Firestorm Erupts Around Wealthy Kazakh Yacht Guests Following Greek Island Blaze

Published: 25 June 2024

Fire on HydraFire on Hydra, Greece, with superyacht Persefoni I in the foreground. (Photo: Screenshot of Facebook post shared by Εποχικοί Πυροσβέστες, License)

By ⁨Eliza Triantafillou (Inside Story)⁩, Misha Gagarin (OCCRP), Olga Loginova (Vlast)

As Greek authorities investigate allegations that fireworks launched from a superyacht sparked a brush fire, information obtained by OCCRP shows that prominent Kazakh citizens were on board, and left the country the following day by private jet.

The fire tore through 300,000 square meters on the rocky island of Hydra on Friday night, in the midst of a heatwave that has left Greece a tinderbox.

The national Fire Service said its Arson Crimes Division arrested 13 Greek crew members on Saturday, June 22. None of the guests aboard the luxury yacht –– which can be rented for 250,000 euros per week –– were detained.

"The municipality is waiting for the final result of the investigative process to take action against everyone responsible and claim compensation," Giorgos Koukoudakis, the mayor of Hydra, told OCCRP’s Greek member center, Inside Story.

Guests on the yacht, the Persefoni I, included seven Kazakhs, according to a manifest obtained by journalists. Among them were Daniyar Abulgazin, one of Kazakhstan’s richest men.

The day after the fire, flight records show that a private jet regularly used by Abulgazin left the Athens airport and flew to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city.

Satellite image shows the jet with tail M-DADASatellite image shows the jet with tail M-DADA flew from Greece to Kazakhstan on June 22, 2024. (Photo: Screenshot of

Abulgazin did not answer his phone or reply to WhatsApp and Telegram messages seeking comment.

The ship’s manifest shows that Abulgazin’s son and his wife, Aidan Suleimenova, who heads one of Kazakhstan’s biggest charities, were also on board, along with her deputy.

Other guests included Umut Shayakhmetova, the CEO of Kazakhstan’s largest financial institution, Halyk Bank. Also listed in the manifest was her husband, Beimbet Shayakhmetov, a former top manager of the national oil company, KMG International NV, and their daughter.

OCCRP contacted Suleimenova and Shayakhmetova for comment, but neither responded before publication.

Both Abulgazin and Shayakmetova have close ties with Timur Kulibayev, businessman and son-in-law of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan for 30 years before he stepped down in 2019.

Previous OCCRP reporting found that the former president hid vast wealth in a network of charitable foundations. Family members and others close to him became rich during his presidency.

Abulgazin worked as Kulibayev’s deputy in a state sovereign fund, and was his partner in several companies. Shayakhmetova works at a bank owned by Kulibayev.

Marine tracking data shows that the yacht the Khazaks were aboard was off the coast of a remote area of Hydra at the time of the fire, although Greek officials have not publicly accused them of starting it.

Satellite images showing the burned forestSatellite images showing the burned forest (right) on Hydra. (Photo: OCCRP/Screenshot of

Authorities spoke to witnesses who suggested fireworks may have caused the blaze, according to Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection.

“I see that according to depositions, some individuals with flares or fireworks managed to burn 300,000 square meters in Hydra and put (lives) in danger,” he said in an interview with the Greek broadcaster Open TV.

“This remains to be proven by the preliminary investigation and the interrogation,” Kikilias added.

Koukoudakis, Hydra’s mayor, told reporters that firefighters managed to stop the blaze before it consumed the island’s only pine forest. They were aided by wind that pushed the flames in the opposite direction.

“If the dense pine forest had caught fire, even today the fire would have been burning,” he said. “It would have burned the island from one end to the other.”