Monday, July 17, 2006

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan

* ken @ harpers:
In early 2004, President Bush issued a presidential proclamation barring corrupt foreign officials from entering the United States.... But now the Bush Administration is preparing to roll out the red carpet for... President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.

Last week, Kazakhstan's foreign minister, Kassymzhomart Tokaev, came to town and met with the hospitable U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss strengthening ties between the two countries. The visiting Kazakh immediately told the Washington Times that Nazarbayev—a former Communist Party hack who has ruled his country since it won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991—would be coming to town this September for meetings with administration officials...

It's hard to see how Nazarbayev's visit could possibly be squared with Bush's 2004 proclamation. This fall, James Giffen, an American business consultant, is set to be tried in the Southern District Court of New York on charges that he funneled more than $78 million in bribes to Kazakh officials. And guess who is alleged to have received most of that money? President Nazarbayev himself, along with his former prime minister, Nurlan Balgimbayev.

The government's indictment says the bribe money came from fees Giffen received from American oil companies that won stakes in Kazakhstan's oil fields. ..

Nazarbayev and Balgimbayev have publicly denied wrongdoing and American oil companies would never, ever be involved in bribing dictators—so it's possible that the government's detailed, meticulously documented case is all wrong. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Like Obiang, Nazarbayev is a thug as well as a crook. “Kazakhstan's oil riches, strategic location, and cooperation with the United States in anti-terrorism programs cannot conceal the fact that the country remains an authoritarian state,” said Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, in a speech on June 29. Smith also pointed out that Nazarbayev had run bogus elections, allowed relatives and friends to gain “monopoly positions in the most profitable sectors of the economy,” and repressed the media and opposition political figures.
Why is the Bush Administration so eager to please Nazarbayev, whose government is pushing hard for the official visit? Oil, not surprisingly, is part of the story. Along with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan is a major Caspian energy producer and American companies, led by ChevronTexaco, have invested billions there.
Finally, Nazarbayev has some very powerful friends in Washington. In addition to extensive lobbying on his behalf by American energy companies and the oil industry–funded U.S.-Kazakhstan Business Association, Kazakhstan has spent millions on blue-chip Beltway firms such as Patton Boggs and the Livingston Group. (The latter is headed by former Congressman Bob Livingston.)

Kazahstan also counts on support from the Houston-based Baker Botts law firm, which has advised energy companies seeking to invest in Kazakhstan and other Caspian countries. The firm's partners include James A. Baker III...

Of course, it is President Bush who, as the Boston Globe reported, “has claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office.” So perhaps it should not be a surprise to see the Bush Administration ignoring not just existing laws, but even its own proclamations. Enjoy your visit, Mr. Nazarbayev