Giffen Mounts His Defense

by Nathan Hamm on 3/7/2005

James Giffen, the American deal-maker on trial for money laundering, tax evasion, mail and wire fraud, and, last but not least, making $78 million in bribe payments to Kazakhstan’s president, is mounting his defense.

But they [his lawyers] say the United States knew all about his activities, because he was also spying for the CIA, State Department and White House, who sent him on “missions” and got back better intelligence on Kazakhstan than from any other source.

Giffen — who counts among his pals President Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev — was merely acting as an agent of the Kazakh government when he arranged for the payoffs and therefore can’t be guilty of bribing a foreign government, the lawyers say.

His supporters back those claims, adding that he heroically helped persuade Kazakhstan to give up its massive nuclear arsenal, stopped the country from selling arms to Iran and North Korea and got its help in the U.S. war on terrorism — all while opening its vast oil reserves to the West.

“He’s passionately patriotic — he’d die for his country,” said Mark Siegel, a friend and political consultant who worked in Kazakhstan and served as executive director of the Democratic National Committee in the 1970s.

Robert Baer, author of Sleeping With The Devil and See No Evil, disagrees:

They cast Giffen as a sleazy operator whose real goal was to enrich himself and party like a frat boy, playing bigshot overseas with Central Asian beauties a third his age and downing Scotch with Nazarbayev and other senior Kazakh officials until late into the night.

“He’s a slick talker — and he was scamming the U.S. government,” said Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer who reviewed reports on Giffen’s information that came to the agency.

According to Baer, Giffen — described by many as brash, shrewd and garrulous — exaggerated his importance as a cover while engaging in shady practices and forging deals that netted him as much as $200 million, according to another source’s estimate.

Baer noted that Giffen angered the agency in the mid-1990s when Kazakhstan arranged an oil swap with Iran that went against U.S. sanctions, even after Giffen was personally warned by the National Security Council that such a deal would be illegal. Still, he said, “Who cares about oil swaps with Iran if the guy was giving useful information like on loose nukes, relations with Russia or [possible] Iranian purchases of Kazakh nuclear equipment?”

“But he never provided solid evidence that would have caught Kazakh arms dealers doing this — and that’s crucial. There’s certainly nothing he did to overcome oil trading with Iran.”

There’s some more pretty damning information in the Post’s story.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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