Corruption Case Begins Against Kazakh Couple That Allegedly Laundered Money Through Trump Tower

Security members stand outside the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue on January 8 in New York. A Kazakh couple has been accused of laundering money through a Trump hotel in New York. Bryan Smith/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, a court in Kazakhstan launched preliminary hearings of a corruption case against the former mayor of the Kazakh city of Almaty, Viktor Khrapunov, and his wife Leila Khrapunova, a couple with deep ties to the Trump Organization.

The former mayor and his wife have been accused of a wide array of crimes, including money laundering embezzlement, abuse of office, fraud and the creation of an organized crime group. They are currently living in Switzerland, but are being tried in absentia. The couple claims that the charges against them are politically motivated.

Reports and court documents have demonstrated that the couple has deep ties to Trump associates, including Trump's current lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Trump adviser Felix Sater. They have also been accused of using purchases in a Manhattan Trump tower to launder stolen money.

An investigation published last year by McClatchy, for example, showed that the international real estate and investment firm Bayrock Group, which has partnered with the Trump Organization on multiple projects, was previously in business with the couple.

Bayrock Group was previously run by Sater, a Russian-born former Trump adviser who claims to have led a double life as a spy for the CIA. Sater also attempted to help Trump land a deal to build a Trump tower in Moscow, a project that was never successfully launched. The Khrapunovs began working with Sater and Bayrock at the same time the company was working on a Trump organization project in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. The couple purchased and quickly resold three condos in the Trump SoHo hotel in 2013. Investigators claim that the couple had used the purchases to launder money stolen from the Kazakh government.

Sater and the couple have worked together on numerous projects, according to McClatchy, some of which have been entangled in lawsuits. Kazakh investigators have requested information about Bayrock from the U.S. as part of their investigation into the couple.

The couple also enlisted the legal advice of Giuliani's former law firm to set up an energy company in the Netherlands in 2007. The company was called KazBay B.V., and was partially owned by Bayrock. Giuliani's former law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, opened an office in Kazakhstan in 2007, the same year the pair moved to Switzerland. The law firm was allegedly used to raise funds for Guliani's 2008 run for president.

The couple's family is involved in several legal battles around the globe, including the U.S. The couple's son Ilyas Khrapunov is wanted in Ukraine for allegedly orchestrating a hack of the computer systems of a law firm representing the Kazakh bank BTA Bank. The bank's former chairman, Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is also Ilyas Khrapunov's father-in-law, has been accused by his former employer of embezzling billions of dollars of assets.

Court documents allege that Ablyazov enlisted the help of his son-in-law to hide the money he purportedly stole from BTA Bank, and that the money was subsequently laundered through Trump towers, in addition to other U.S. properties. It is unclear if Trump or his associates knew about the origins of the funds when the purchases of the Trump tower condo were made.

This wouldn't have been the first time, however, that BTA Bank funds were directed toward Trump-affiliated projects. In 2005, the bank set up a fund to assist development projects in the country of Georgia, including a planned Trump hotel that was never built.