Court orders Maltese lawyer to pay €300,000 to widow of Kazakh oligarch Rakhat Aliyev

Maltese court orders lawyer Pio Valletta to pay €300,000 to the widow of Kazakh oligarch Rakhat Aliyev

Lawyer Pio Valletta (left) served as lawyer to Rakhat Aliyev (right) and his wife when the couple lived in Malta. Aliyev died in an Austrian jail in 2015
Lawyer Pio Valletta (left) served as lawyer to Rakhat Aliyev (right) and his wife when the couple lived in Malta. Aliyev died in an Austrian jail in 2015

A court has awarded the widow of Kazakh oligarch Rakhat Aliyev, Elnara Shorazova, €300,000 in compensation from a Maltese lawyer who she had accused of misappropriating €900,000 from her.

The decision was handed down last Thursday in a civil case filed by Shorazova against lawyer Pio Valletta. Valletta had represented Aliyev as well as his widow, when the couple lived in Malta. Aliyev died in an Austrian jail cell in 2015 in what was ruled to be a suicide.

Mr Justice Robert Mangion, presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court, noted that Shorazova had claimed to have transferred €2.4m to Valletta in 2010, instructing him to deposit the amount in a bank account in the name of St Kitts and Nevis registered to a company called A&P Power Ltd. The company’s shares were originally registered in the name of Merrydown Limited, a company owned by Valletta, acting as nominee and trustee and naming Valletta as beneficiary. Valletta had been holding the shares in the name and for the benefit of Shorazova.

The next year, it was discovered that a month before Shorazova had been added as a co-signatory for the company’s bank account in 2011, Valletta - at the time the account’s sole signatory- had only deposited €2.2 million, from which he had subsequently withdrawn another €700,000 from the company’s bank account.

Valletta claimed that he was owed these funds as payment for his professional services, a claim which Shorazova denied.

Legal proceedings were subsequently filed to recover the €900,000 shortfall, and in 2012, the two parties reached an agreement under which Valletta undertook to repay the sum in instalments over the following six years. 

Under the agreement, Valletta would only need to pay €600,000 were he to make all the repayments in time, but if he were to miss a single payment deadline, he would be required to also pay the remaining €300,000.

Shorazova claimed that Valletta had only made his first payment ahead of the deadline.

On his part, Valletta accused Shorazova of having misrepresented the situation, arguing that his agreement was with Aliyev, and not his widow.

The lawyer insisted that any previous transfers of funds had been agreed with Aliyev, only for the oligarch to contest everything after the men’s friendship ended.

Valletta had also been the subject of criminal proceedings over the incident, being charged with misappropriation. He was acquitted in 2017 due to lack of evidence, after  Shorazova refused to come to Malta to testify, due to security risks.

But in the civil proceedings, the evidence presented by Shorazova – who was represented by lawyer Louis Cassar Pullicino since she, once more, chose not to come to Malta – was deemed sufficient by Judge Robert Mangion, who thus ordered Valletta to pay Shorazova €300,000.

The judge noted that from the exchange of correspondence between Valletta and Shorazova’s lawyer, the defendant was “continuously asking the plaintiff to be patient with him and accept that the payments were being made late. The reasons given by the defendant for the late payments were various, from medical reasons to delays in income that he had been expecting from the sale of property or the maturity of investments. But in none of his correspondence with Shorazova did the defendant mention that he was making the late payments with the intention of continuing to benefit from a clause under which the lawyer’s Kazakh creditor would renounce the right to remaining part of the €300,000 settlement sum.

Aliyev's exile in Malta

Aliyev had amassed a multi-million dollar fortune whilst holding various senior positions in the Kazakh government, on the strength of his marriage to Dariga Nazarbayeva, the eldest daughter of then-president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

But things unravelled in 2007, when a Kazakh court convicted Aliyev, in absentia, for the murder of two bankers at Nurbank in Austria, during his tenure as Kazakhstan’s ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna. He was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, his marriage to Nazarbayeva was dissolved and he was stripped of his diplomatic immunity.

READ MORE • Kazakh millionaire in murder inquiry ‘hosted’ in Malta despite police objections

Aliyev insisted that the case against him was politically motivated.

He fled to Malta from his Viennese home with a new wife, acquiring several properties, first at Fort Cambridge, then in the exclusive High Ridge area. 

Aliyev lived in self-imposed exile in Malta after 2010 before turning himself in to the Austrian authorities, who were carrying out their own investigation into the Nurbank double murder.

The former East German prime minister, Lothar de Maizière, demanded that Aliyev be prosecuted in Malta for the torture of two bodyguards. The Kazakhs, whom Aliyev claimed were spying on him in Malta, financed a legal effort to cripple him financially.

Aliyev lived in constant fear for his life, claiming in an interview in Malta that he was being persecuted by the Kazakhs. But critics said he had secured permanent residence here without the due scrutiny that was necessary.

In 2013, his wife Elnara Shorazova had filed a police report against lawyer Pio Valletta, accusing him of misappropriating €2.4 million during the relocation of the couple’s assets to Malta. Valletta was later acquitted. A year later, the Maltese courts approved a general freezing order on all of Aliyev’s assets on the island. German lawyers DSRB, acting on behalf of the Kazakh ministry of justice, filed its own report to the Maltese Attorney General, claiming Aliyev had shifted €100 million in alleged criminal gains during his time as deputy head of the Kazakh secret service, to Malta.

After failing to obtain Cypriot citizenship, Aliyev decided to hand himself over to Austrian prosecutors for his own safety, but died in 2015 in prison. An Austrian court ruled his death as suicide by hanging. His lawyer and family insist that he was murdered.

Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights awarded Shorazova €2,000 in compensation for the freezing order, ruling that Malta had deprived her of the enjoyment of her property through its unquestioning compliance with the Kazakh request.