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How SpaceX got caught in the middle of a $500 million oil dispute in Central Asia

SpaceX
This rocket contains two Kazakh satellites, and a lot of legal baggage.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

If there’s one thing rocket companies are coy about, it’s how much their launches cost. But the tab for a record-setting satellite launch in 2018 is tantalizingly close to coming in view, thanks to the fallout over a central Asian oil investment and the wealthy Moldovan now using US courts to pry open the secrets behind the launch.

The dispute begins in Kazakhstan, drifts to Sweden, and eventually arrives on America’s shores, but our story starts in Moldova.

Anatolie Stati leads Ascom Group, an oil and gas firm operating throughout central Asia. In leaked cables from 2009, a US diplomat described Stati’s family as one of the wealthiest in Moldova, with connections to—and rivalries with—the region’s rough-and-tumble political elite. The Moldovan elections that year were contentious to say the least: Gabriel Stati, Anatolie’s son, was arrested in Ukraine at the request of the Moldovan government for allegedly plotting a coup; the charges were eventually dropped.

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