Malta's choice for Commission faces grilling over Kazakh connection

  

EXCLUSIVE: MEPs are slated to grill Tonio Borg, the replacement candidate for John Dalli as Malta's EU Commissioner in Brussels, about his ties to Rakhat Aliyev, a former Kazakh ambassador to Austria suspected of human rights abuses and involvement in the murder of two bankers. EurActiv.de reports.

Borg, the Maltese foreign minister, was nominated to replace Dalli as health and consumer protection commissioner after Dalli was forced to resign in a tobacco lobbying scandal (see background).

But the hearing into Borg's appointment, scheduled for 13 November in the European Parliament, could prove more difficult than expected, reports EurActiv.de.

Borg is expected to face questions from EU lawmakers over the role he played in granting Maltese residency permits to a wealthy Kazakh couple facing criminal allegations.

Melvyn Mangion, a spokesperson for Tonio Borg at the Maltese foreign ministry, did not respond to requests for comment.

The European Parliament, the European Commission, Eurojust, the EU judicial cooperation unit, and other EU judicial authorities have long been aware of legal cases involving Rakhat Aliyev.

Aliyev, a former Kazakh vice foreign minister and ex-ambassador to Austria, faces accusations of human rights abuses and torture and is suspected of involvement in the murder of two bankers. His name has also been cited in various money laundering affairs in several European countries.

Maltese residency permit

Aliyev, the erstwhile son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, initially obtained a foreigner’s passport in Austria in unclear circumstances practically overnight. He now holds a Maltese residency permit, albeit under a different name.

Berlin-based lawyers with knowledge of the investigation told EurActiv.de they were convinced that Borg took a personal interest in ensuring that Aliyev was granted the residency permit.

Aliyev, who has been known as Mr Shoraz since his marriage to a Kazakh national, also holds Austrian citizenship, and the couple are alleged to have paid hundreds of thousands of euros in exchange for residency permits.

The claims surfaced after a legal dispute involving Aliyev’s lawyer in Malta, Pio Valetta, and his wife regarding fees. Both sued each other. Shoraz's wife claimed €2.4 million from the lawyer, who in turn claimed €1.5 million from her in unpaid services.

Of particular interest to European judicial authorities is an invoice for more than €150,000 that Mr Valetta claimed was based on the "particular difficulties" he faced in arranging Mrs Aliyev's permit.

Valetta said the fee was justified "in view of the rejection of the application by the police authorities due to the ongoing Interpol manhunt for Mr Aliyev".

The Maltese attorney called Borg as a witness in the case, according to  Berlin lawyers, who spoke to EurActiv.de on condition of anonymity.

Ultimately, Aliyev received his residency permit, even though the Maltese government was aware of the case's politically explosive nature.

German MEP calls for clarification

Elmar Brok, a German Christian Democrat MEP, wrote to Borg requesting clarification on the matter.

The Aliyev affair "has already been occupying the European judicial authorities for a long time", Brok's letter said, noting that the former Kazakh ambassador faces accusations of "various criminal offences including money laundering, arms trafficking, drug trafficking, robbery and even murder".

Borg answered orally, rejecting the accusations. But one Berlin lawyer involved in the case said "he had a very good reason not to make any statements in writing."

In June, a delegation of the German-Maltese Parliamentary Friendship Group from the German Bundestag, led by Ernst-Reinhard Beck (CDU), visited Malta. Sources say that the delegation asked Borg questions about the Alyiev case.

The EU Commissioner Viviane Reding also inquired into the Alyiev case with the Maltese authorities, advising them to request support from Eurojust and Europol. Such support was not requested.

EurActiv.de has put several questions to the Maltese Foreign Ministry about the Aliyev case this year. None has been answered.

Commission reacts with caution

Asked to comment at a regular press briefing on Tuesday (6 November), European Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said she was not aware of any allegations against Borg.

Asked whether Commission President José Manuel Barroso might withdraw his support for Borg before the 13 November hearing, she said that the appointment procedure would follow as planned.

Timeline: 
  • 13 Nov. 2012: Hearing of Tonio Borg in the European Parliament.
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