French investigators are probing suspected kickbacks paid over a lucrative helicopter deal with Kazakhstan, Le Monde has revealed.
The report emerged the day before President Nursultan Nazarbayev heads to Brussels to cement Kazakhstan-European Union ties. Embarrassingly, it alleges the Kazakh president used a €2 billion contract with Marseille-based Eurocopter (since renamed Airbus Helicopter) to pressure Belgium to drop bribery charges against three Kazakhstani oligarchs.
The investigation into the Eurocopter deal (signed in 2010 when Nazarbayev was welcomed to France by Nicolas Sarkozy, then French president) on suspicion of money-laundering, corrupting public officials and receiving stolen goods began in 2012 and has been conducted in the utmost secrecy, Le Monde reported.
Last month two former Sarkozy associates who held top jobs in his administration were arrested on suspicion of involvement in paying kickbacks over the contract, the newspaper said, naming them as Jean-Francois Etienne des Rosaies, a former adviser to Sarkozy, and Nathalie Gonzalez-Prado, a former senior official at the Elysee palace.
The probe was sparked by the appearance of “suspicious funds” (more than €300,000) in the account of Etienne des Rosaies, the report said, adding that two unnamed “intermediaries” and a lawyer had been indicted.
Sarkozy is also “suspected of having put pressure in 2011 on the Belgian Senate,” at Nazarbayev’s request, over a bribery and money-laundering probe involving three Kazakhstani oligarchs as a condition for the helicopter deal going ahead, Le Monde claimed. The report did not name the oligarchs.
In August 2011 graft charges against three of Kazakhstan’s most prominent businessmen – Alexander Machkevitch, Patokh Chodiev, and Alijan Ibragimov – were dropped in Belgium. An out-of-court settlement ended an investigation into allegations that Belgian engineering company Tractebel (which has since pulled out of Kazakhstan) paid around $55 million in bribes to the three Kazakhstani businessmen to secure a pipeline concession in 1997.
Tractebel and the three entrepreneurs denied any wrongdoing, and under the settlement the trio paid a fine but made no admission of guilt.
Machkevitch, Chodiev, and Ibragimov are no strangers to controversy in Europe: Their company, the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), beat an ignominious retreat from the London Stock Exchange last year, buffeted by tumbling share prices, corruption scandals, legal tussles, and boardroom backstabbing.
ENRC is the subject of an investigation in the United Kingdom into “fraud, bribery and corruption” launched last April by the Serious Fraud Office, which confirmed to EurasiaNet.org by email on October 6 that the inquiry is “ongoing.”
Reports that Nazarbayev pressured Sarkozy to lean on Brussels come at an awkward moment for both. The former French president is attempting to stage a political comeback. Kazakhstan’s leader, meanwhile, leaves October 8 for Brussels, where he is expected to sign a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the European Union.