For devoted followers of The Sopranos and addicts of the Godfather films there is a real life drama being played out in recent weeks in Central Asia -- Kazakhstan to be exact.
This nation, formerly part of the Soviet Union, has ventured on to the international scene (this time without the questionable help of Borat) through the announcement of an arrest warrant (a.k.a., contract hit) for the once powerful son-in-law of its don, President Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev.
The big man has been running the outfit since 1990, first as the communist boss then as elected president. He just has had his parliament legislate that (surprise, surprise) he is eligible to keep the job for as long as he wishes to be elected. By the way, the next election is in 2012 and even the opposition admits they'll be unable to get more than 30% of the vote.
Kazakhstan is no small time operation. The Nazarbayev family and friends run a place that is sitting on immense oil and gas reserves, and major exploitable mineral deposits including strategically valuable uranium. Currently their tight little organization exports about one million bpd of oil, with an expectation of at least doubling that by 2015. Annual economic growth has been running close to 10%. Foreign investment is at a rate o $3 billion a year. As our old friends in Jersey would say, "Enough for everyone to wet their beaks."
Everything had been going great until the trusted underboss, the don's son-in-law, was implicated in the kidnapping of two top bankers who had defied his direction. Rakhat Aliyev, the son-in-law, was rushed off to Vienna -- a bit like exile to Miami in the old days -- as much for his own good as it was for the family. Nothing personal, just business.
Aliyev was supposed to sit in Vienna (without his wife) quietly serving out his penance as ambassador to Austria and the Organization for Security and Cooperation for Europe (OSCE) until he had learned his lesson. Not a bad gig under the circumstances, but in Aliyev's eyes still an embarrassing demotion. The wise guy could not keep his yap shut, bad mouthing the boss from long distance even while he was scarfing down those Viennese cream confections.
Aliyev has all the characteristics of one of the old Gambino caporegime. He previously had been a principal enforcer and head of the security services. He did not make many friends in that capacity. Aliyev had leveraged his familial position to become a powerful business mogul during the last 15 years. He did not take rebukes easily.
The timing is unclear, but it appears that Aliyev made some thoughtless remarks about running for the presidency in 2012 and replacing "the old man." Such comments were deemed extremely inappropriate for a man who had amassed a fortune from his advantageous marriage and had been protected by the don in the kidnapping debacle. Some could say he brought on himself what followed.
Whether it's in North Jersey or North Kazakhstan, you don't go around disrespecting the don. Certainly you don't say a word about a future when the boss will no longer be around. Aliyev was indicted for his alleged involvement in bank fraud. For good measure, the kidnapping charge of the two bankers was tossed in. It was time for Nazarbayev's eldest daughter, Aliyev's wife, to get into the act.
Dariga Nazarbayeva is quite an influential person in her own right. She led a major pro-government political party that has been merged with others to form Nur Otan , the political bloc that now controls the parliament. She swiftly moved to take over all her husband's investments through vigorous court actions, and then promptly divorced him. He was informed of this by fax in Vienna at about the same time that the local police had released him on bond awaiting extradition to Kazakhstan. We're still waiting.
THERE ARE ALWAYS A FEW side stories to any good Mafia tale, and this caper is no exception:
First there is the all powerful Vlad Putin, don of dons, who has his paisan, Nazarbayev, in a bit of a headlock when it comes to pipeline access for Kazhaki gas flowing out of the country to Europe. The K-crew would like to diversify their export routes through China, but for the immediate future they'll remain well linked with the Putin family.
Next is the strong desire for international status that Nazarbayev seeks through getting the chairmanship of the OSCE. In this the Kazakhi clan is backed by the entire Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the group of former Soviet states (a.k.a. The Twelve Families).
Lastly, is the fact that the United States sees considerable strategic value in maintaining good relations with Kazakhstan and its reigning Godfather as a bridge between Russia and China.
Now if the don would only take on Jacques Chirac as consigliere...