Two Kazakhs who were co-accused along with Rakhat Aliyev over the murder of two bankers in 2007 have been released from pre-trial detention after an Austrian judge found inconsistencies and contradictions in the evidence brought against them, their lawyer has confirmed.
Rakhat Aliyev, a former chief of Kazakhstan's tax police, head of the state security service and ambassador to Austria, was found hanged in a Vienna prison in February. His lawyers say they doubt this was a case of suicide. He was living in Malta for some time before his incarceration.
The other two officials are Alnur Mussayev, a former head of the Kazakh intelligence service, and Vadim Koshlyak, a former presidential bodyguard. They are accused of aiding Mr Aliyev in the abduction and murder of two bankers of the Kazakh Nurbank in 2007. Aliyev, a former son-in-law of Kazakhstan's authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbayev - was a major shareholder in the bank.
The bodies of the bankers were found buried in lime-filled barrels in 2011. Vienna prosecutor Bettina Wallner recently told the court that Aliyev and the two accused had jointly planned the murders. Mr Koshlyak was said to have helped Aliyev to hold the two managers against their will and to force them to hand over shares and property rights. Both men deny the charges.
The main lawyer in the criminal case, Klaus Ainedter, told The Malta Independent yesterday that the two men were released over a number of reasons, including the conflicting information coming from the Kazakh authorities. The presiding judge, Andreas Böhm, yesterday also had reservations about the 'legal force' of judgements previously handed down by Kazak courts. He also stressed that their indictment was "almost exclusively" based on information Kazakh authorities.Also crucial to the decision were comments made by the coroner, who said that the way the bodies were buried implied that the killers wanted them to be found and identified.
Mr Ainedter pointed out that the judge had also commented on the fact that several witnesses had changed their versions many times before and throughout the process. "There were unbelievable contradictions in some of the statements. Some of the witnesses are in fact expected to be charged with perjury," he said. Judge Böhm reportedly also expressed concerns that the whole thing could possibly be controlled by Kazakhstan. This sentiment was shared by Mr Ainedter.
The lawyer explained that the men were yesterday allowed to return to their families instead of being taken back to prison. They were effectively let out on bail but with no conditions or bonds imposed by the courts. Their trial continues today.
The Malta connection
Rakhat Aliyev self-exiled in Malta after losing political immunity in Austria in 2007. The Maltese authorities had frozen his assets over allegations of money laundering. Last year, a court ruled that Mr Aliyev could not be investigated by the Maltese police for the alleged torture and frame-up of two former Kazakh bodyguards because he was not a permanent resident of Malta.
The two bodyguards were accused of organising a military coup but they claimed that they were framed by MrAliyev, who tortured them into giving a false confession. Their request for Malta to investigate Aliyev were rejected. On his part, Aliyev had claimed that the Kazakh secret service was trying to influence the courts and was manipulating the two former bodyguards to testify against him. He had claimed that they would be killed by their own country if they chose to follow their conscience and stopped their allegations against him.
Last year Aliyev left Malta for Cyprus, where he attempted to obtain citizenship. His Austrian passport was later cancelled and he allegedly turned himself in to the authorities to cooperate in the murder investigation.
On 24 February 2015 he was found dead in his solitary cell at a Vienna prison. The official version is that he committed suicide by hanging himself but his lawyer, Klaus Ainedter said he was highly suspicious of the death and expected a thorough investigation. The medical report has still not been issued. "The fact that the report has not yet been presented strengthened our doubts that the Kazakh government is behind this. We knew that the courts would agree with our opinion on this," Mr Ainedter told this paper yesterday. "If Mr Aliyev were still alive today he would have been released along with the two others. This really pains us and his family."
MrAliyev has also been investigated over money laundering, the murder of Kazakh opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev and TV presenter Anastasiya Novikova. He was also found guilty of treason by Kazakhstan.