The former son-in-law of the President of Kazakhstan has dramatically escalated a family feud by accusing the head of state, Nursultan Nazerbayev, of ordering the killing of an opposition leader.
Rakhat Aliyev, a former chief of the intelligence service, said he had passed on allegedly incriminating information to police in Austria, from where he said the order to assassinate the opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev was given.
Mr Nazerbayev was on vacation a few days before the murder. "Police are checking that at that time, the President was in Austria. Abykayev was also in Austria for three or four hours," said Mr Aliyev, referring to the senate speaker, Nuriat Abykayev, a close presidential aide. "Those people who are incorporated in the power structure, they follow orders from the President to deal with the opposition, as I did myself."
During a 90-minute interview in a smart hotel, whose location cannot be disclosed for security reasons according to his lawyer, Mr Aliyev claimed that the Austrian authorities were investigating the movements of the two Kazakh officials and telephone details.
Austrian police and the Interior Ministry would neither confirm nor deny that they had received material from Mr Aliyev. The Kazakhstan President's office, contacted by The Independent over the claims, had not responded by last night.
Mr Aliyev's accusation against the President is the latest development in a long-running saga involving Kazakhstan's first family that has been dubbed Borat meets the Borgias. Mr Aliyev announced that he is writing a book about his experiences, saying that the working title was "The Godfather-in-law".
Once the golden boy of the regime with presidential ambitions of his own, he had fallen foul of his father-in-law in the past. But the pair had a terminal falling out in May this year when he was sacked as ambassador to Austria and ordered to be arrested over the kidnapping of two executives of Nurbank, the Kazakh bank he controlled.
Mr Aliyev digs out of his briefcase certificates to prove that he successfully fought extradition and that a money-laundering investigation was discontinued by the Austrian authorities.
"I'm no angel," Mr Aliyev freely admits, referring to his ruthless reputation back home, where he says he modernised the secret service as deputy head of the KNB. But he denies that he is seeking revenge after being forced to divorce his wife, Dariga Nazerbayeva. Mr Aliyev says he only began investigating the murder of Mr Sarsenbayev when he was accused of involvement in the murder himself.
The death of Mr Sarsenbayev, a former information minister, in February last year was the second political murder in three months in Kazakhstan. Speculation that the Nazerbayev family might be involved was rife, after the bullet-riddled bodies of Mr Sarsenbayev and his bodyguard and driver were found in the outskirts of Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city.
"Sarsenbayev was the biggest enemy of Nazerbayev," Mr Aliyev recalls. "I witnessed Nazerbayev complaining about him constantly."
Mr Nazerbayev announced on 1 March 2006 that the head of the senate administration, Yerzhan Utembayev, had confessed, and authorities pointed to a personal enmity between the senate official and the dead politician. But Mr Utembayev, who is serving a 20-year jail sentence, says he was coerced into confessing.
Mr Aliyev produced a document in Russian which he says is a transcript of a telephone conversation between the chief presidential aide, Adilbek Dhzaksybekov, and Mr Abykayev, the senate speaker, at 7.46pm on 25 February last year, which appears to indicate that the fallout from the murder was being carefully orchestrated at the top political level. But he offered no other evidence.
Asked why he decided to go public at this stage, Mr Aliyev denies that he is attempting to use the material allegedly in his possession as a "trade" in order to negotiate his return home. But nonetheless, the accusations come at a delicate time for the veteran Kazakh President, who has received invitations to the White House and Downing Street. Oil-rich Kazakhstan is campaigning to take over the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, although it is understood that its candidacy will not be successful when the decision is taken this month amid continued concerns over human rights abuses.
"This shows he [Mr Aliyev] must be desperate," said Saule Mukhametrakhimova, an analyst with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. "He must have tried everything before now, and he's exhausted all the avenues."
Kazakhstan's family feud
The son-in-law: Rakhat Aliyev
A former deputy head of the Kazakh secret service and former deputy foreign minister, Aliyev was until recently a long-time ally of the President, married to his daughter Dariga. But they fell out while he was ambassador in Vienna. He was stripped of the post, and ordered to be arrested over the kidnapping of two executives of the Kazakh bank he controlled, Nurbank. He was forced to divorce. "I was divorced by fax," he complains.
The President: Nursultan Nazerbayev
Born in 1940, Nazerbayev became a steelworker and rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, becoming a Politburo member in 1990 just before the Soviet Union collapsed. After independence, he won kudos in the West by voluntarily giving up the country's nuclear arsenal. Abandoning efforts to reintegrate the economy with Russia's, he appointed reformers who created a strong financial system.