Another Snag in the “Kazakhstan Triangle”: Did KazmunaiGas pay $2 Million for Cheney’s Visit to Astana?
A few months ago, I wrote about how Bill Clinton had been snagged in the infamous and wealthy web of the “Kazakhstan Triangle”– which I characterized as “that mysterious and dangerous territory of shady international business dealings covered by the area between Almaty, Astana, and Atyrau.” Well, it looks like it has snagged another victim – and it appears that hardly a more deserving one could be found – lobbyist and Bush/Cheney associate Stephen Payne. A London Sunday Times investigative report (complete with secret camera) caught Payne claiming that he could help an alleged representative of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev to set up meetings for Akayev with high-level US officials, including the Secretary of State and possibly the Vice President, in exchange for donations to the Bush library. The really interesting part of this story for avid readers of the Roberts Report is that the alleged Akayev representative involved in the Sunday Times' sting was none other than Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, who was run out of Kazakhstan last year while trying to develop a political party to compete in the parliamentary elections.
The video tape makes it difficult for Payne to make this story disappear (as happened in Clinton’s case), and Representative Waxman is already suggesting that a House Oversight and Government Relations Committee investigation is in order. While the story that most of Washington and the political bloggers have jumped on concerns Payne’s sale of face-time with Bush appointees for donations to the future Bush library (one would assume it may be difficult to raise money for that institution), Dosmukhamedov agreed to this stunt to prove a much more damning accusation.
According to Dosmukhamedov, while working for Timur Kulibayev in 2005, he negotiated with Payne to secure Dick Cheney’s infamous trip to Astana, which took place the following May. Furthermore, Dosmukhamedov claims that, during the course of negotiations, some $2 million were transferred from Kazmunaigas (which Kulibayev ran at the time) to Payne’s firm “Worldwide Strategic Partners." The implication, of course, is that the Kazakhs bought the Cheney trip for $2 Million, which might explain the Vice President’s hesitance to criticize the Kazakhstan government’s political backsliding and human rights record at his Astana press conference. While such accusations will be very difficult to substantiate, it would be interesting for some aspiring investigative reporter to take a look at the books of “Worldwide Strategic Partners” to see if such a transfer can be found.
If the Cheney trip was essentially purchased for a cool 2 million as Dosmukhamedov suggests, it illuminates some interesting things about both Kazakhstan and the US. For Kazakhstan, it would highlight the grey borders that exist between the state, corporations, and the ruling family in that country. For the US, it would demonstrate the equally blurred lines separating lobbyists, presidential administrations, and foreign policy in our country. Furthermore, while such a revelation would likely have little impact on the domestic politics of Kazakhstan (keep in mind that $2 Million is chump-change compared to the money allegedly funneled to oil companies through Giffen), it could could certainly create a stir in Washington, if not lead to the Bush administration's very own “Kazakhgate." Afterall, a Vice Presidential trip to Kazakhstan likely costs the American tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not close to $1 million). If it can be substantiated that we are paying such money only to line the pockets of the likes of Stephen Payne, it certainly should create a scandal.
While it looks like the “Kazakhstan Triangle” has caught another American in the act, we should also keep in mind that these things don’t only happen in Kazakhstan. A look at a confidential power point presentation of “Worldwide Strategic Partners” that was reprinted by the London’s Sunday Times online version shows that Mr. Payne has been active similarly in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Interestingly, he also claims to have helped to rehabilitate the international image of Uzbek oppositionist Mohammed Salih, bringing him from “alleged terrorist to US ally” (maybe paid for by Gulnora Karimova’s estranged husband Mansur Maqsudi, who has already faced the wrath of another shady DC-based firm discussed here recently, Global Options, in his custody battle turned PR-war with his ex-wife). Thanks to Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, however, Kazakhstan may become a particularly visible example of the international arts of K-Street wizardry. I guess we shouldn’t count Dosmukhamedov out of the Kazakhstan political game yet – he has certainly proven himself to be particularly resourceful and creative in using western media in new ways to shine a light on his homeland.
NOTE: Here are two more links that have been publicly released by Payne for those who want to look at this in more detail. First, there is a slightly abridged version of Payne's email correspondence with Dosmukhamedov, and second, there is Payne's official statement about the incident.