Revelations: oligarch Kenes Rakishev, Legion of Honor and Alstom

Revelations: oligarch Kenes Rakishev, Legion of Honor and Alstom

Oligarchs from the former Soviet Union have long had a free hand in France. Thanks to exclusive documents, Le Média reveals our country’s troubled links with Kenes Rakishev, a Kazakhstani quasi-millardaire, follower of radical Islam and intimate of Chechen despot Ramzan Kadyrov. Until at least 2014, Rakishev was bribed by Alstom to promote a major project by this French multinational in Kazakhstan. The oligarch also wanted to offer himself a Legion of Honor, paid 200,000 euros to a French businessman close to the Kremlin, Fabien Baussart.

Freedom won’t be blooming any time soon in Kazakhstan. Last January, a popular uprising almost toppled a thirty-year-old dictatorship. But autocrat Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appealed to his powerful neighbor Russia, which sent in its soldiers and restored order, at the cost of hundreds of deaths. The golden opportunity quickly turned into a leaden blanket. Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic five times the size of France, will not experience a flower revolution like Georgia in 2003 or Kyrgyzstan in 2005. The international community was scarcely moved. France paid only lip service to its condemnation of the terrible repression. It has to be said that this Central Asian country is our leading supplier of uranium and our second largest supplier of crude oil. Barrels of oil easily buy the silence of our old democracies. Unlike their Russian counterparts, targeted for the invasion of Ukraine, Kazakhstan’s oligarchs need not fear the seizure of their yachts and villas on the Côte d’Azur. One of them, Kenes Rakishev, can even continue to wear his French “Legion of Honor”.

Kenes Rakishev is the son of Khamit Rakishev, who for 14 years was the head of the Kazakhstan Chamber of Commerce. This Oxford graduate (who did not respond to Media requests) is not only well-born, but also has the good fortune to be well married. He married the daughter of Imangali Tasmagambetov, prime minister at the turn of the millennium. Kenes Rakishev is one of those money men who make the headlines in Kazakhstan. The local media dubbed him the “wallet” of Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan from 1991 to 2019. His personal fortune was estimated in 2020 at $890 million. With this tidy sum, Rakishev bought several banks and a TV channel, while getting himself elected president of the local judo federation. According to a document revealed by Le Média, he also owns a house in Moscow ($25 million) and a modest apartment in Paris, valued at $10 million. On social networks, the forty-something is trying to buy himself an image as a young, dynamic start-up entrepreneur, far removed from the oligarch reputation that clings to him. His wife, Aselle Tasmagambetova, has set up a foundation to save the seals of the Caspian Sea.

But the darker side of Kenes Rakishev’s character cannot be overlooked. He is a long-standing friend of the Chechen tyrant Ramzan Kadyrov, with whom he poses in combat gear. The Chechen special forces surrounding them are currently besieging Kyiv in Ukraine. In another photo, published for the first time by Le Média, Rakishev is shown holding an assault rifle, his index finger raised to the sky like Daesh jihadists. It has to be said that Rakishev shares the same radical conception of Islam as Kadyrov. One of the Kazakhstani’s companies has also become the sponsor of Akhmat Grozny, the Chechen capital’s football club, nicknamed the “Football Club Ramzan Kadyrov”.

Rakishev’s strange friendships are not limited to the Caucasus. In 2007, he negotiated the purchase of a mansion from Prince Andrew of York, the son of the Queen of England, recently implicated in the Epstein affair. The mansion was acquired for £15 million, over £3 million more than its real value. Could Elizabeth II’s youngest son have been corrupted by the Kazakh regime? In any case, the affair caused quite a stir on the other side of the Channel, but Rakishev was able to keep his head above water. The oligarch also has a long arm in the USA, where he met Joe Biden, and in France.

A streetcar named “corruption”

In the late 2000s, Kazakhstan became an Eldorado for our companies. Nicolas Sarkozy signed major commercial contracts with Nazarbayev’s regime, worth a total of almost 2 billion euros. Some of these contracts will be the talk of journalists… but also of court clerks. French justice will be taking a close look at the sale of 45 helicopters to Kazakhstan, an order placed with Eurocopter that is said to have given rise to substantial kickbacks to Nicolas Sarkozy’s entourage. For its part, Alstom signed an agreement to build locomotives in Kazakh factories. The French energy and transport giant has been promised the construction of the tramway (or LRT, for “light rail transit”) for the new capital, which Nazarbayev intends to shape according to his megalomania. The foundation stone was laid with great fanfare in 2011. But the project stalled. The all-powerful president finds Alstom’s bill far too high, and is considering awarding the contract to another company. The 1.46 billion euros promised for this pharaonic project are likely to end up in other pockets.

