During European Commission press briefing, press asks whether EC is aware of MEPs looking into claims of a bribe to foreign minister to award residence permit to Kazakh billionaire Rakhat Aliyev.
Foreign minister and EU commissioner-designate Tonio Borg has lambasted an allegation raised during today's press briefing at the European Commission as a "gross calumny and lie", which claimed that MEPs were looking into bribery allegations concerning the minister.
The ominous signs of Tonio Borg's "severe" grilling at the hands of MEPs were given new life today when a senior editor of Euractiv.com raised a serious allegation on Borg's alleged relations with former Kazakh diplomat Rakhat Aliyev (pictured below), the billionaire exile being investigated on a double-murder by Austrian prosecutors.
The journalist at the European Commission's midday press briefing today asked the EC's spokesperson whether she was aware that "prominent MEPs" were investigating allegations concerning Tonio Borg and "the fact that he has allegedly received a €150,000 bribe from a gentleman from Kazakhstan, Rakhat Aliyev, for him to obtain a residence permit."
The allegation, a serious one to be made in the setting of the Commission's press corps, was news to the commission's spokesperson, who on her part said she was unable to comment on the query. "I have nothing to comment on this since what you're telling me is news."
On his part, Borg denounced the question as a "gross calumny and a lie", defending his record as a politician of integrity. "If this is the level we have gone down to in the run-up to my hearing before MEPs, then we are really scraping the barrel," Borg said, audibly irked at the allegation.
Borg's political run-in with Rakhat Aliyev is set to take some form of centre-stage during his interview by MEPs to become Commissioner for health and consumer policy, according to Germany's EU news service euractiv.de:
"Borg should expect questions on the personal role of the foreign minister with the generous provision of a residence permit for wealthy immigrants... Eurojust, the European Parliament and the European Commission have already dealt with the case of Rakhat Aliyev, who faces serious human rights violations and torture claims, and is suspected of the murder of two bankers and suspected in several European countries of money laundering."
A lawsuit instituted by Aliyev's wife Elnara Shorazova against her former lawyer, Pio Valletta was later followed with a counter-claim by Valletta against Shorazova and Aliyev - who in Malta went by the surname of Shoraz - demanding that he be paid €1.5 million for the services he rendered to the couple when they moved to Malta from Austria in 2010.
In August 2012, MaltaToday reported that a civil court case filed by the Aliyev family's former lawyer, Pio Valletta, revealed that he had obtained or at least endeavoured to secure 'permanent residence status' in 2010, under special tax exile rules for foreigners who purchase property over the value of €116,000.
Although the case is now being settled outside the court of laws, witnesses brought by Valletta included Borg himself, his spokesperson Melvyn Mangion, former minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici, and assistant police commissioner Andrew Seychell.
Valletta was initially sued by Elnara Shorazova over a €2.4 million banking transfer he was asked to organise from Austria to an account at Bank of Valletta. The Aliyevs contested Valletta's pretension to a €1.5 million fee. In his counter-claim, Valletta said Shorazova's Austrian lawyers had asked him to assist in procuring residence status for Aliyev "due to difficulties related to his political past".
As details revealed by Valletta confirm, obtaining permanent residence status for Aliyev was no mean feat: his application ran into trouble when police flagged the former diplomat on account of an Interpol alert that had been issued against Aliyev. In the list of services he rendered to the couple, Valletta demanded €150,000 because of the "difficulties" he encountered in procuring the permanent residence status, "due to the non-approval from the police authorities" on account of the Interpol alert.
Aliyev, formerly the son-in-law of Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev, lives in self-imposed exile in Malta after having been stripped of his position and immunity in Austria in 2007, when he was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison by a Kazakh court, on charges of kidnapping bankers Zholdas Temiraliev and Aybar Khasenov.
Aliyev denies the charges and claims he is a victim of the politically repressive state led by the oligarchs that form Nazarbayev's inner clan.
Ever since rejecting his extradition to Kazakhstan in 2007, Viennese prosecutors have carried out criminal investigations for money laundering and kidnapping. Austrian prosecutor Bettina Wallner questioned Aliyev at the Maltese courts for three days in April 2012 over the bankers' murder investigation. The Interpol alert has since then been repealed.