Germany's Koehler and Schroeder reject Kazakh lobby claims

Spiegel front cover Image copyright Spiegel

Germany's former political leaders grace the cover of this week's edition of the German news magazine Der Spiegel. But this isn't a tribute.

Rather they are portrayed in fictional police mug shots, accused of being bought off to whitewash the reputation of an oppressive Central Asian government.

Ex-President Horst Koehler and one-time Interior Minister Otto Schily both deny using their contacts to lobby for Kazakhstan's authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev in return for lucrative fees.

And Germany's former Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder - who has been criticised in the past for lobbying for Gazprom and then going on to work for the Russian energy company - is going further than that. As well as denying the allegations, he is taking legal action against Der Spiegel and trying to stop the magazine using the mug shot image on its website.

Political heavyweights

The magazine (in German) cites emails leaked from an Austrian law firm, employed by Kazakhstan to lobby in Europe.

The correspondence is said to incriminate more than a dozen political heavyweights, including ex-prime minsters and ex-presidents from Germany, Austria, Spain and Italy.

Image copyright AP
Image caption President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989

Former President Koehler is accused of agreeing verbally to be paid €300,000 (£215,000; $337,000) per year to push Kazakh interests in Berlin, before backing out when a better job with the UN came up.

Gerhard Schroeder is also alleged to have initially agreed to lobby for Kazakhstan, visited the capital Astana, and attended two consultation meetings, for which he is accused of receiving an unspecified amount, before breaking off contact.

Otto Schily, meanwhile, is accused of receiving money to lobby for the prosecution in Austria of Rakhat Aliyev, a former Kazakh official who turned against the Kazakh government.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rakhat Aliyev, seen in an undated photo, was a vocal critic of President Nazarbayev

Aliyev fled to Europe, after being accused of murder, and was later arrested by Austrian authorities. Earlier this year he was found dead in his cell, apparently after hanging himself.

Buy respectability

Whether Der Spiegel's allegations - some of which are vague and apparently based entirely on one set of emails - are true or not, there is no doubt that some oil-rich authoritarian governments throw large amounts of money at Western lobbyists, PR firms and fake think-tanks to polish their images in Europe.

A political system may be authoritarian. But no leader wants foreign investment scared off by a dubious reputation.

Kazakhstan, whose leader has been running the country since 1989 and where fair elections have never taken place, is not the only country prepared to buy respectability.

Uzbekistan masks human rights abuses with European lobby organisations, which describe themselves as charities to promote trade and the arts.

And Azerbaijan pays Western consultancies and spends record figures on glitzy European events, such as Eurovision and the current European Games, all the while imprisoning journalists and government critics.

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