New mysterious details are emerging about the sale of the mansion that once belonged to the royal family of England. On paper, everything appeared to be a fairly transparent transaction: Sunninghill Park, the former family nest of Prince Andrew, was sold for £15 million to an offshore company. However, the new owner turned out to be a subject of Kazakhstan — a wealthy Central Asian state with abundant oil and gas resources, where things are usually more complex than they seem at first glance.
While Andrew and his wife, Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, lived in the estate, it was called South York—transformed from Southfork (the residence of the Texan Ewing oil dynasty in the TV series “Dallas”). During the investigation into the circumstances of this deal, it was revealed that some of its participants rival the power, splendor, and affability of characters from this soap opera.
In May, The Sunday Times reported that the foreign buyer overpaid £3 million compared to the catalog price of the estate, even though there were no other interested buyers, and the property had been unsold for five years.
Now it turns out that the Kazakh individual on whose behalf the deal for the purchase of Sunninghill Park was conducted may not be the true owner of the property. Within less than a year from the signing of the contract, the estate was completely neglected and left semi-abandoned with unlocked doors. At the time of the transaction last year, close relatives of the person who bought the house were under investigation on suspicion of money laundering.
No doubt exists that the true buyer of Sunninghill Park is personally acquainted with Andrew, who has both personal and business connections in Kazakhstan. The buyer has visited the country multiple times for business trips as a special envoy, dealing with foreign trade issues. Additionally, Andrew has visited Kazakhstan privately, attempting to keep a low profile on such occasions. During a recent visit in May, he purportedly spent the weekend engaging in goose hunting with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Prince Andrew’s spokesperson stated that the sale of Sunninghill Park is a private matter since state funds were not utilized for the transaction. However, as a public figure holding the position of Duke of York (last year, he received £436,000 from the public purse to cover expenses related to his duties), transparency in all his business dealings is expected for public scrutiny.
The Sunday Times uncovered that the buyer is the successful 29-year-old Kazakh businessman, Kenes Rakishev. An informed source revealed that Rakishev orchestrated the deal with the assistance of his father-in-law, the Akim (mayor) of Astana (the capital of Kazakhstan), Imangali Tasmagambetov. Andrew, familiar with both Rakishev and Tasmagambetov, declined to comment on the owner of his former home, a gift from the Queen on the occasion of his marriage to Ferguson.
Both Kazakhs claim not to be the ultimate owners of Sunninghill Park. Rakishev confirmed negotiating with Andrew about the purchase but refused to disclose the true “owner.” However, two more prominent figures in the Kazakh social scene, with whom Andrew allegedly has closer ties than with Rakishev and his father-in-law, are said to be involved in this infamous deal.
It is rumored that the 28-year-old Kazakh businesswoman, Gaukhar “Goga” Ashkenazi (pictured on the left), often seen with Andrew, has told her friends that she is the owner of Sunninghill Park. She purportedly also mentioned plans to demolish the building and replace it with something else.
A request for construction work has not been submitted yet, but over the past weekend, Ashkenazi’s spokesperson denied any involvement of her boss in the Sunninghill Park deal. Last year, Ashkenazi acquired a £27.5 million house in Holland Park, West London.
Another candidate for the role of Sunninghill Park owner is among the most powerful individuals in Kazakhstan. The 41-year-old billionaire Timur Kulibaev, an oil and gas tycoon and a frequent hunting companion of Andrew, who participates in hunts organized by Nazarbayev. If sources are to be believed, Kulibaev, who is married to Nazarbayev’s daughter Dinara, allegedly had a romantic involvement with Goga Ashkenazi. She claimed that Kulibaev is the father of her child born in December last year at the Portland Hospital in Central London.
Could it be that Kulibaev purchased Sunninghill Park? Perhaps it was a gift for the mistress who shares such a close friendship with Andrew that he introduced her to the Queen at last year’s Royal Ascot. Kulibaev’s involvement in the Sunninghill Park deal is carefully concealed. However, it is known that the Crown Estate, managing the Great Windsor Park (where Sunninghill Park is located), attempted to send a hefty water bill to a certain Olga Aristova, who works for Kulibaev in Kazakhstan.
Rakishev mentioned that Aristova serves as a manager for the billionaire. When contacted, she declined to comment. At the same time, a debt collection agency, used by E.ON, is demanding over £4,000 from Rakishev for electricity bills, also related to Sunninghill Park.
