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Kazakhgate scandal ends with a whimper after 25 Years

Thursday, 22 October 2020
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Kazakh businessman Patokh Chodiev was cleared of any wrongdoing by Belgian courts last week. Credit: Belga

For nearly a quarter of a century Patokh Chodiev, a billionaire businessman, has been under scrutiny in Belgium over allegations that have obsessed the media but have ultimately led nowhere.

The so-called “Kazakhgate” scandal has cost millions of euros to investigate and has achieved little apart from trashing the reputations of politicians, businessmen and prosecutors.

Chodiev, who owns mining assets in Kazakhstan, has been at the centre of this alleged scandal and yet multiple investigations and a Parliamentary inquiry have failed to find him guilty of anything.

The billionaire is so incensed by his treatment in Belgium that he has launched legal proceedings against two members of parliament and the Belgium government over their handling of the affair.

The final act of the Kazakhgate drama played out last week when the Court of Cessation dropped a bribery case against Jean-François Godbille, the former Brussels attorney general, and Princess Léa.

The case against Godbille and Princess Léa was brought after it emerged that €25,000 was donated to the Prince & Princess Alexandre of Belgium Fund, a charity run by Princess Léa, in 2012.

The princess was told that the money was coming from the Order of Malta and it was to be forwarded to Godbille’s scouting charity Amitié et Fraternité Scoute (AFS). It later emerged that the money actually came from Catherine Degoul, a lawyer employed by Chodiev, and the payment was arranged by Armand De Decker, a Belgian senator.

It was claimed that the payment may have been a bribe to Godbille for helping Chodiev to settle a long-running Belgian investigation into some property deals. However, this argument fell apart when it was proved that Godbille had no involvement in the Chodiev case.

The investigation into Godbille and Princess Léa was thrown out for lack of evidence but the damage had already been done. A distinguished prosecutor and a member of the royal family have had their reputations tarnished by allegations that amounted to nothing.

This has been a common thread throughout the Kazakhgate affair with allegations promoted by an excited media only for the claims to fall apart under scrutiny.

Antonin Levy, a lawyer for Patokh Chodiev, said: “We are glad that the last Belgian case has finally ended due to lack of evidence. Mr Chodiev’s reputation has been damaged by repeated attacks that have been based on inaccurate or falsified information. Every time these allegations have been investigated, Mr Chodiev has been vindicated.”

The Kazakhgate affair started in the mid 1990s when Chodiev moved to Belgium and acquired some properties near Waterloo. There were allegations of impropriety in the purchases and he and his business partners were put under investigation.

The case dragged on for so long that prosecutors felt they could no longer proceed and agreed to settle the case in 2011. Chodiev and his partners paid about €21 million to close the case with no admission of guilt.

It was subsequently claimed that the plea bargain law used to settle the Chodiev case had been introduced just months before as a result of lobbying by Chodiev’s legal team and the French government.

A Parliamentary Inquiry into these allegations found that the introduction of the plea bargain law had not been influenced by lobbying or foreign meddling and the law was not introduced for Chodiev’s benefit. It found that the law had been properly applied to Chodiev’s case and concluded that the billionaire had done nothing wrong.

The inquiry, which lasted for 15 months and heard from 177 witnesses, cost taxpayers millions of euros and more money has been spent on other investigations, including the case against Godbille and Princess Léa.

The media has indulged in the political intrigue and faked documents that have underpinned this affair but the failure to expose any serious wrongdoing calls into question why so many people have been dragged into this non-existent scandal.