In a confidential letter dated September 2, 2013, addressed to the mayor of Astana and revealed for the first time by Le Média, Alstom is alarmed: “The president of our company, Mr. Patrick Kron, received information from the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan that our proposal was too expensive and we were asked to reduce our price to fit the allocated budget. We reworked and submitted a counter-proposal of 1.315 billion euros (excluding taxes). This counter-proposal received no response. The French transport and energy giant then tried to put all the odds on its side. In “highly confidential” email exchanges that Le Média was able to consult, Christian Loubet, then Alstom’s business development director for the Caucasus and Central Asia, wrote on August 26, 2013 to a certain Mukhamedzhan Alzhanov, a businessman based in Russia: “I really need your help, we can’t win without your help. […] Today, the vice-mayor of Astana is working hand in hand with a Spanish company. Please, can you pass on some messages to your best friend in Kazakhstan?”

This best friend is none other than Kenes Rakishev, whom Christian Loubet describes on the phone as “very dangerous”. And yet he’s the man Alstom needs to turn around a situation that’s well and truly out of hand. Rakishev not only has the ear of President Nazarbayev, he is also the son-in-law of the then mayor of Astana, Imangali Tasmagambetov. The oligarch also sits on the board of Kazakhstan Engineering, a state-owned company specializing in several engineering sectors (hydrocarbons, modernization of military equipment, etc.) and in the rail industry, which is of particular interest to Alstom. The French group maintains close ties with Rakishev. In December 2010, it even paid him as a consultant. Although Alstom denies “having any knowledge of a consultancy contract involving Kenes Rakishev”, Christian Loubet finally admits that this consultancy did exist, “not for the Astana tramway, but because Kenes Rakishev was working on the Almaty metro (editor’s note: the economic capital). We visited what he and Hyundaï had done in Almaty. I had to see him, and at the end we asked him what advice he could give us for our Astana project, but we realized that he was useless, that he didn’t know anything technically, so we dropped him”. Alstom would nevertheless continue to rely on Kenes Rakishev’s contacts for several years to come. In 2014, when Astana’s tramway project was in danger of being abandoned in favor of a bus network, the French group even shifted up a gear with the oligarch.

On March 16, 2014, Christian Loubet made a surprising proposal to Rakishev, who, let’s not forget, holds a position within a Kazakhstani company. He offered to set up a partnership between Alstom, KTZ (the local SNCF) and one of Rakishev’s companies, to install signalling systems on the local railroad. The contract is valued at between 60 and 70 million euros, according to a confidential document obtained by Le Média. This isn’t the first time Alstom has tried to curry favor with Rakishev, and his help with the Astana tramway. In 2012, Christian Loubet had already proposed that the oligarch invest in copper exports to Portugal. He would later put him in touch with the French group Vinci to build parking lots in Astana. “It’s normal for French companies abroad to help each other,” says Christian Loubet, who assures us that he has always acted in consultation with Alstom’s general management.

Despite all their efforts, the French group never won the tramway contract. It has to be said that in October 2014, Kenes Rakishev’s father-in-law stepped down as mayor of Astana. “We had been negotiating for two years. The day Patrick Kron (editor’s note: the CEO of Alstom) came to sign the contract, the minister sent us someone at seven in the morning to tell us that Kazakhstan was no longer signing. We were sorely kicked off the project. That’s why I lost my job at Alstom,” says Christian Loubet. The new mayor of Astana convinced Nazarbayev to entrust the tramway to a Chinese consortium, but without any further success. The white elephant was abandoned. The disaster was both economic and moral, with embezzlement estimated at several hundred million dollars. Alstom was not spared the scandal. The company once again finds itself embroiled in a case of bribery of a foreign public official. Already, in April 2013, an Alstom executive was arrested in the United States, having been charged by the FBI with bribery in Indonesia. This executive, Frédéric Pierucci, will be used as a hostage in General Electric’s (GE) merciless war against Alstom. Alstom’s energy division was eventually acquired by GE. At the end of 2014, the turbines powering our nuclear power plants and submarines came under U.S. control, without the then Minister of the Economy, a certain Emmanuel Macron, lifting a finger.

