Following in the footsteps of Tony Blair: Kazakhstan has been lucrative for UK businessmen since the former PM cultivated its President


The cafés and market stalls on the streets of Almaty are rather bleak affairs. Many have just a few goods on display and, with the exception of outstanding cheesecake, what they do show off rarely looks that appetising.

Their décor is not helped by the black and white photograph on the wall of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the heavy-set brow and unforgiving stare sets a tone that even the best cheesecake cannot lift. Kazakhstan would like you to believe that it has moved on from the Soviet era, with a decade-long modernisation programme that British businesses have been in the vanguard of, but a lot of the past remains.

The influence of Mr Nazarbayev is felt in every part of the economy, from the highest business elites to the meanest market stalls. A businessman can become immensely rich in a short time if he moves in the President's circle. The small-scale entrepreneur gives suitable favours if he wants to stay in business.

As a representative of émigré Kazakh politician Akezhan Kazhegeldin says: "Everyone gives and everyone takes." What does he mean? "Governmental corruption is the worst example. Officials send out the signal that they are corrupt. Corruption works through communication and you cannot be uncorrupted in the system, because no one will trust you."

Mr Nazarbayev learnt his trade in the latter days of the Soviet Union and was in power when it collapsed in 1991. Today he is very close to Russia's Vladimir Putin – Kremlinologists note he sat just two seats away from Mr Putin at the opening to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

But despite his communist leanings, Mr Nazarbayev, 73, has also looked to the West to help modernise the country. Tony Blair Associates was recruited in 2011 on a two-year contract worth £13m, with the brief of improving governance in Mr Nazarbayev's cabinet.

Tony Blair meets the President at Number 10 Downing Street in 2006 (Getty) Tony Blair meets the President at Number 10 Downing Street in 2006 (Getty)  

Tony Blair is understood to have known the Kazakh leader since 2001. The relationship with the former British Prime Minister was clinched when he allowed the President to hold his then baby son, Leo, say Downing Street sources.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Blair introduced Mr Nazarbayev to Sir Dick Evans, the former boss of BAE, when he was looking for someone to get Air Astana off the ground in 2003. Sir Dick now sits on the board of the country's sovereign wealth fund. One observer noted: "Dick tells it like it is. The President appreciates straight speaking, while also understanding the importance of influence in high places."

Alistair Campbell, Mr Blair's former spin doctor who now works with the PR firm Portland, has also been spotted in the country, while Mr Nazarbayev's authorised biography was written by Jonathan Aitken, the former Conservative Minister of Defence and friend of Sir Dick from ministerial days.

Sir Dick is also understood to have kept the President informed about the UK machinations of the board of the scandal-struck Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), which left such a stain on the country's reputation.

Progress in Mr Nazarbayev's country is made "through connections, not cash", said one local banker. "They prefer to use relationships to get their own way."

So when the President was seeking a businessman to take the troubled BTA bank off his hands, he turned to Kenges Rakishev, an entrepreneur, aged 34, for support and funding. BTA Bank claims it was defrauded by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the fugitive former Kazakh minister of finance and bank chairman, who now sits in a French prison, awaiting extradition to Russia.

Mr Rakishev, the Oxford-educated son-in-law of one of the President's favourite businessmen, Imangali Tasmagambetov, the mayor of the capital, Astana, is talked about as a possible acquirer for ENRC's Kazakh interests. One local analyst, asked whether Mr Rakishev might be interested, said: "Why not? He is the new generation, he is Kazakh and he is close to our President."

The signals as to who is in favour and who not, come down from the President. A commentator adds: "He is a chess player. He has a consummate understanding of power, he moves the pieces around regularly to maintain his position."

Timur Kulibayev, the owner of local banks and numerous industrial businesses, whose net worth has been estimated at $15bn (£9bn) was seen as a possible successor to the ageing autocrat, whose daughter Dinara he married. But the President removed him from the helm of Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund at the end of 2011 after police opened fire on demonstrators in Zhanaozen, killing 14, amid protests about pay and conditions at a state oil company.

Other clouds haunt Mr Kulibayev as a presidential candidate. For example, he fathered a child, Adam, to the London socialite Goga Ashkenazi, while he was married to the President's daughter. Also, his purchase of Prince Andrew's mansion at a price considerably in advance of the market continues to attract curiosity.

The third group of Kazakh commercial elites is headed by Bulat Utemuratov, the billionaire owner of mineral and banking interests, including a 1.33 per cent stake in Glencore Xstrata, through his Verny conglomerate. Glencore is considered a likely buyer of ENRC assets, as disclosed in Tuesday's Independent.

The likely next face to appear on the photographs in the cafés and shops of Almaty is a secret, carefully guarded by the President alone. The President could yet pull one last surprise out of the hat for the Brits seeking their fortune in this resource-rich state.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride