Self-styled pro-democracy campaigner Bergei Ryskaliyev fled to the UK in 2013 accused of stealing millions of dollars from his native Kazakhstan.
The former mayor of the Atyrau Region was sentenced to 17 years in absentia for embezzling 168 million dollars from infrastructure budgets, as well as heading a criminal gang.
Ryskaliyev insisted he was a victim of political persecution forced to live in London as an exile. In truth, the UK capital has long been a home away from home for Ryskaliyev and his family. Eleven years before being exiled, Ryskaliyev’s wife Gulmira had bought a luxury £1.25 million mansion in the countryside of Kent, just outside London.
The five-bedroom house complete with a sprawling garden is nestled in the quiet and well-heeled village of Langton Green and is now worth in excess of £3 million. On top of that, the Ryskaliyev family enjoy a pied-a-terre in Kensington, west London.
In exile in the west, Ryskaliyev founded an opposition group called Jana Qazaqstan which demanded "free and transparent" elections in Kazakhstan and embarked on an ambitious lobbying campaign in America.
According to documents filed with the US authorities, the main goal of the campaign was to place “Ryskaliyev in a position of being included in the Human Rights International report as prepared and published by The United States Department of State”.
The campaign enjoyed success with Congressman Duncan Hunter speaking on Ryskaliyev’s behalf in 2019 and demanding democratic reform in Kazakhstan.
The speech sparked controversy , however, after it emerged that Hunter’s words were nearly identical to text suggested by a Russian-linked lobbyist who is connected to the infamous Trump Tower meeting.
Ryskaliyev’s group Jana Qazaqstan had hired US based lobbyist Larry Wiles to make his case to Congress and enlist congressional members to advocate on his behalf.
A longstanding Republican consultant and a registered foreign agent, Wiles in turn recruited his business partner, former Soviet Officer Rinat Akhmetshin, to draft Hunter’s speech to submit to the Congressional Record.
Akhmetshin is one of the individuals who was present at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where members of the Trump campaign were told they would be offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Despite seeking to depict himself as an anti-corruption campaigner, Ryskaliyev has received opprobrium for allegedly playing a key role in Kazakh-government attempts to intimidate another anti-corruption campaigner into silence.
In 2021, Ryakliyev was accused of intimidating Barlyk Mendygaziyev, an opposition activist in Kazakhstan who has spearheaded international campaigns for Global Magnitsky Actions against the Nazarbayev family.
Mendygaziyev claimed that in December 2020, he met Ryskaliyev in London “three of four times” where Ryskaliyev delivered a message on behalf of Karim Massimov, then-head of the National Security Committee (NSC) and Nursultan Nazarbayev’s right-hand man.
Mendygaziyev claimed that Massimov threatened him and demanded he halt his campaign against Nazarbayev. Ryskaliyev reportedly threatened to imprison his family and ensure Mendygaziyev be extradited from the US where he has political asylum.
Ryskaliyev reportedly told Mendygaziyev that he paid “a lot of money” to fellow Kazakh exiles Akezhan Kazhegeldin and Serik Medetbekov to fund their campaigns.
Mendygaziyev claimed that at one of the meetings, Ryskaliyev urged him to join Kazhegeldin’s campaign. Mendygaziyev stressed that he refused to comply with Massimov’s terms and formed the conclusion that Ryskaliyev “finances quasi-opposition movements that in fact collaborate with the Kazakh regime”.