ago, neither Tokayev nor his wife had any known businesses or sources of wealth. OCCRP added: “Only their son Timur has ever been connected to any real business—and even that deserves considerable scrutiny.

As reported by Kazakh media, he was listed as the co-owner of an oil company that won lucrative development rights to a Kazakh oil field, and later earned millions in profits, at just 18 years old.”

Timur, noted the OCCRP, may also be the family’s original connection to Switzerland. “It recently emerged that he attended College du Leman, one of Geneva’s most expensive boarding schools, and also has a diploma from the U.S.-accredited Webster University branch in Geneva,” it said.

The Tokayevs also made property acquisitions in and around Geneva, all in Timur’s name, the OCCRP said, noting an apartment in a quiet district in the city, an apartment in a lakeside townhouse in the nearby municipality of Versoix and another townhouse apartment in the village of Saint-Prex.

Tokayev lived in the Geneva area while he was serving as director-general of the United Nations’ Geneva office between 2011 and 2013.

• While living in Moscow, Timur reportedly cruised around the Russian capital in a Lexus and BMW with diplomatic plates and received an advanced degree from the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“He and his mother also acquired several expensive apartments in Moscow,” said the OCCRP, adding: “Curiously, as an investigation by now-imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny showed, the Russian government appears to have wiped any mention of them from Russian property records. (Navalny’s team discovered the Tokayevs’ ownership from records they had downloaded before they were deleted from the registry.)

“Some of their real estate has since been sold. Their remaining Moscow properties include a large apartment in an elite downtown residence called Fusion Park, and another large, two-floor apartment two kilometers from the Kremlin. Tokayeva was also registered at a third apartment in the city’s northwest.”

The OCCRP report further claimed that the Tokayev family secrets extend outside of Europe. It said: “Thanks to documents from the Pandora Papers — a trove of files from offshore service providers that were shared with OCCRP by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — reporters were able to trace their activities to the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a jurisdiction used by wealthy people around the world to secretly hold their assets.

“In 2012, the year after the Tokayevs’ Credit Suisse account was closed, the family established two offshore companies in the BVI. The companies—Wishing Well Group Inc, owned by Tokayev’s ex-wife, and Wisdom Invest & Finance Inc., owned by Timur—appear to be corporate vehicles created for the purpose of owning a U.K. company called Edelweiss Resources. (Records also indicate that each of these shell companies also held its own Swiss bank account.). Because Edelweiss has only filed abbreviated financial statements, little is known about its activities. But its latest filing from March 2014 does show that it had just over $4 million cash in the bank and nearly $1 million in investments that year.”

Kazakhstani officials are not obliged to make public their asset declarations, leaving the source of the Tokayevs’ millions a mystery. The OCCRP said that the family did not respond to requests for comment.

The president’s press secretary, Berik Uali, writing on Facebook, dismissed the OCCRP report as a “fake information attack”, adding: “The head of state, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, does not have accounts in a Swiss bank that some media began to write about. The president does not own accounts in foreign banks or offshore companies, and he does not own foreign real estate”.

Uali added that Tokayev's ex-wife never owned the accounts as indicated in the report, while the president's son Timur was engaged in entrepreneurship and had never worked in public service.

"This fake information attack on the Head of State aims to discredit him, as the President is energetically working to limit the monopolies in the economy and politics, and is implementing reforms that may not be to someone's liking," Uali also stated.

In response to inquiries from OCCRP and Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Credit Suisse said it could not comment on individual client relationships and rejected “allegations and inferences about [its] purported business practices.” (Click here to read the bank’s full response to the #SuisseSecrets project).