Italy: Government crisis over Kazakhstan ‘kidnapping’

Interests of energy giant ENI over-ride democracy and party policies

At the end of May, an opposition oligarch’s wife and child were deported from Italy to Kazakhstan. This article gives the background to how an attempted cover-up and revelations about state collusion rocked the Italian government.

Shalabeyeva case suppressed

On the night of 28 and 29 May, about fifty agents of DIGOS (the Italian political police) entered a villa in Casal Palocco, near Rome. A few hours previously the Kazakhstan ambassador had indicated that this was the hiding place of a certain Mukhtar Ablyazov – a millionaire who grew rich through the process of privatisation in his country. He is a former Energy Minister, who then became an opponent of Nazarbayev.

Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, member of Berlusconi’s party PdL

The Kazakhstan ambassador depicted him as a dangerous international terrorist, probably defended by armed men and ready to shoot. But the agents found only his wife, Alma Shalabayeva, with her six year old daughter, her sister and brother-in-law. She was accused of possessing a false passport from the Central African Republic, with was later declared valid by a Rome court.

Two days later the woman and her daughter, who were also in possession of Kazakhstan passports, were expelled from Italy as illegal immigrants, because, without valid documents, they cannot voluntarily change states. They were put on an Austrian Airways aircraft hired by the Kazakhstan government on 31 May.

According to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, the police did not know that the woman was the wife of a Kazakhstan oppositionist. After a whole month, the newspaper ‘Il Fatto Quotidiano’ published news of the case, while, for some weeks, the rest of the press had said nothing or as little as possible.

Alma Shalabayeva, wife of exiled Kazakh billionaire Mukhtar Ablyazov, and her daughter

The news breaks

When the Financial Times published an article on Shalabayeva, Amnesty International wrote to the government, and even the Rome court, criticising the behaviour of the police. The case then became an international affair, forcing the government to respond.

The foreign minister, Emma Bonino, distanced herself from the interior minister, Angelino Alfano. The prime minister, Enrico Letta, who originally declared that he had “not read the news in the papers”, promised to read about it and clarify the situation. He finally revoked the expulsion order, but defended his minister, Alfano.

In summary, for a couple of weeks, newspapers and politicians said little or nothing, waiting for an official version of events. The official version finally arrived and that said that a mistake had been made, but the government had not been notified by the police officials, who denied it the very next minute.

The press, on the other hand, confirmed it and, together with some of the centre-left politicians, let it be understood that the expulsion had been a `personal favour’ from Berlusconi to Nazarbayev. The case suddenly arrived at the centre of Italian political debate and also of the pre-congress settling of accounts inside the Democratic Party (PD).

Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence and representative of the most liberal wing of the PD, is trying to exploit the impatience that has developed with the subservience of Letta and the old leadership in relation to Berlusconi, to make a bid for the leadership.

But Guglielmo Epifani, secretary of the PD and former leader of the CGIL [Trade Union Federation], together with the President of the Republic, immediately reminded him that Letta is not to be touched, because a government crisis would `cause serious damage’. All of this is happening while the entire Ligresti family – owners of one of the largest and longest-established financial, insurance and real estate groups – has been arrested for false accounting.

The state and the supreme interests of capitalism

The political balance-sheet is that Italy has a government (PD coalition with Berlusconi’s PDL) which is still standing only because it does not know which way to fall! In other words, the bourgeois have no alternative solution. They have managed to save their skins in a matter of international policy and now they are hurrying to deal with the real issues of economic policy:- to cancel or not the IMU (the household tax which Berlusconi promised to abolish, as a central plank of his electoral campaign), to raise or not the IVA (value added tax), to cancel or not the order for F35s (the fighter aircraft which cost €13 billion, but on which the Supreme Defence Council has said that parliament has no authority to decide).

In any case politics reveals itself as a scape-goat to be sacrificed, if necessary, in the interests of the major Italian industrial groups. The energy giant, ENI, and the engineering concern, Finmeccanica, are making serious money through deals with Nazarbayev. In 2009 Finmeccanica and other Italian firms signed an agreement for €1.5bn worth of purchases in the military, railway, helicopter and optical technology sectors, including a railway line which will cost about €230 per metre!

In the face of this, the aspirations of Renzi and the belly-ache of ‘left’ Nichi Vendola are destined to take second place. In 2009, President of the Italian Republic, Napolitano, called Kazakhstan `a model country radiating tolerance, moderation and peaceful coexistence’. Prodi, a former prime minister, with an irony probably helped along by the advisor’s salary paid to him by Nazarbayev (according to Der Spiegel), wished for `warm relations with Kazakhstan, so that Italy can be warm’.

The most intelligent thing that the secretary of the RC (Rifondazione Comunista), Ferrero, has managed to say in the recent period was that the decision of the PD not to support a vote of no confidence in Alfano is symbolic of the `moral stand’ of that party (which the RC continues to govern with, and to support, whenever possible). Once again we see the squalor of the parliament and of the left. After being silent about the massacre of oil-workers at Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, in 2011, they have now tried to ride the wave of indignation about what happened to Shalabeyeva, coming to the defence a corrupt millionaire (Ablyazov) in the name of democracy! It is by no means a good thing that a large part of the general public does not really understand the significance of this episode.