A very expensive “Legion of Honor”

But Kenes Rakishev’s story with France doesn’t end there. It was December 30, 2013, and the oligarch received a curious e-mail, to say the least: “Financial side: 200,000 euros, half to start the operation, the other half on receipt of the official letter. Duration of the operation: 3 months from the date of the first payment”. To which Rakishev replies, “That’s fine by me”. This time, the multimillionaire is not looking to invest in some obscure joint venture with one of our industrial flagships. He doesn’t want commissions; he wants something more ego-satisfying: decoration. A French businessman by the name of Fabien Baussart has offered to find him a home-grown Legion of Honor. Contacted by Le Média, Baussart quickly cut short our questions, promising to have us called by a London law firm and threatening to take us to court in the UK. It has to be said that the businessman has a sulphurous reputation. In 2006, he founded an obscure think-tank, the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs (CPFA). Over the years, this think-tank has made a name for itself with proposals that are, to say the least, disruptive: Baussart nominated Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016; he awarded a prize to Ramzan Kadyrov for his “fight against terrorism”; and he was behind a plan for peace in Syria… supported by the Kremlin and the great Kazakh democrat Nazarbayev. Baussart is well known in Moscow, where he is received by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but also on the other side of the Atlantic. In 2016, at the height of the race for the White House, he brought Donald Trump’s son to Paris, giving credence to the theory that Putin’s networks were supporting Trump’s campaign.

Fabien Baussart is a frequent visitor to the oligarchs of the former Soviet Union. Not only does he enjoy parallel diplomacy in the service of the Kremlin, he also likes to render small services to the big boys. Small favors that obviously don’t come without a price. In fact, Kenes Rakishev will pay the first instalment of the 200,000 euros agreed for Baussart to win him a French Legion of Honor. On January 7, 2014, a transfer of 100,000 euros was issued to a company registered in the Seychelles, Atargatis International Holding Ltd, ostensibly owned by Baussart. Less than a month later, however, Kenes Rakishev is already losing patience. He wants his Legion of Honor without further delay. A close Russian-speaking friend of Fabien Baussart, who acts as an intermediary and sometimes translator, complained to the oligarch in an e-mail dated January 24: “Sorry, but your assistant is behaving strangely. He is pursuing Fabien, demanding immediate results. This is unacceptable.” Finally, it was after six months of waiting that, on July 17, 2014, Fabien Baussart was able to write to Kenes Rakishev: “I received your decoration yesterday.” The email is accompanied by a rather blurry photo of what appears to be a Legion of Honor medal still in his box. “To the best of our knowledge, Mr. Rakishev has never received a Legion of Honor,” Fabien Baussart initially denied, before referring us to his lawyers when we confronted him with his exchanges with Kenes Rakishev. Contacted to find out whether this decoration is indeed genuine, the Grand Chancellery of the Legion of Honor dismissed the question: “As the attribution of the Legion of Honor to foreigners is not published in the Official Journal of the French Republic, we are unable to confirm or deny that Mr. Rakishev has been awarded it”.

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Photo of Kenes Rakiishev’s Legion of Honor (?) sent by Fabien Baussart to Kenes Rakiishev in July 2014.

True or false, the Legion of Honor awarded to Rakishev opened other doors for Fabien Baussart. In the summer of 2014, he landed a lobbying contract for the Kazakhstani bank BTA, whose new chairman of the board was none other than… Kenes Rakishev. Fabien Baussart fulfills his part of the contract, at least on the surface. He tells the oligarch that he is arranging meetings with the then Minister of the Economy Arnaud Montebourg and his chief of staff Boris Vallaud (contacted by Le Média, neither has any recollection of meeting Baussart). The businessman also boasts of having “the support and green light” of the then Secretary General of the Elysée Palace, Jean-Pierre Jouyet.

While Baussart’s lobbying may sometimes seem imaginary, his remuneration by Kenes Rakishev is very real. 380,000 euros were thus paid into the account of a Seychelles-based company, Fridhem Ltd. In a July 25, 2014 e-mail to the oligarch, Fabien Baussart justified this tidy sum: “I need to pay certain people”. Quite a program.

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After the Legion of Honor episode, Fabien Baussart recycles as a lobbyist for a Kazakh bank headed by Kenes Rakishev

This article is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license, which means that you are free to copy, modify, distribute and use the material for any purpose, even commercial, provided attribution is given.

1 Comment

  • after reading this article i think Rakishev is just a dirty jihadist lmao, why is he so vile?

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