A transatlantic court battle between four US residents and a controversial Middle Eastern businessman involving the alleged torture, imprisonment and violent death of a young news presenter more than a decade ago is set to play out in a London courtroom.
Allegations over the journalist’s bloody death and its supposed link to the notorious former senior officer of Kazakh secret police, Rakhat Aliyev (pictured above), and his brother-in-law, the Lebanese-born businessman Issam Hourani, are set out in highly charged legal documents filed at London’s High Court.
The publicly available documents, which come with a warning because of their extreme nature, can be read in full below.
In June 2004, Anastasiya Novikova, a news presenter for NTK channel in Kazakhstan who was living in Beirut at the time (pictured above), tumbled from the balcony of an apartment allegedly owned by Hourani’s family. No one has been charged in connection with this mysterious death, which Lebanese authorities concluded was a suicide.
But her death will be explored as part of a defamation lawsuit brought by Hourani against four U.S. residents.
Hourani has accused Allison Blair and John Waller, U.S. citizens living in Washington, DC; Alistair Thomson, a British national living in New York; and Bryan McCarthy, an Irish national living in Pennsylvania, of defamation and harassment by organizing protests that he says falsely link him to the young journalist’s death.
The protests, calling for “Justice for Novikova”, took place in 2014 across various locations in London, including outside Hourani’s multi-million pound home.
In his court filing, Hourani says the protests were staged with actors, and are part of a paid campaign to discredit him. Media Gang, the Edinburgh-based company that organized the protest outside Hourani’s London house, has since apologized for its actions.
Hourani, in his legal filing, says he was “not responsible in any way” for Ms Novikova’s death, adding that the accusations against him “are part of a wider international campaign to abuse and totally discredit me.”
In response to the defamation claims, the four defendants have filed papers setting out in extraordinary detail the events they say led to Ms Novikova’s death and the alleged cover-up that followed it.
All the defendants deny liability for the claims. One, Waller, admits some involvement in the “Justice for Novikova” campaign but maintains that his actions were taken in the public interest.
Defence documents in the defamation case, filed earlier this year but unreported until now, allege that Novikova was imprisoned in an apartment that they say Hourani owned for weeks or possibly months before her death; that she was tortured and sexually abused by her former lover, Rakhat Aliyev, in a specially created “torture room” in the apartment; and that after her death her body was taken from Beirut, where she had died, to be buried in an abandoned cemetery in a remote region of Kazakhstan.
Hourani has told the court that he did not own the apartment and that he was not in Lebanon when Novikova died.
In laying out the allegations around the events leading up to Novikova’s death, the defence documents cite what they describe as police reports and interviews carried out by Lebanese and Kazakhstan authorities in the now-concluded investigation.
The defence filings go further, linking Hourani’s business dealings with his brother-in-law, Aliyev.
They allege that Hourani built his business empire by setting up companies used to launder money illegally plundered from Kazakhstan state interests by Aliyev when he was married to the daughter of Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazabayev. Aliyev died in prison in Austria in 2015 while awaiting trial for two murders unrelated to Novikova’s death.
Quoting what it describes as the findings of the Kazakhstan investigation into Aliyev, the defence document states: “Mr Aliyev used a group of Lebanese companies, the majority of which were registered in the name of the Claimant, to launder criminal income received in Kazakhstan by tax evasion or the violation of currency regulations.”
In filings with the court, Hourani said that he had no business dealings with Aliyev and the Kazakh investigation was part of a campaign against him by the government of Kazakhstan.