Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)
The Kazakhstan-based Nazarbaev Fund has filed a lawsuit against a U.S.-based investigative journalism outlet that runs the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), for libel, claiming a report about the Central Asian nation's former President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s multibillion-dollar wealth damaged its reputation.
The lawsuit, filed on July 29 on behalf of the Nazarbaev Fund by the Washington, D.C. firm Boies Schiller Flexner, names the defendant as the Journalism Development Network, Inc. of Baltimore, Maryland, which operates the OCCRP, a global network of investigative journalists that operates in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Central America. The lawsuit demands compensatory damages "in an amount to be proven at trial in an amount greater than $75,000," as well as punitive damages allegedly caused by the publication of the story : The Nazarbaev Billions: How Kazakhstan’s ‘Leader of the Nation’ Controls Vast Assets Through Charitable Foundations.
The Courthouse News Service online newspaper quoted Drew Sullivan , the Journalism Development Network’s executive director, as saying that the "OCCRP stands by its story," and that the group believes "this suit has no merit."
The OCCRP story, published in January 2022, detailed four separate funds associated with the 82-year-old Nazarbaev, who ran the oil-rich country with an iron fist for almost 30 years before his formal resignation in March 2019.
It says the "assets under the control of charitable foundations include luxury hotels, banks, factories, warehouses, and other possessions amounting to at least $8 billion" and that, while Nazarbayev doesn't formally "own" the fortune, he controls it since he was the founder. In March 2019, Nazarbaev picked long-time ally Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev as his successor but retained sweeping powers as the head of the Security Council, enjoying powers as "elbasy," or leader of the nation. Many of his relatives continued to hold important posts in the government, security agencies, and profitable energy groups. Nazarbaev and his clan lost control over the country and Toqaev started distancing himself from his former patron after nationwide protests in early January turned extremely violent and left 232 people dead. The protests started over a fuel price hike and spread across Kazakhstan amid widespread discontent over the cronyism that has long plagued the country. Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of the Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several other relatives and those close to the family have been pushed out of their positions or they have resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges.