Nazarbayev’s daughter and son-in-law, as well as companies associated with them, own real estate in Germany, in which more than one hundred million euros have been invested. About luxury, which was not advertised.
Frescoes, luxurious chandeliers, ceilings made of precious woods, skillful stucco work – the interior decoration of the Seelach Palace in Baden-Baden is amazing. Those few who have visited the estate unanimously say: this is the most impressive thing that has been done for the money of multimillionaires from the countries of the former USSR.
In the 19th century, Seelah was the summer residence of the famous Russian diplomat, Privy Councilor Mikhail Khreptovich. But what is here today, the aristocrat did not even dream of. The new owners from Kazakhstan, having rebuilt a historic villa, laid out a landscape park with fountains on the territory, and under it – luxury spa area an area of about a thousand square meters. The glass dome over the 25-meter pool can be seen even in pictures from space.
Territory of Seelach Manor in Baden-Baden, satellite image. On the left – the historical house of the diplomat Khreptovich and a square with a fountain. On the right is a modern residential complex and a landscaped park, under which there is a spa area with a glass dome.
Four objects, 100 million euros
The arrangement of the elite estate lasted almost a decade and was completed two years ago. The issue price is 60 million euros. According to documents from the German register of companies, the authorized capital of the company Schloss Seelach Invest, which owns Seelach, was gradually increased by this amount during the years of reconstruction of the estate. “They did not spare money,” one of those involved in the reconstruction shared with DW. The builders reported on each step, sending photos to Kazakhstan, the source says. “Once the customers did not like the frescoes and they ordered to re-do the work, for which the artist had already been paid about 150,000 euros,” he wonders.
In addition to Seelach Manor, Kazakhs own, as DW found out, three more properties in the region, including two historical monuments – the villa of the famous architect Gustav Stroh built in the early 20th century in the style of historicism in Baden-Baden and the castle -Bühlerhöhe hotel (Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe). In total, more than 100 million euros have been invested in villas and hotels.
Same family villas
“All this belongs to members of the same family. The very same family, if you understand what I mean,” DW’s interlocutor, who once worked in the structures of Kazakhstani investors in Baden-Baden, hints. He lowers his voice, as if afraid of being heard by strangers. “Everything is done on a presidential scale,” he says, insisting on anonymity.
Clarity is brought by searches in German registries. The founder of Schloss Seelach Invest GmbH – the owner of the Seelach estate – is the Kazakh company Verus Praedium International, which, in turn, belongs to the Kipros company from Almaty. The Transparency Register (Transparenzregister), created in Germany a few years ago to combat money laundering, finally removes all questions about owners. According to an extract from this register, which is at the disposal of DW, the beneficiary of Schloss Seelach Invest GmbH is Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of the ex-president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, the husband of his middle daughter Dinara.
Adenauer, Kuchma, children of Nazarbayev
Timur and Dinara Kulibayev, according to the Transparency Register, are the ultimate beneficiaries of another company in Germany – Bühlerhöhe Castle Invest GmbH, owning it through Kazakhstan’s Mercury Properties. This company owns two hotels in Bulle, near Baden-Baden. One of them, the Bühlerhöhe Castle Hotel, is a monument of national importance.
Khreptovich’s house before reconstruction
The first chancellor of modern Germany, Konrad Adenauer, used to like to relax in this hotel, unique for its architecture and location near the national park. 20 years ago, Ukrainian ex-president Leonid Kuchma also fell in love with this place, after which in 2010 his former business manager Igor Bakai bought the hotel through offshore companies. In 2013, Bakai went bankrupt, and the historic hotel was bought from him by Kazakh businessman Yakov Tskhai, the owner of a number of oil companies and a minority business partner of Timur Kulibayev, in particular in the field of commercial real estate.
Mysterious oilman transfers assets to ‘family’
Tskhai is a non-public person, it is even impossible to find his photograph in open sources. According to documents in the German company register, the businessman has invested more than one hundred million euros in the “Kazakh” real estate empire in Baden-Baden and the surrounding area through his Dostar-Invest holding and the Dostar Oil Service oil company over several years.
In 2020, when large-scale work on the reconstruction and arrangement of the Zeelach estate was completed, the businessman transferred this object, according to extracts from the German register of companies, to Timur Kulibaev’s Verus Praedium International.
A year earlier, Tskhai conceded to the son-in-law and daughter of ex-president Nazarbayev and the historic Bühlerhöhe Hotel, rewriting 90 percent of the authorized capital of Bühlerhöhe Castle Invest GmbH to Kulibayev-controlled Mercury Properties, and retaining only 10 percent, documents from German registers show. The Kulibaevs and Tskhai, who were contacted by DW through Mercury Properties, did not answer questions at the time of publication, in particular about the conditions under which the assignment of German assets took place in favor of the son-in-law and daughter of Nursultan Nazarbayev. German hotels Mercury Properties on the corporate website does not mention among its assets.