Rakishev, who calls Andrew his “friend,” firmly asserts that he has no financial connection to Sunninghill Park. When asked about the true owner, considering his involvement in the deal, Rakishev, whose conglomerate Sat&Co is reportedly partially owned by Kulibaev, responded, “If you need an answer to that question, it’s better to call Kulibaev.”
Kulibaev holds a much higher position in society than Rakishev. A Kazakh politician mentioned that Rakishev is “on errands” for Kulibaev. Although formally no longer affiliated with KazMunayGas (KMG), the state oil and gas company where he was the Vice President, Kulibaev, now the Chairman of KazEnergy (the industry’s main organization), has refused to answer questions. Despite no formal ties to KMG, Kulibaev still enjoys numerous connections in the oil industry. Undoubtedly, these connections allowed him to establish a personal acquaintance with the prince, whose official duties include facilitating contracts between British companies and foreign shareholder companies.
According to a Kazakh politician, in May, during one of his recent private visits to Kazakhstan, the prince met with representatives of KMG. The prince was also seen there in November; shortly after his official visit, he returned to the country for private matters.
On that occasion, Andrew was spotted at the “Soho” bar in Almaty. As rumors have it, he was once again in the company of KMG top managers, along with a brunette who was showing him attention. An eyewitness reported, “It seems Andrew was genuinely enjoying himself. He spent the entire evening with this vibrant dark-haired woman, who seemed to be Russian. She completely captivated his attention. I didn’t expect to see him there because ‘Soho’ at night can sometimes turn into a rather questionable place.”
Moreover, Kulibaev was involved in inviting VIPs (including, according to some reports, Prince Andrew) to regular hunting gatherings organized by Kazakhstan’s president. Participants in these events received all imaginable hospitality. Major General Alnur Musayev, former head of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan (the successor to the Soviet KGB), now living in exile in Austria, stated, “Once, Nazarbayev boasted that he shot two hundred geese. I had to call in helicopter pilots to herd the birds for shooting.”
All commercial dealings of Nazarbayev become the subject of keen scrutiny from unfavorable experts. He faces issues in the U.S.: the case of James Giffen, an American businessman accused of paying $78 million in bribes to Nazarbayev from oil companies for leveraging the connections of the Kazakh president, is currently under consideration.
Nazarbayev and other Kazakhs associated with individuals involved in the Sunninghill Park deal are simultaneously under investigation by the Liechtenstein Prosecutor’s Office for money laundering through the Walisa Foundation. Among the 10 individuals under “preliminary investigation” are Rakishev’s wife and Tasmagambetov’s daughter, Asel, Dinara Kulibaeva, and Tasmagambetov himself. The latter denies any involvement in the sale of the mansion that belonged to the prince.
According to communications between the Liechtenstein and American branches of Interpol, Tasmagambetov, Nazarbayev, and his daughter Dinara are suspected of money laundering, with Asel supposedly also having a “connection to the case.” Rakishev is not involved. Robert Wallner, a prosecutor in Liechtenstein, stated, “We have not officially charged them. The reason for us to deal with this case is the positions some of these people hold in their countries.”
Wallner mentioned that the investigation, initiated in 2002, was concluded this year. No charges have been filed. However, at the time of the sale of Sunninghill Park, the investigation had not been terminated. A representative of the prince stated that the sale of the mansion was a completely transparent transaction with no side agreements.
The three million pounds overpaid by the buyer will come in handy. Andrew’s only official source of income is an annuity of £249,000 from his mother. After leaving Sunninghill Park, he moved to the Royal Lodge, the former residence of the Queen Mother in Windsor. He borrowed money from the Queen for the building’s renovation (costing £7 million), on the condition that he would repay the debt from the proceeds of the sale of Sunninghill Park. Now, thanks to the Kazakhs, he can easily settle the amount owed.
Key characters in this story:
- Nursultan Nazarbayev – President of Kazakhstan.
- Timur Kulibaev – Billionaire, son-in-law of Nazarbayev, and husband of his daughter Dinara.
- Dinara Kulibaeva – Shares many business responsibilities with Timur.
- Imangali Tasmagambetov – Akim of Astana, an ally of Nazarbayev and Timur Kulibaev.
- Assel Rakisheva – Daughter of Tasmagambetov, wife of Kenes.
- Kenes Rakishev – Young business tycoon, close to Kulibaev.
- Goga Ashkenazi – Wealthy, beautiful socialite, allegedly with whom Kulibaev has an illegitimate child in London.
- Olga Aristova – A woman purportedly working for Kulibaev.