Newly Declassified Documents in Giffen Case

by Nathan Hamm on 12/17/2005 · 2 comments

The Washington Times reports on newly declassified court documents in the trial of James Giffen for directing about $80 million in bribes from oil companies to Nursultan Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials. [Background in the archives.]

According to the newly declassified court documents, Mr. Giffen has presented 41 documents that his lawyers say prove he cannot be prosecuted because he was telling U.S. intelligence officials about the bribes all along, and the officials never told him to stop.

“He disclosed to the officials the very facts that are at the core of the indictment,” his lawyer, William Schwartz, wrote in an affidavit to the court, so he is entitled to what is known as a “public authority defense.”

The judge in the case has already said that if Giffen can prove the government encouraged his actions, he can assert the public authority defense.

By itself, that’s not necessarily news to those following the case. What is a bit different about it is, that at least the way this story reports it, Giffen does not appear to be being portrayed as an agent of the US government on “missions” for the CIA, State Department, and White House. Though I suppose the above could still include Giffen believing he was an agent of the government.

The prosecutor in the case is having none of this though.

Nonsense, replied the prosecutor, Peter Neiman, in another motion.
Mr. Giffen, he said, was like “a bank robber who seeks a public authority defense based on a claim that the government had authorized him to open an account at the bank he robbed.”

He said the documents prove only that Mr. Giffen told the intelligence officials that Mr. Nazarbayev was keeping double books in order to fund reforms and spend the money “as he saw fit” and do not prove that Mr. Giffen, who is known to be close to Mr. Nazarbayev, had snitched on his boss and benefactor.

Mr. Neiman added: “Giffen no doubt hopes that the government will prefer maintaining the secrecy of many of the incidents described in the documents to pursuing the prosecution.”

Given Giffen’s 21 year history with US intelligence and Robert Baer’s description of him as “de facto ambassador to Kazakhstan” in See No Evil I don’t find his defense implausible.

For what the Kazakh government has to say about the case, click on through to the Times 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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{ 2 comments }

Laurence December 18, 2005 at 9:14 am

If Giffen was operating under public authority from the US government dispensing bribes in Kazakhstan–what does that say for the credibility of American “anti-corruption” programs?

And if not, why didn’t the US government officials who knew about his activities turn him in immediately?

Laurence December 18, 2005 at 9:15 am

PS Nathan, congratulations on finding and posting this Washington Times story!

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