Former Kazakh dictator controlled £6bn empire from Britain

·5 min read
Nursultan Nazarbayev and Prince Philip
Nursultan Nazarbayev and Prince Philip

The former dictator of Kazakhstan controlled a multibillion-dollar business empire via a British company, The Telegraph can reveal.

In revelations that will increase pressure on the Government to clamp down on the flow of money from kleptocracies into London, an investigation in collaboration with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism uncovered new details about the hidden wealth of Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Foundations linked to the notorious autocrat, who was in office until 2019, controlled $7.8bn (£5.8bn) in assets via Jusan Technologies. The empire was restructured last year and is now controlled via the United States.

However, news that a UK entity was at the centre of the financial interests of a key ally of Vladimir Putin will increase scrutiny on the Government’s pledge to tackle London’s role as a safe haven for money from questionable sources.

Amid concern about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, ministers have faced criticism for allowing Russians with links to the Kremlin and a string of Kazakh elites to accumulate wealth in London - dubbed "Londongrad" for its large number of oligarchs - with little scrutiny over recent years.

Records filed on Companies House show that in 2020 Jusan had only one employee. Nevertheless it sat at the heart of a sprawling international business, spanning shopping centres, financial services, a telecoms network and even a pasta factory.

One of its subsidiaries, a Kazakh bank, received a multi-billion dollar state bailout and went on to hand a dividend to Jusan.

Kazakh former President Nazarbayev Russia's President Putin - Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
Kazakh former President Nazarbayev Russia's President Putin - Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The company’s shareholders included members of the Kazakh elite and businesses connected to the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates.

Dame Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP, claimed in Parliament that Mr Nazarbayev had used charitable foundations to "secretly control" a string of assets, which were part-owned through Jusan Technologies.

She said the UK had turned a blind eye to suspect wealth and claimed a string of Kazakh elites had become wealthy through crony capitalism under the Nazarbayev regime.

Dame Margaret told MPs: “Britain has opened our borders, our property market, our financial structures to the Kazakh ruling class, enabling them to launder their illicit wealth and to spend it.

“Worse, we don’t even enforce our existing laws against any of this wrongdoing.”

John Penrose, the Conservative MP, said: “We’ve got to be at the leading edge of anti-corruption and anti-fraud measures, which means the economic crime bill should be an immediate, urgent priority. We will not threaten our prosperity by introducing these standards, in fact we threaten it if we do not.”

During his 29 years in office Nazarbayev won elections with more than 90pc of the vote, accrued enormous wealth for his family and fostered a cult of personality– the country’s capital city was renamed after him.

He is believed to have continued to wield influence in Kazakhstan until last month’s mass protests, which were met with a police crackdown and resulted in at least 225 deaths and may have resulted in shifts in power. Nazarbayev has denied reports of having fled the country.

The Nazarbayev foundations controlled Jusan through an Kazakh entity called Pioneer Capital.

Pioneer in turn was owned by three Kazakh educational foundations over which the former dictator has presided, including the Nazarbayev Fund, regulatory filings show.

Boies Schiller Flexner, a US law firm that represents the Nazarbayev Fund, said ownership of Jusan was handed to a US non-profit organisation as a charitable donation before the end of 2021.

The new owner is Jysan Holdings LCC, a company which in turn is owned by NU Generation Foundation, a non-profit group.

Aslan Sarinzhipov, the chief executive of the Nazarbayev Fund and Nazarbayev’s education and science minister between 2013 and 2016, is the president of NU Generation Foundation.

Boies Schiller said the people and entities involved with the new structure are independent of Nazarbayev and the purpose of the venture is to fund Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University and other educational projects.

Even before the change in ownership, Nazarbayev did not personally benefit from Jusan. Although he chairs the fund bearing his name, its charter forbids him from using its assets for his personal benefit, Boies Schiller said.

Jusan’s most recent accounts, filed in October 2021, showed $7.8bn in gross assets, which included more than $3bn in cash. The assets were owned through banking, telecoms and retail businesses, mainly in Kazakhstan.

Several of Nazarbayev’s associates have connections to this booming business empire. They include Yerbol Orynbayev, who served as deputy prime minister and assistant to the president under Nazarbayev until 2015, was a director of Jusan Technologies and owned a 4.6pc stake.

The immense wealth amassed by Nazarbayev’s foundations, first reported last month by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, has benefitted from Kazakh state funds.

Companies such as Jusan Technologies are able to operate in the UK partly because of the assistance of lawyers and accountants who work and advise, perfectly legally, behind the scenes.

Boies Schiller said the UK had been chosen as the holding company’s base because of its highly respected legal regime.

Jusan was registered in March 2020 by the US law firm Cohen & Gresser and its most recent filed accounts were signed off in August 2021 by Rakesh Shaunak, the chairman and managing partner of MHA MacIntyre Hudson, a UK auditor.

MacIntyre Hudson was paid $462,000 by the company for the audit and other work during 2020.

Last month, the Financial Reporting Council, accounting watchdog, said it is investigating MacIntyre Hudson for its audits of another company in 2018 and 2019. MacIntyre Hudson has confirmed it is cooperating with the investigation.