Kazakh leader’s charity sues non-profit investigative journalist
A Kazakhstan charity named in honor of that country’s former president has sued a nonprofit investigative journalism organization for defamation, saying its story tracing the assets that make up the multi-billion dollar fortune dollars from Nursultan Nazarbayev defamed her.
BALTIMORE (CN) — A Kazakhstan charity named in honor of that county’s former president has sued a Maryland-based investigative journalism organization for defamation, saying its story tracing the assets that make up the Nursultan Nazarbayev’s multi-billion dollar fortune defamed her.
“The applicant was founded to financially support NU [Nazarbayev University] and NIS [Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools] and help build a bridge west by bringing Western-style higher education to Central Asia,” says the lawsuit, filed on behalf of “Nazarbayev Fund Private Fund” by Matthew L. Schwartz of Boies Schiller Flexner of Washington. , DC.
Defendant, Journalism Development Network, Inc. of Baltimore, operates the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a decade-old online news service that tracks political and governmental corruption around the world.
“We believe this lawsuit has no merit and OCCRP stands by its story,” Drew Sullivan, executive director of the Journalism Development Network, told Courthouse News in an email.
At issue is an article published on January 19 that looked at four separate but similarly named charities associated with the former president of Kazakhstan.
None of the other three charities responded to the reporter’s questions, only the Nazarbeyev Fund spokesperson did, essentially saying the former president could not use any of the fund’s assets as it would be against the law .
“The story’s title, subtitle, and main conclusions are false and defamatory,” the suit alleges. “The Respondent was aware – because the Applicant had told his reporter prior to publication – that the Charter and Kazakh law prohibited the misuse of the funds that the Respondent speculated in its history could occur.
Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan as its “first president” after it split from the Soviet Union in 1990, privatized state industries and amassed a huge fortune for himself and a circle of oligarchs. He allegedly hid $1 billion in Swiss accounts, with many more missing. After his resignation in 2019, he enjoyed complete immunity from prosecution or even investigation, while journalists who criticized him and his businesses were set on fire.
The OCCRP report valued the four assets of the former strongman’s foundation, including stakes in two banks, a mobile phone company and an Airbus ACJ320neo jet fitted out “like a flying penthouse”, at $7.8 billion.
Accounting is blurry.
“Some of the assets were transferred to Nazarbayev’s foundations, or are still co-owned, by oligarchs who owe their wealth to the crony capitalism that flourished under his rule. In other cases, the Government of Kazakhstan poured money into private companies which were then acquired by charitable foundations. The result is that Nazarbayev’s nonprofits actually have larger business portfolios than many multinational conglomerates,” the OCCRP story reads. “Since the foundations are non-profit, Nazarbayev does not officially own their vast assets himself. However, legal experts contacted by OCCRP explained that under Kazakh law, the founder of a private foundation has ultimate control over its assets.
The story matched the aircraft’s movements with those of the former president, concluding that “although it is unclear whether the foundation officially owns the aircraft, there is compelling evidence that it is used by Nazarbayev”.
The lawsuit disputes the main thrust of the story, saying it “conveys the false and defamatory gist that the plaintiff is a legal fiction through which Mr. Nazarbayev absolutely controls billions of dollars of wealth that are believed to be earmarked for the financing of education”.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages.
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