The villa of the architect Stroh is located near the Seelach estate and was reconstructed at the same time as the estate. The villa is registered to the firm of Yakov Tskhai, but is managed by the same executive director as the German firms of the Kulibaevs
German villas for petrodollars
Sanjar Bokaev, a well-known political observer in Kazakhstan, does not rule out the purely nominal role of Yakov Tskhai in business and in transactions with German real estate, and speaks of high corruption risks in the relationship of large businessmen with the ex-president’s family. “Members of the Nazarbayev family and other people close to him privatized everything related to oil and gas production, as well as ores and metal production. Everyone in Kazakhstan knows that without the consent of Timur Kulibayev it is impossible to enter any segment of the oil market,” Bokayev said in a statement. conversation with DW.
Timur Kulibayev – son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev
Timur Kulibayev is the chairman of the industry association Kazenergy, until mid-January, for many years he headed the Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, which by law has impressive levers of influence both on business and on the government’s economic policy. Dinara and Timur Kulibaev – the richest married couple in Kazakhstan. Forbes evaluates the condition of the daughter and son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev nearly six billion dollars. Over the past ten years alone, their assets have more than doubled, and they began to grow rich from the first days of Kazakhstan’s independence, when Nazarbayev became the country’s helm.
Foreign real estate as a social irritant
According to Kazakh political scientist Dosym Satpayev, the ex-president and his family, with their wealth, personify social injustice, which became one of the main reasons for the January mass protests in the country, which escalated into riots and resulted in hundreds of deaths. “To the extent that the elite affiliated with Nazarbayev got rich in Kazakhstan, poverty in the country did not decrease at all,” Satpayev said in an interview with DW. In particular, the issue of inequality is particularly acute in such a profitable area as oil production. The country’s energy resources are largely controlled by the ruling elites, and oil workers regularly strike because of low wages, the political scientist states.
Nursultan Nazarbayev was the President of Kazakhstan from 1991 to 2019
After the latest wave of protests, Nazarbayev resigned as chairman of the National Security Council, and his son-in-law resigned as head of the influential Atameken chamber. President Kossym-Jomart Tokayev vowed to do away with the oligarchic system amid the outbreak of protests.
Opposition calls for asset freeze
Opposition politicians, who partly live in Europe, fearing reprisals in Kazakhstan, have been seeking for years to seize accounts and property controlled by Nazarbayev family in Western countries. “We demand that, first of all, sanctions be imposed on members of the Nazarbayev family and his inner circle for human rights violations and corruption, and their assets should be frozen,” London-based opposition leader Akezhan Kazhegeldin told DW in a recent interview. . With such a demand, in early February, Kazakhstani activists living in Berlin also went to the demonstration.
In the future, the money withdrawn over the years by the ruling elites abroad should return to Kazakhstan, Sanzhar Bokaev also hopes. “It will be finally clear whether the era of Nazarbayev is over, precisely by the results of the return of the assets withdrawn by his family abroad,” says Bokaev.
As a recent investigation has shown Center for the Study of Corruption and Organized Crime OCCRP, through fundsoperating under the guise of charity, Nursultan Nazarbayev controls around $8 billion worth of assets around the world. In addition, in 2020, Radio Liberty journalists published an investigation into dozens of elite real estate objects of the Nazarbayev family in the United States and European countries for a total of about 800 million dollars. German real estate was not part of this investigation.
From a formal point of view, the Kulibayevs’ investments in Germany are legal – they would violate the current German anti-money laundering legislation only if their illegal origin was established in Kazakhstan. Based on this, fulfilling the demands of Kazakhstani activists in Germany is not so easy, says Thomas Helm, chairman of the German-Kazakh Society. “In matters of confiscation of property, only the methods of the rule of law can be used. Everything must be provable,” he said in an interview with DW.
Money for a rainy day?
Mercury Properties did not respond to a question from DW about the purpose of acquiring assets in Germany and further plans to use real estate in Germany. “They seem to have bought it all as a stash for a rainy day,” says Hubert Schnurr, the mayor of Bul, where the Kulibayevs have two hotels, with disappointment.
Unlike the villas, which have invested millions, the Kazakhs have not invested a dime in the necessary modernization of hotels, complains the mayor. Although more than 20 million euros were paid for them, judging by the data of the company register on the authorized capital of the company Bühlerhöhe Castle Invest GmbH, the hotels simply stand idle with no prospects. The only guests in recent years were only up to a hundred Lithuanian builders who worked in the villas of Kazakhstanis. “I regularly receive offers from German investors to buy hotels, but the Kazakhs do not respond to my letters,” says the burgomaster.
Having luxurious estates in Germany, none of the members of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s family has ever visited them, according to DW interlocutors in Baden-Baden. Political scientist Dosym Satpayev is not surprised by this. Luxurious estates, in his opinion, are the same “alternate airfield” for the family of the ex-president in case of a change of power, like gold bars, shares and money in accounts in Western banks.
“The more different assets in different countries, the better, just in case. If a country does not develop, it can always end in a revolution. Therefore, the main task of these people is to connect to resources and, while there is access, pump out to the maximum and take them to safe places “, – the political scientist is sure. Satpaev notes that it may seem easier for wealthy Kazakhs to defend assets transferred to the rule of law in courts than in courts at home, if they have lost influence over them.