The Italian state, not this or that politician, has done the umpteenth favour to a dictator to safeguard the interests of national and, to some degree, international capitalism. But there is no trace of any of this in the political debate going on or in newspaper articles. This is despite the fact that, thanks to the noise raised by the affair, for the first time, news of union struggles in Kazakhstan has started to filter through.

For a year and a half, ControCorrente have been the only ones to give correct information, with their small means available, and to promote initiatives for international solidarity. The workers engaged in these struggles, beyond defending their jobs and rights, have demanded that the national oil industry be returned to the public and they demand control over it.

The ENI is the best example of a capitalist alternative to what the workers are demanding – a company with a public majority, but under the control of bribe-happy managers, corrupt politicians and the Mafia. All this at the expense of the workforce and of those who pay the price of this criminal activity when they fill up with petrol or pay their bills for gas.

In 2012 a court in Milan held to account the Kazakhstan branch of ENI for paying bribes of $20 million to the son-in-law of Nazarbayev, Timur Kulibayev, former president of the state oil company and of the sovereign wealth fund of Kazakhstan. ENI was defended by Paola Severino until he was made minister of justice in the Monti government . The same court sentenced ENI for bribes paid to Nigerian politicians ($182 million) and to Algerians (€197 million).

Regardless of this, when the massacre in Zhanaozen took place, the Italian press did not write a word about it, adhering to the general policy, and giving scanty information of any misdeeds of ENI world-wide.

On the other hand, ENI controls politicians and journalists through an extensive network of funding. For example, it finances the Vedrò (‘I will see’) Foundation of Enrico Letta (PD, Head of Government and grandson of the right arm of Berlusconi) and Angelino Alfano, (PDL, Berlusconi’s left arm), the two main political protagonists in the Shalabayeva case. Five other ministers of the Letta government and one banker and former minister of Monti’s government. It organises publicity campaigns costing millions of euros, which end up in newspapers and on television. In addition, a magazine called Oil, which has among its collaborators some of the most famous Italian journalists of all political persuasions.

A long history behind this affair

On 27 October 1962, the private jet of Enrico Mattei, chief and founder of ENI, the public energy company, crashed mysteriously. The authorities quickly filed the case away as an `accident’, but it is suspected that it was in fact sabotage.

In 2006 new analyses confirmed that an explosive device caused the accident. Eight years later, the journalist Mauro De Mauro, who was working on the screenplay for a film on Mattei, espousing the hypothesis of an assassination, disappeared in Palermo at the hands of the Mafia. A few days earlier he had collected the revelations of a leader of the Ente Minerario Siciliano [Sicilian Mineral Company] and was studying the tape, which subsequently disappeared, with the recording of the final public appearance of Mattei.

In 1975 the writer Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered. A youth was arrested, who immediately confessed, but his account was extremely contradictory. In 2005, after thirty years, he declared he had not killed the writer. Pasolini was working on ‘Petrolio’ – a novel-inquiry with a chapter called ’Lights turned on ENI’ which went missing after his death.

In 2010, Marcello Dell’Utri, Berlusconi’s ambassador to the Mafia, with interests in the oil sector, announced its rediscovery. This happened exactly at the point when the USA was following with concern relations between Berlusconi and Putin and the collaboration between ENI and Gazprom. In fact, Dell’Utri was never to publish the chapter and his announcement appears to have been more than anything a threat, in view of the fact that the USA could have been implicated in the death of Mattei.

In 1992 Mani Pulite [Clean Hands, an investigation into political corruption] uncovered the ‘Enimont megabribe’ – 150 billion lire – paid by Raul Gardini to the main Italian political parties to get out of the joint venture of ENI and Montedison (chemicals), after having tried to take control of them.

On 20 July 1993, Gabriele Cagliari, head of ENI, locked up in San Vittore prison, was found dead in the toilets – suffocated with a plastic bag tied with a shoe-lace. On the 23rd, Gardini himself, who was due to meet the magistrates the next day, was found in his own bed, shot in the head with his own pistol, abandoned at the other end of the bed. According to the police, both were cases of suicide.

The role of ENI in Italian history

This string of events shows the role played by ENI in Italy in the most delicate post-war phase, when at stake was the balance on which the assets of domestic power would be based and the corresponding international alliances. For the third industrial power in Europe, without its own energy resources, energy supply was a strategic theme and one of the determining factors of its international policy.

The `frontier’ location of Italy – between the spheres of influence of NATO, the then Soviet Union and the Middle East – has always been a determining factor of its foreign policy. Indeed we could say that one of the keys to interpreting the foreign policy of Italian governments is exactly the search for energy independence – that is to split, to some degree, the policy of gas and oil supplies (and more generally trade) from the ‘Atlantic loyalty’. Mattei, from the Christian Democratic left, but with very good relations with the Communist Party, was the founder of a policy of opening to the East and of independence from, if not competition with, the `seven sisters’ – the largest oil companies in the world (five American, one British and one Anglo-Dutch). And this might have been his downfall, if – as the Mafia informer Buscetta stated – his death was a favour delivered by Cosa Nostra to foreign friends.

