Past event

Kazakhstan's Political Transition Goes Global The Nazarbayevs, Transnational Kleptocracy and Exile Politics

In the wake of January's massive demonstrations in Kazakhstan, which left more than 225 dead and prompted a Russian-led CSTO intervention, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has embarked on a public campaign to curb the influence and cronyism of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, his family and close political allies.

The domestic signs of this “de-Nazarbyaefication” campaign are unmistakable but, just as important, Tokayev has tasked his government with reclaiming illicit assets overseas, however, any overseas campaign will face enormous legal, political and logistical challenges.

Much of the vast transnational financial empire of the former ruling family remains hidden, as they and their enablers have been stashing their fortunes overseas for decades in preparation for just such a global asset hunt. The upcoming battle for these offshore holdings not only complicates the political transition in Kazakhstan, but will draw in western lawyers, accountants and reputation management firms, while challenging western governments to implement their global anti-corruption commitments and new extraterritorial tools designed to combat kleptocracy.

This lecture will place the challenge of the current Kazakh government and international community in a comparative and historical perspective – highlighting lessons from other anti-kleptocracy campaigns to return stolen assets in neighbouring countries – and outline the global dimensions of Kazakhstan's coming “global political transition”.

Alexander Cooley is the Claire Tow Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University and Academy Adjunct Faculty member at Chatham House. From 2015 to 2021 he served as Director of Columbia University's Harriman Institute for the Study of Russia, Eurasia, and Eastern Europe. Professor Cooley serves on international advisory boards and has testified about grand corruption and transnational repression in Central Asia for the US Congress and Helsinki Commission and is a co-author of the recent Chatham House report The UK's Kleptocracy Problem (December 2021).

Professor Cooley's research examines how external actors – including emerging powers, international organisations, multinational companies, NGOs and western enablers of grand corruption – have influenced the development, governance and sovereignty of the former Soviet states, with a focus on Central Asia and the Caucasus.

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