First Test for White House Kleptocracy Initiative – Have Oil – will Travel

With the imminent arrival of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of oil rich Kazakhstan to a red carpet lined White House and Bush family compound in Maine, Global Witness is deeply concerned that the much publicized White House Kleptocracy initiative not simply be thrown by the wayside in favour of short-term energy interests. This long overdue and vital initiative must make a strong stand to help clean up some of the world’s worst kleptocratic regimes, starting with Kazakhstan.

President Nazarbayev and other Kazakh officials should not be invited to the U.S. for two reasons. In an ongoing case of alleged corruption in Kazakhstan, American banker David Giffen has been charged by U.S. prosecutors with paying $78 million in bribes to Nazarbayev and his former Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbaev from 1995-2000. Furthermore, Kazakh officials openly admitted that a secret $1 billion Swiss bank account existed between 1996 and 2002 made up of national oil revenues. These two red flags should send clear signals to the Bush Administration that fighting kleptocracy should be on the agenda of U.S. policy towards Kazakhstan.

On August 10th, President Bush stated that the Administration’s objective was to “defeat high level corruption in all its forms and to deny corrupt officials access to the international financial system as a means of defrauding their people and hiding their ill gotten gains.” He went on to state that “The culture of corruption has undercut development and good governance and bred criminality and mistrust around the world. High level corruption by senior government officials, or kleptocracy, is a grave and corrosive abuse of power and represents the most invidious type of public corruption.”

Global Witness, nominated for a Nobel Peace prize for its work on conflict diamonds, applauds these strongly worded statements but believes they may be simply hollow rhetoric designed only for those who have no strategic energy security value to the U.S. if leaders like President Nazarbayev are not affected by the policy. Global Witness wonders whether the $78 million that President Nazarbayev is alleged by U.S. prosecutors of having received from oil companies through Mr. Giffen is “high level” enough for the U.S. government to take action on under its kleptocracy initiative.

“There appear to be two rules for kleptocratic rulers – if you have oil and gas reserves that Western countries want to get their hands on, you can pretty much do as you please. You only have to look at the recent visit by President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea – lauded as a “good friend” by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on April 12th, and the planned visit by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos – kleptocratic president of Angola - to see that this initiative might really be implemented in a very selective way,” said Alex Yearsley of Global Witness.

If this Presidential initiative is to truly work, as it must, then all branches of the U.S. administration and bureaucracy must ensure that those most responsible for enabling and facilitating high level corruption, particularly from the natural resource sector, are in the words of President Bush denied “access to our financial systems and safe haven in our countries.”

For media enquiries please contact:

Alex Yearsley: +44 (0)7773 812901
Sasha Lezhnev: +1 202-721-5634