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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FBI Probes U.S. Businessman For Payments to Kazakhstan

NEW YOR K -- The FBI is investigating whether a U.S. businessman illegally funneled $35 million from three oil companies to high-ranking Kazakh officials, including

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Newsweek reported Sunday.

The investigation comes as the United States, Russia and Iran vie to win Kazakh approval for competing oil export routes for the former Soviet republic's potentially vast oil reserves. The race has heated up as a mammoth oil drilling effort off the Kazakh Caspian Sea may have hit success.

If the site yields oil, Kazakhstan is likely to become one of the world's major energy producers, and the United States would like to ensure the oil bypasses Iran and Russia.

In its July 10 issue Newsweek reported the U.S. Justice Department was looking into whether American businessman and official counselor to Nazarbayev, James Giffen, may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as well as racketeering statutes.

A Justice Department document dated June 12 and obtained by Newsweek detailed alleged payments by ExxonMobil Corp., BP Amoco and affiliates of Phillips Petroleum Co. of more than $65 million to offshore shell companies and accounts investigators believe Giffen controlled, the magazine reported.

Of the $65 million, according to the document, about $35 million allegedly went to three current or former Kazakh officials, "or their

families," including Nazarbayev, Newsweek reported.

The Justice Department declined to say whether the oil companies themselves were also possible targets of the investigation. The magazine said ExxonMobil officials were cooperating with the probe.

FBI spokesman Bill Carter said he could not confirm or deny the report.