A prominent Democratic congressman has taken thousands of dollars in political donations from a lobbyist working for Akezhan Kazhegeldin, a former Kazakh prime minister accused of corruption.
Rep. Thompson has gained prominence recently as chairman of the January 6th committee investigating last year’s Capitol riots. The Mississippi Democrat now faces questions about his role in helping to promote a campaign funded by someone accused of corruption by the US Department of Justice (DoJ).
According to regulatory filings, Rep. Thompson has received nearly $4,000 from lobbyist Alexander Beckles to help the congressman’s election campaigns.
U.S. foreign agent registration documents also reveal that Beckles is lobbying for a Kazakh anti-kleptocracy group fronted by Akezhan Kazhegeldin.
Kazhegeldin, who fled his country in the late 90s, has faced a slew of corruption allegations, including from the US DoJ, which accused him of receiving $6 million in “unlawful payments” as part of an oil bribery scandal.
Documents filed in October 2021 reveal that Beckles was hired by a Kazakh campaign group called the Coalition of Civil Society of Kazakhstan, also known as Dongelek Ystel. The lobbying job was to represent this group on issues including “democracy, stability and prosperity to the region, as well as issues of finance, including rules and governmental programs related to anti-money laundering, international sanctions, and anticorruption”.
According to the agreement, Beckles was to be paid $40,000-per-month to represent the group, which is led by Kazhegeldin.
The documents also reveal that during the period Beckles was representing Kazhegeldin, the lobbyist made donations totalling $1,000 to “Friends of Bennie Thompson” in March and July 2021, raising questions over whether the payments were linked to the lobbying. Other records show that Beckles is a longstanding supporter of Thompson and has given $3,921.55 to Thompson since 2008.
On May 7th last year, shortly before Beckles’ second $500 donation to “Friends of Bennie Thompson”, the politician rose in Congress to deliver remarks on Kazakhstan.
He said: “Fighting corruption is an imperative for the United States. As a beacon of liberty and the rule of law, it is our duty and the purest expression of our values. It is also a highly practical form of soft power that advances our national security.”
“As Kazakhstan is aspiring to be a strategic partner of the United States, I call on my colleagues to join me in urging the Biden Administration to review this case of kleptocracy and corrupt officials from Kazakhstan and assure that it will be included in our Government’s discussions regarding this important part of the world,” he added.
Kazhegeldin’s campaign group took credit for getting Rep. Thompson to make these comments in Congress.
What Rep. Thompson’s speech failed to mention, however, was that the former Kazakh prime minister behind the Coalition of Civil Society of Kazakhstan was himself accused of receiving millions of dollars in illicit payments.
According to the DoJ, Kazhegeldin played an instrumental role in Kazakhgate, a multibillion-dollar oil scandal that engulfed the Central-Asian country in the late 1990s.
As part of its investigation, the DoJ alleged that Kazhegeldin received $6 million in “unlawful payments” from James Giffen, an American middleman negotiating oil deals in Kazakhstan on behalf of American oil companies.
Kazhegeldin was also convicted in Kazakhstan of abuse of office after prosecutors claimed that the ex-prime minister received kickbacks in return for selling off public assets cheaply. As a result, the Kazakh Supreme Court sentenced Kazhegeldin in absentia to 10 years in prison.
Since the late 90s, Kazhegeldin has been exiled in London where he has lived in a number of luxury properties, including a £3.75 million townhouse in affluent Belgravia. The property, as well as others, were owned through a network of opaque offshore companies.