Aisultan Nazarbaev died less than two weeks before his 30th birthday.
A child of privilege, he was the grandson of Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbaev.
But his death in London on August 16, reportedly of cardiac arrest, becomes the latest chapter in the palace intrigue that increasingly surrounds the first family of Kazakhstan.
Aisultan was the younger son of the once-powerful Darigha Nazarbaeva — the former authoritarian president’s eldest daughter — and Rakhat Aliev, a doctor by training who used his relationship with the first family to advance his career and personal fortune.
Known in recent years to have had a drug problem, Aisultan had recently aired a lot of dirty laundry about Kazakh politics and his famous family. Though much of it seemed farfetched, some of his claims were plausible and surely a source of great discomfort to both officials and his family members.
Coupled with the controversial death of his father five years ago, some people are questioning Aisultan’s cause of death.
Married with two children, Aisultan said his drug problem began shortly after the back-to-back deaths of his grandfather and father in January-February 2015.
The death of his father was particularly cited as a turning point in Aisultan’s life.
Kazakh prosecutors claim Aisultan’s father had become so powerful that he planned to topple his long-serving father-in-law as president of Kazakhstan.
But Rakhat Aliev was sent out of the country in 2002 and made an ambassador in the Balkans as scandals around him accumulated at home. He returned to Kazakhstan three years later and was made deputy foreign minister.
Sent abroad again in 2007 after more turmoil at home, Darigha divorced him that year and he was stripped of all his state posts while his assets in Kazakhstan were seized. He was then convicted of several crimes in absentia — corruption, money laundering, torture, kidnapping, murder, and plotting to overthrow the government.
Kazakh authorities sought Aliev’s arrest but for seven years he was able to remain in Europe and hurl accusations at President Nazarbaev and his inner circle. Aliev also published a purported tell-all book about the country’s leader, making nearly the same allegations Kazakh officials made against him.
Austrian authorities finally detained Aliev in 2014 but on the eve of a court appearance to testify in his trial in February 2015, Aliev was found dead in his cell. He was officially found to have committed suicide though some investigations showed he had been killed by asphyxiation.
Aisultan was the second of three children of Darigha and Rakhat. After his father’s fall from grace, Aisultan attended Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2009-10, then returned to Kazakhstan, where he worked in the intelligence department at the country’s Defense Ministry in 2012. He was named the vice president of Kazakhstan’s soccer federation in 2017.
By that time, Aisultan had developed a narcotics problem. He wrote about it on his Facebook page in September 2017, saying he started using drugs after the suspicious death of his father and his grandfather, Mukhtar Aliev, who died one month earlier.
Aisultan first credited Nursultan Nazarbaev with helping him quit his drug habit, but it became obvious later that he had not ended his use and was having personal problems.
In mid-December 2018, a message was posted on Aisultan’s Facebook page thanking Russia’s prosecutor-general, Interior and Foreign ministries, and the Federal Security Service because “I am free again.”
By the end of January 2019, another Facebook message accused Kazakhstan’s migration service and Interior Ministry of making Aisultan “a person without a passport.” The post also read, “After getting out of…a private Russian prison, I returned home without my documents — everything was stolen and destroyed.”
The post added, “I have someone to turn to — I am the grandson of the president,” but also asked, “This is just hell, what’s going on in our government agencies?”
On June 3, 2019, Aisultan threatened to jump from the eighth-floor balcony of a London hotel. Two days later he broke into an apartment in central London, washed some of his laundry there, and tried to break into a neighboring apartment.
Aisultan attacked police after they arrived, severely biting one officer on the arm. He was tasered and finally subdued by police.
In October, a London court fined Aisultan, ordered him to pay for damage to the apartment he had broken into, perform community service, and undergo rehabilitation for chemical dependency.
But in January 2020, reportedly speaking from London’s Priory Hospital Hayes Grove, he rambled through an interview, claiming that Nursultan Nazarbaev was his real father, not his grandfather, that his mother wanted him dead, that when Nazarbaev resigned in March 2019 it was because Darigha had forced him to. He also said the Kazakh security service used “magic” to recruit people.
Posts still on Facebook under the name Aisultan Jesus Rakhat talk about state corruption in Kazakhstan and Russia that is costing the Kazakh people “billions of dollars.”
The posts also show the person purported to be Aisultan is convinced that God was calling upon him to convey messages to people and warn his grandfather about conspiracies against him. The last posts from July 16 and 17 were aimed at Vladimir Kim, the billionaire owner of the lucrative copper-mining company Kazakhmys, about whom Aisultan wrote “will start losing everything” and “[Kim’s] hell will begin here on Earth!”
Aisultan seemed to have lost his way in life years ago and to have deteriorated recently.
The targets of his rants on Facebook and in interviews are powerful people in Kazakhstan, including his mother, who were no doubt displeased by having such unfavorable attention drawn to them.
No matter what the official cause of death is, there are always going to be people who will question whether someone helped Aisultan end his life. Included among them are the Nazarbaev family’s fiercest enemies, like fugitive opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Others also took to social media to write that Aisultan was almost surely killed, as he had warned would happen to him.
Aisultan had become a controversial figure and even a threat to the Nazarbaev family image in recent years. And like his father, the ghost of Aisultan will long haunt the Nazarbaev family legacy.
RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service contributed to this report