By RFE RL
By Mark Krutov, Sergei Dobrynin, Andrei Soshnikov and Yury Barnyuk*
(RFE/RL) — When mass disorder broke out in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan earlier this month, many analysts attributed the unrest to conflicts between supporters of President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and those of his longtime predecessor, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbaev.
An investigation by RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, into the Russian assets of Toqaev’s family has revealed indications that the once-intertwined business interests of Kazakhstan’s current and former presidents have been unraveling.
A Mysterious Wife, A Hasty Divorce
According to the Kazakh presidential website, Toqaev is divorced with one son, Timur. When Toqaev was elevated to the post of acting president in 2019, Kazakh media noted that he was wearing a wedding band, but it disappeared within days. Around the same time, local media identified the acting president’s wife as Russian citizen Nadezhda Tokayeva. According to accessible records, Tokayeva was registered in Moscow in 2005 as a “private entrepreneur” whose main activity was leasing real estate.
The registration was liquidated in 2009, but, according to a search tool on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry, the passport number associated with Tokayeva is still active.
In 2020, it was reported that in 2011, Tokayeva was listed as the honorary president of the United Nations Women’s Guild, while Toqaev at the time was UN deputy secretary-general and head of the organization’s representation in Geneva.
Kazakh media have speculated that Toqaev was hastily divorced after becoming acting president because of his wife’s Russian citizenship. Toqaev’s son, Timur, who was born in 1985, apparently has never had Russian citizenship.
In December 2021, Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation published a report showing that the Russian authorities had removed the names of many powerful Russians from various property databases, replacing them with the words “Russian Federation.” That report noted that the unredacted records showed that both Nadezhda and Timur were registered as the owners of large Moscow apartments. In the redacted databases, the apartments are listed as owned by the “Russian Federation.”
The investigation by RFE/RL and Current Time uncovered that the “Russian Federation” label now disguises the ownership of several properties outside Moscow that were previously listed as owned by Nadezhda Tokayeva. One of them is a house in the prestigious settlement of Abramtsevo that was purchased in 2008 by the family of Moscow journalist Yevgeny Lavut and filmmaker Yevgenia Gindilisa. Lavut told RFE/RL that, during the sale, Tokayeva complained the house was difficult to heat and mentioned that she planned to move to Crimea.
A Surprisingly Successful Son
RFE/RL’s investigation also uncovered information about Toqaev’s son, Timur. According to a 2016 annual report of real-estate developer Mayak, Timur Toqaev was a member of its board of directors. The company is best-known as the developer of the Mayak luxury residential complex in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. The project raised the ire of locals when it was announced in 2014 because it was to be built on the site of a local, publicly accessible soccer stadium.
The Mayak annual report includes previously unreported information about the younger Toqaev, saying that he attended both College du Leman and Webster University in Switzerland and that he received an advanced political-science degree from the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
His 2009 dissertation for the Diplomatic Academy is titled The Republic Of Kazakhstan’s Strategy In Relations With The West: National Interests, Priorities, Directions. In 215 pages, it mentions “Nazarbaev” 112 times.
“Russia is Kazakhstan’s only ally,” the dissertation flatly declares.
According to the 2016 Mayak report, the company had 541 million rubles ($7 million) in assets. RFE/RL and Current Time were not able to find any more recent reports, and it is not clear if Timur Toqaev remains connected to the firm. However, the 2016 report does provide additional clues about Toqaev’s business connections, including his ties to figures frequently associated with Nazarbaev.
Two Kazakh Clans
Timur Toqaev is listed as a board member of the Kemel Toqaev Charitable Foundation, which is named after President Toqaev’s father. The SPARK-Interfax business database also lists Toqaev as a co-owner of two small companies involved in geological and technical analysis.
The same database lists the younger Toqaev as a co-owner of a firm called Salish, which was formerly called Abi Petroleum Kepital and which was recently dissolved. According to Kazakh media, Toqaev was listed as a co-owner when the company was created in 2002 and he was just 18 years old. Shortly after its creation, the firm won the right to develop the Gryadovoye oil field in the Atyrau region.
At the time, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev left his post as prime minister and became foreign minister. Another co-owner of Abi Petroleum Kepital was Mukhamed Izbastin, the son of Kazakh diplomat Temirtai Izbastin, who is the Kazakh president’s brother-in-law.
In 2005, Abi Petroleum Kepital ordered geological studies for Gryadovoye from a company called Kazakhstankaspiishelf, which was half-owned by Sat & Company. Sat & Company was founded by Kenes Rakishev, one of the most influential businessmen in Kazakhstan, who has been dubbed in the media as “Nazarbaev’s banker.”
Abi Petroleum Kepital reported a profit of $50 million in 2012, but two years later it was operating at a loss, and it folded in 2020.
Sat & Company, however, is linked to the Moscow development firm Mayak, which in 2016 listed Timur Toqaev as a board member. Mayak’s CEO is Makhmudzhon Ermatov, the co-owner and CEO of nearly a dozen companies that are all officially registered at the same address in Moscow. All of the companies have the word “Sat” in their names, and they share mostly the same shareholders. One of them, Sat Oil, is listed as a “partner” on the Mayak website. Media have reported these companies are directly or indirectly controlled by Rakishev, whose main business in Kazakhstan was Sat & Company until it was renamed Fincraft Resources in 2018.
Mayak’s majority owner is a Netherlands-registered firm called Dostyk Investments B.V., which is controlled by Kazakh oligarch Timur Kulibaev. Kulibaev is the husband of Nazarbaev’s daughter, Dinara, and during the Nazarbaev era was considered “the most influential businessman” in Kazakhstan.
In 2018, Scanner Project published a report showing Timur Toqaev as the owner of an apartment in a complex on Geneva’s Chemin Gilbert-Trolliet. Another apartment owner in the same building was Semyon Vinokurov, a brother-in-law of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The Kazakh publication Kz.expert estimated the value of Toqaev’s Geneva residence at $2 million in 2019.
Noting that Nazarbaev’s daughter, Dinara, owned a massive villa on the outskirts of the Swiss city, Kz.expert wrote: “This city…has become a ‘home’ for both the family of first President Nursultan Nazarbaev and for the family of second President” Toqaev.
Since the Mayak report in 2016, there has been no public news about Timur Toqaev’s Russian business interests. In 2019, it was reported that he had changed his last name to “Kemel,” perhaps in honor of his grandfather. Russian business databases do not mention “Timur Kemel” or “Timur Toqaev” after 2016.
Robert Coalson contributed to this report
- Mark Krutov is a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
- Sergei Dobrynin is a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
- Andrei Soshnikov is an editor for Current Time.
- Yury Barnyuk is a writer/producer for Current Time.