The policy of the centre-left and centre-right governments in the last twenty years has been to develop Mattei’s strategy, adapting it to the new situation (the cold war is over and ENI is quoted on the Stock Exchange: 30% in state hands, 70% traded). Following the agreements made with Putin by Prodi and Berlusconi, Gazprom, as well as supplying Italy with gas, has entered the Italian distribution market, while ENI is carrying out hydrocarbon prospecting and extraction projects in Siberia.

Together, ENI and Gazprom are building the ’South Stream’ gas pipeline which, together with the ’North Stream’, will allow Russia to supply the EU with gas without passing through its ex-satellites (such as Ukraine and Byelorussia) and paying royalties to local governments. South Stream, which will connect the Russian and Kazakh fields to Italy – passing through the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Serbia, Rumania and Slovenia – is the alternative to Nabucco, the European project. This is to connect Turkey to Austria, crossing Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary and linking fields in Iran, Iraq, and Azerbaijan.

In 2007 (during the second Prodi government), after Putin had jailed his opponent, Khodorkovsky, ENEL (electrical energy) and ENI bought 51% of his oil company, Yukos. They resold it to Gazprom in 2009, when the storm unleashed by the arrest of Khodorkovsky had passed over. On the issue of oil, the centre-right and centre-left parties collaborated in full harmony from all points of view.

When Dell’Utri was an intermediary together with an ’ndrangheta [Calabrian Mafia] boss, for a deal to supply oil from the Venezualan state company to Gazprom, it was the Avelar-Renova group, owned by the Russian magnate Viktor Vesselberg, which gave him 400,000 euros. Avelar-Renova has among its managers Roberto De Santis, ex-leader of the Communist Youth Federation and famous for having sold his yacht, Ikarus, to his great friend Massimo D’Alema, one time leader of the Communist Party and now of the PD [Democratic Party]. If then the centre-left criticises Berlusconi for having exploited his links with Putin for his personal interests, this is more an argument about the share of the cake between government and opposition, than a political difference.

The interests of ENI in Kazakhstan

The presence of ENI in Kazakhstan since 1992 is doubly connected to the alliance with Gazprom. In December 2011, two days before the Zhanaozen massacre of oil-workers and their supporters on the twentieth anniversary of Kazakhstan independence (which the Italian left leader, Nichi Vendola, celebrated in Bari with Ambassador Almaz Kazhbayev), an agreement for the exploitation of the Karachaganak fields was signed. The Karachaganak Petrolem Operating Consortium was made up of ENI, British Gas, Lukoil (Russia) and Chevron (USA) and the Kazakhstan state company, KazMunaiGas, was included for the occasion. A series of `objections’ raised by the Kazakhstan government for violations of environmental standards were overcome.

In practice, Nazarbayev, to open the way definitively for the start of gas extraction, asked to enter the consortium to secure 10% of the profits. According to the statements of two former directors of ENI, the crude gas extracted at Karachaganak was sold to Gazprom for a figure between $16 and $40 per thousand cubic metres, taken beyond the Russian border, in the Orenburg field, where it was cleaned for about $200 and resold in Europe for a price approaching $600. ENI thus lost between three and four billion dollars.

The same sources, interviewed by journalists for the television programme ‘Report’, revealed that the limited company Zhaikmunai, with its office in the Isle of Man and holder of an exploration field which produces about half a million dollars a day, was owned by Kazakhstan politicians and Italians from the centre-right. ENI is also a member of the North Caspian Sea Psa consortium, along with the state company KazMunaiGas, Royal Dutch Shell (Anglo-Dutch), Total (France), Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips (USA) and Inpex (Japan). This consortium manages the offshore oil reserves of Kashagan, in the Caspian Sea. And finally, it controls the Ersai Caspian Contractor, which together with OzenMunai and KarazhabasMunai, was present at Zhanaozen – the site of the bloody repression of 16 December 2011.

The ugly face of capitalism in Italy has been partially uncovered in the Shalabeyeva affair. An independent press and persistent probing and exposure by workers’ organisations will reveal much more. As the bosses demand greater and greater sacrifices from working people, big revolts will develop against them; their meek and obedient media and political defenders will be pushed aside. The kidnapping and deportation of Shalabeyeva has only lifted the lid on a rotten, profit-driven system that traverses borders. It has added urgency to the task of building a political force that truly represents workers and aims at getting rid of capitalism altogether.

Special financial appeal to all readers of

Support building alternative socialist media provides a unique analysis and perspective of world events. also plays a crucial role in building the struggle for socialism across all continents. Capitalism has failed! Assist us to build the fight-back and prepare for the stormy period of class struggles ahead.
Please make a donation to help us reach more readers and to widen our socialist campaigning work across the world.

Donate via Paypal

Liked this article? We need your support to improve our work. Please become a Patron! and support our work
Become a patron at Patreon!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


August 2013