Sunday, June 23, 2013

Goga Ashkenazi, the Kazakh oligarch-turned-fashion-designer

Goga Ashkenazi was born in Kazakhstan, raised in Moscow, and educated in the United Kingdom

An Oxford graduate in modern history and economics and a billionaire who owns an oil empire in Kazakhstan.
  • Currently the Chairwoman and Creative Director of the 100 year old fashion label Vionnet, Ashkenazi possesses a degree in Modern History and Economics from Oxford University, has taken fashion design courses at Moscow State University of Design and Technology
  • She lives in Milan now but retains a link with the UK, where her two sons live in her west London mansion. 
  • She's friends with Andrew, Duke of York and the former Soviet President – Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • Ashkenazi grew up in Kazakhstan in a home in which both parents have doctorate degrees and strong ties at the top echelons of society. Her sister, Meruert Berkalieva, is a PhD in economics and her business partner.
  • Her father, Erkin Berkaliev, was a Hydro engineer and also head of the Economics and Trade Department of the Communist Party in Kazakhstan and later the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He had a meteoric rise, was highly rated and had elite connections which enabled the Berkaliev family to move into a prestigious apartment block in central Moscow reserved for the party elite. 
  • Erkin Berkaliev was identified as a star performer by the Communist Party and was recruited to Moscow's Central Committee under Mikhail Gorbachev. Goga benefited from her father's success, and by the age of seven she was living in a prestigious apartment and attending a highly rated school. After communism collapsed she transferred to the elite Moskvitch Lycée. Her parents divorced when she was 13, at which point her mother seized responsibility for preparing a brilliant future for Goga and her elder sister Meruert and took them off to England. Mr Berkaliev remained in Kazakhstan, where he remains an influential political figure in the capital Astana.
  • Like other former Soviet officials her father exploited the privatisation of former state assets after the collapse of the Soviet Union and took control of a number of factories in Kazakhstan. the resources of The former USSR ended up with a few, mostly well-connected, billionaires while most of the population remain poor.
  • She was a year out of Oxford and only 22 when she was photographed topless aboard the yacht of Italian fashion tycoon, Flavio Briatore. The Italian billionaire reportedly broke off their relationship when he discovered that she was not the daughter of Nursultan Nazarbayev.
  • During a 2003 visit to Moscow she met her now ex-husband Stefan Ashkenazi – the son of Severyn Ashkenazi, a Polish-American entrepreneur, hotelier and art dealer who founded the boutique L’Ermitage hotel chain. Stefan's previous girlfriend was Angelina Jolie.
  • Her Jewish surname was acquired through marriage to Stefan Ashkenazy, an American from Los Angeles who is the son of Severyn Ashkenazy, a Holocaust survivor, art dealer and owner of a chain of luxury hotels and a large construction company. The couple had one child, Adam, now five. They divorced in 2007 after less than four years of marriage and after she met the Kazakh oil tycoon Timur Kulibayev, who is married to the president of Kazakhstan’s daughter and controls the country’s oil and  gas natural resources. That relationship also produced a son, Alan, who is a year old.
  • Severyn Ashkenazy, who lives in Los Angeles, survived the war in an underground bunker in the Polish city of Tarnopol, in what is now Ukraine. After the war he moved to France before settling in the United States where he made his fortune in real estate.
  • In August 2007, shortly after her divorce, she bought a house in Holland Park, London, for the paltry sum of £28 million in cash, which was £3 million above the asking price. She invested another £10 million in refurbishments, including a gold-leaf decorated ceiling and a personal staff of 15 including chefs, doormen, nannies, bodyguards, a chauffeur, and a Bentley.
  • The key to Goga's wealth is her son Adam's father, Timur Kulibayev, who is said to control 90 per cent of the Kazakh oil fields. Kulibayev is also the son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country's President for the last 20 years. He remained married to the President's daughter Dinara (and still is) at the time Adam was born at the Portland Hospital in London in December 2007.
  • Ms Ashkenazi is now a player in the oil industry herself. She is CEO of the MunaiGaz Engineering Group, a major oil and gas company, and a director of the MMG Global Consulting Group. Her friends identify her line of work as "oil services".
  • Her clique of jet setters also includes the banker Nat Rothschild, Lord Edward Spencer-Rothschild and Lapo Elkann, heir of the Fiat conglomerate and Ashkenazi’s current beau. Not all are billionaires, however. Those with smaller bank accounts include the likes of racing driver Flavio Briatore, one of Goga’s past flames, telecommunications millionaire Dino Lalvani and pop star Nick Rhodes and others.
  • In November 2012 Ashkenazi acquired full ownership of Vionnet, a century old French fashion brand ( She is also the Director General of MunaiGaz-Engineering Group (, which, according to the company’s website is “a specialist management consultancy that seeks to establish international partnerships in which it can become an active manager and stakeholder alongside foreign businesses and stakeholders seeking to pursue commercial opportunities within the Eastern European and the Central Asian regions.”

A life in brief

  • Born: Gaukhar Erkinova Berkalieva on 1 February 1980, Kazakhstan.
  • Family: Her father, Erkin was recruited to Moscow's Central Committee under Gorbachev. In 2004 she married hotel heir Stefan Ashkenazi but divorced three years later. Has a son called Adam with the Kazakh oil billionaire Timur Kulibayev.
  • Education: Was sent to school in England at Stowe and Rugby School. Has a degree in modern history and economics from Oxford University.
  • Career: At 24 she set up a business with her sister, constructing compressor stations to service Kazakhstan's booming oil industry. Through oil services she has become a billionaire and now owns gold mines, is CEO of the MunaiGaz Engineering Group and sits on the board of the Ivanhoe Mining Group.

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