Fake it till you make it: The question of doctored passports from Syria to Russia

Published October 20th, 2016 - 05:17 GMT
Passport fraud is more commonplace than one might expect. (Myisra.com)
Passport fraud is more commonplace than one might expect. (Myisra.com)

In today’s socio-political climate - as the refugee crisis steadily escalates while Western countries clamp down on border control - passport fraud is more commonplace than one might expect. American and European security officials have spoken of an “epidemic,” as seen through the rising number of lost and stolen documents in the EU, alongside a sharp increase in forged passports emerging from the Middle East. 

However, passport fraud is not limited to desperate refugees in search of safety and security – in fact, the crime can also be taken up by shady business oligarchs.

Take the Kazakhstani entrepreneur, Timus Kulibayev, for example – one of Kazakh’s richest and most influential figures. The son-in-law of Kazakh dictator,  Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kulibayev already has a dubious history, with a string of money laundering accusations having been made against him.

However, it is his foray into passport fraud that has most recently piqued attention. More specifically, the alleged falsification of Kulibayev’s son’s birthplace.

Adam Berkaliev was born in 2007, the son of Kulibayev and his mistress, the Kazakh-Russian business woman and socialite Gaukhar Yerkinovna Ashkenaz. According to hospital and registry documents, baby Adam was reportedly born in London’s Great Portland Hospital, one of Britain’s ritziest maternity hospitals  where the rich and famous go to give birth.

However, according to Adam Berkaliev’s Russian passport, his birthplace is allegedly listed as Ingushetia. Located in the North Caucasus region on the border with Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim republic of Ingushetia is one of Russia’s poorest regions, destabilized by political violence and killings on a near daily basis.

It’s a far cry from the elite Great Portland hospital and Kulibayev’s lavish lifestyle.

Kulibayev and Ashkenaz went on to have another child, Alan, and the unconventional family continue to live out life in luxury. The two children reportedly live in London, while Ashkenaz divides her time between the city and Milan as she pursues a career as in fashion.

A confidential cable dated April 17, 2008 highlights just how large the contrast is between the falsified claims on Adam Berkaliev’s passport and the reality of the family’s lifestyle:

“In 2007, President Nazarbayev's son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, celebrated his 41st birthday in grand style. At a small venue in Almaty, he hosted a private concert with some of Russia's biggest pop-stars. The headliner, however, was Elton John, to whom he reportedly paid one million pounds for this one-time appearance.,.”

Not quite in line with the poverty stricken region of Ingushetia. A tactical move by Kulibayev perhaps, to garner popular support among the Kazakhs? While the majority of those who turn to passport forgery are refugees from war stricken countries, ill-fated in their birth place and in search of security, Kulibayev’s son seems to have gone from privileged to disadvantaged in an unusual switch in narrative.  

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