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Nurzhan Subkhanberdin: The most controversial oligarch you’ve never heard of

Nurzhan Subkhanberdin is one of Kazakhstan’s richest oligarchs with a fortune estimated in the billions of dollars. But Subkhanberdin has made his fortune in near-total obscurity.

The billionaire is best known for founding Kazakhstan’s largest bank, Kazakommerstbank. He has also invested in oil, gas and telecoms. Subkhanberdin certainly has all the trappings of the vast wealth typical of oligarchs.

He owns a luxury 1km-long estate nestled on a private island along the French Riviera. Valued at nearly $50 million and previously owned by the 9th Duke of Marlborough, the 30,000 square-metre property is regarded as the jewel in the crown of the Cote d’Azur.

On his website, Subkhanberdin claims he is “recognised as a solid symbol of self-made success and entrepreneurship for all generations of businessmen in Kazakhstan”. Despite all this, Subkhanberdin’s stealthy rise through the business world has gone largely unnoticed.

In addition to the French estate, Subkhanberdin owns a palatial 11-bedroom mansion in central London valued at more than $25 million.

The Kazakh tycoon owns an apartment in Monaco worth nearly $20 million and a $4 million yacht called Mercury. There is also a 16-seater private jet worth around $24 million. Yet despite his success, the businessman has recently hit turbulence.

In 2017, Subkhanberdin was accused of illegally extracting millions of dollars from Kazkommerstbank and ploughing the cash into his own private investments.

The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed that Subkhanberdin and a cast of other ultra-wealthy Kazakh businessmen illicitly made millions through an investment fund called Meridian Capital.

In 2010, it was given $1.4 billion by the Kazakh government and a further $7.5 billion of taxpayers’ money in 2016.

Meridian and Subkhanberdin have met with controversy again when it emerged that the company had invested in a huge property development in New York.

Under the headline “How shady Kazakh cash is building NYC’s poshest pads”, the New York Post reported that “dubious Kazakh cash” from Meridian was funding the construction of 127 “glittering residences” on the Upper West Side and Midtown.

According to reports, US real estate development firm Extell Development, run by American businessman Gary Barnett, has filed plans for the development.

Subkhanberdin proved again his ability to avoid notoriety in January 2022 when British parliamentarian Margaret Hodge called for Kazakhstan’s oligarchs to be sanctioned by the UK government.

Despite his role in the Meridian scheme, Subkhanberdin went completely unmentioned. It was a surprising omission given the serious allegations levelled at the oligarch, especially as his business partner Mynbayev was named and shamed by Hodge.

Subkhanberdin has become a master of flying below the radar. He has earned his reputation as the most controversial oligarch you’ve probably never heard of.

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