Top Kazakh Businessman Denies Allegations about Greek Island Fire

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One of Kazakhstan’s wealthiest business executives has denied any wrongdoing in connection with a forest fire that was allegedly caused by fireworks on the Greek tourist island of Hydra.

Daniyar Abulgazin, who has shares in multiple Kazakh energy and other companies, said he had rented the luxury boat named Persefoni I that has been linked by Greek prosecutors to the fire on June 21. However, he said he and his group left Greece as previously scheduled on June 22 after speaking with “representatives of the Greek authorities,” who made no claims against them in connection with the fire. Some of his guests had already left Greece on the morning of June 21, according to Abulgazin.

“It came as a complete surprise to us to learn of the allegations that followed in the press upon our return, and I categorically deny any wrongdoing,” Abulgazin, who had returned to Kazakhstan, said in a statement that was released by DRD Partnership, a London-based communications firm.

Greek prosecutors have charged the captain and 12 crewmembers of the boat with arson and eight Kazakh passengers who were on the vessel face charges of complicity in arson, according to Greek media reports. Several reports said Greek investigators found the remains of firecrackers on a Hydra beach and concluded that passengers from the Persefoni I were on the beach around the time of the fire, which burned an estimated 300 acres.

The case has stirred anger in Greece, which is enduring high summer temperatures and a string of forest fires. Some commentators questioned how the Kazakh tourists were able to leave Greece before an investigation of the fire had barely begun. Some Greek media outlets said prosecutors were investigating the initial handling of the matter by Greek authorities. They have also mentioned Abulgazin and the names of some of the other Kazakh passengers on the boat in their reports, posting photos of them on broadcasts and websites.

Abulgazin referred to “incorrect and misleading” media reports, expressed regret about the fire and promising to cooperate with the Greek investigation.

“Neither I nor my guests performed any actions that could lead to a fire. We strictly followed the fire safety rules established on the yacht. Neither I nor my guests asked the crew of the yacht or other third parties to take any actions that could lead to a fire,” he said.

Abulgazin has shares in Qazaq Oil, SinoOil and Gas Energy gas station networks as well as other operations and his worth is estimated at $380 million, according to Forbes Kazakhstan. His wife, Aidan Suleimenova, has interests in fashion companies and shopping centers in Kazakhstan.

DRD Partnership, the firm that released Abulgazin’s statement about the fire, says it focuses on “building value for our clients and protecting their reputations at moments of challenge and change.”