A military conscript accused of a massacre at a border unit near Kazakhstan’s frontier with China has been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Vladislav Chelakh was found guilty on nine charges including murder, desertion, stealing weapons, and damaging military property on December 11, Bnews.kz reported. His conviction followed a month-long trial during which he has displayed erratic behavior.
Chelakh, now 20, was arrested following a May massacre at the Arkankergen border unit in southeastern Kazakhstan. When military officials investigated after losing contact with the remote post, they found 15 people dead, Chelakh’s fellow border guards and one national park ranger. The border unit had been set on fire in an apparent attempt to conceal the crime.
Chelakh was found hiding in the forest and confessed, saying that military hazing had made him “flip.” He later recanted his confession, saying he had been pressured, and testified at the trial that his post had been attacked by “serious people” in civilian clothes. He said he had fled in terror and burned down the border post to conceal evidence in fear that his story would not be believed.
The case has sparked a host of conspiracy theories in Kazakhstan, from incidents involving extremists or VIP hunters to speculation that the murders were a bid to destabilize the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Some commentators have found it difficult to believe that an ill-trained conscript could have overpowered and killed 15 people, and relatives of the victims have struggled to make sense of the case: Some told the court they believed Chelakh committed the crime; others questioned his guilt.
The verdict raises questions about the state of military discipline in the army and how serious hazing is. It has already sparked the resignation of one senior officer, Border Service Director Major-General Nurzhan Myrzaliyev, unusual in a country where top officials rarely take the rap for high-profile failings.
On the same day that Chelakh was sentenced another military officer, Aleksey Fomin, who was (from a distance) in overall charge of the Arkankergen border unit, received a three-year sentence on charges including breaching service regulations and fraud, Tengri News reported.
This case was the first of two mysterious mass slaughters in southern Kazakhstan last summer. Officials have blamed extremists for the second, in which 12 people were murdered in a national park in August.