Five years ago, a naive, impressionable Kazakh named Bolat made his way to Miami, plunked down $1.2 million for a luxury condo, and paraded around Miami Beach in a lime-green Speedo stretched over his shoulders.
OK, that last part might not be true. in fact, the real-life Bolat is far from the sweet but horribly racist star of the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Rather, he’s the brother of Kazakhstan’s corrupt president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and he’s suing the chi-chi St. Regis Bal Harbour, arguing the building misled him about his ocean-view balcony’s privacy.
It’s not a case that’s likely to play well back in Kazakhstan, where the desperately poor population has grown weary of its dictatorial leaders stealing billions of state money to live lavish lifestyles.
“It’s potentially very embarrassing to the president,” says Scott Horton, a law lecturer at Columbia University who has studied Kazakhstan extensively. “It’s another case showing how people close to the president have become billionaires through state industry.”
Kazakhstan might be best known to Americans through Sacha Baron Cohen’s comic masterpiece, but in reality, it’s among the most stable post-Soviet states thanks to vast oil, gas, and mineral wealth. One thing that hasn’t flourished, though, is democracy.
Nazarbayev, a former Soviet bureaucrat, has run the state since independence in 1991. He’s tightened his controls every year while holding sham elections (he won the latest with 95 percent) and doling out billions to family and friends.
Enter Bolat, who was given a director slot at Kazakhmys, the country’s copper monopoly. in 2007, Bolat decided to splash some of that wealth in Bal Harbour by buying one of the largest units.
In his lawsuit, Bolat claims that among other issues, St. Regis lied about his balcony, which is “not private at all,” a serious concern because of “security reasons.” Bolat wants his cash back. (A St. Regis spokeswoman didn’t immediately return Riptide’s call for comment.)
Ultimately, the purchase and the lawsuit are the latest signs of an authoritarian regime more tone-deaf than Borat at a synagogue. “Bolat became a millionaire just by being Nursultan’s brother,” Horton says. “There are a lot of people who really hate Nursultan and his family because of these kinds of deals.”