China’s president clinched another round of multi-billion-dollar oil and gas deals in Uzbekistan on September 9 as he continued vacuuming up the region’s energy resources on his tour of Central Asia.
Xi Jinping and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov signed agreements worth $15 billion in Tashkent, AFP reported.
Details were not immediately released, but the report said the deals included contracts in the oil and gas industry, where Sino-Uzbek economic cooperation has been expanding since Uzbekistan started exporting gas to China in September 2012, and also agreements in the uranium sector, which Tashkent is eager to develop.
Other deals covering trade, energy, investment and financing were also signed, a report on the People’s Daily website added. Uzbek media, which are notoriously slow to react to events, had not reported the deals by late evening on September 9; neither had the presidential or Foreign Ministry websites.
During his visit Xi called for China and Uzbekistan to boost bilateral trade, which stood at $3.4 billion last year, to $5 billion by 2017. Xi suggested opening negotiations to set up a Sino-Uzbek free trade zone, and looking at measures to promote infrastructure connectivity between the two countries, which do not share a direct border but are linked via Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping continued his tour of Central Asia in Kazakhstan on September 7, Beijing and Astana were set to sign a raft of lucrative business deals that will further boost China’s presence in its hydrocarbon-rich neighbor’s energy sector.
Key among them was a deal giving China’s state energy company, CNPC, a stake in the super-giant Kashagan oilfield, which is about to start commercial production. The agreement, announced in July, is a coup for CNPC, which usurped India’s ONGC Videsh to acquire a stake put up for sale by Houston-based ConocoPhillips.
Under the deal, CNPC will pay approximately $5 billion for an 8.33 percent share in the consortium developing the field, which also includes Kazakhstan’s state energy company KazMunayGaz (KMG); oil majors ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, and Eni; and Japan’s INPEX.
The agreement cements China’s grip on oil and gas resources in Kazakhstan (where it already controls around a quarter of oil output) just as Kashagan is about to come on stream after years of delays. On September 7 KMG head Sauat Mynbayev said commercial production would start in three to four weeks.
Mynbayev also unveiled what Kazakhstan stands to gain: CNPC will dig deep to finance half of KMG’s investment obligations in Kashagan, and it will also build a pipeline plant and an industrial center to produce equipment for the oil industry.
In a rare piece of good news for Central Asian labor migrants, Astana has announced that it is easing migration regulations to allow some of the thousands of workers from neighboring states toiling underground in Kazakhstan to come out of the shadows.
The government plans to simplify the procedure by which individual citizens of Kazakhstan can hire foreign workers by the end of this year, an official said on September 6.
The Interior Ministry has drawn up a bill that “substantially simplifies the recruitment of foreign workers by individuals,” Serik Sainov, head of the ministry’s Migration Policy Department, explained in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
Once the bill is passed by parliament, a Kazakh citizen and a foreign laborer can simply sign a contract, and the laborer can then apply to the migration police for a one-year work permit.
This measure will benefit the government by improving tax receipts, but it will also boost the rights of thousands of labor migrants currently working underground as they attempt to circumvent complicated migration procedures. It will apply to thousands of female migrants working as domestic help or nannies, for example, offering them the opportunity to acquire legal status.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan is a magnet for labor migrants from poorer neighbors such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Some work legally, some work underground, and some are trafficked against their will.
The dramatic tale of Kazakhstani oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is in detention in France on suspicion of perpetrating fraud on a grand scale, has taken a new turn with the arrest in Moscow of Olena Tyshchenko, a glamorous lawyer of Ukrainian origin and a close associate of the flamboyant banker.
Tyshchenko was arrested on August 30 on suspicion of fraud and money-laundering, and on September 3 a Moscow court ordered her remanded in custody until October 31, RIA Novosti reported.
Russian investigators believe Tyshchenko was instrumental in covering up fraud which Ablyazov is suspected of perpetrating through Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which sued him in the London High Court for allegedly robbing it of $6 billion. She is alleged to have put in place methods to cover up the ownership of shadow businesses, to prevent them being seized as Ablyazov’s assets are recovered.
It was Tyshchenko who accidentally led private detectives to Ablyazov in his luxury hideout on the French Riviera, where he was arrested last month in a dramatic swoop. The private dicks hired by BTA Bank tailed Tyshchenko from a High Court hearing about the case in July, and she led them straight to his lair.
US rapper Kanye West is the latest musician to find himself embroiled in controversy after reportedly accepting millions of dollars to perform for a Central Asian autocrat.
West was shown rapping at the lavish wedding of Aysultan Nazarbayev, grandson of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, on August 31, in video posted on Instagram. For his labors he was paid “a hefty sum” of around $3 million, celebrity gossip site TMZ.com reported, citing “our Central Asian sources.”
The news sparked controversy in American and British media amid concerns over human rights abuses in Kazakhstan, where Nazarbayev brooks no opposition to his rule of over two decades.
The nuptials between Aysultan Nazarbayev (a 23-year-old senior lieutenant in Kazakhstan’s armed forces and the youngest son of the president’s daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva and her ex-husband Rakhat Aliyev) and Alima Boranbayeva (a 20-year-old art student in London and daughter of oil baron Kayrat Boranbayev) were celebrated at Almaty’s luxury Royal Tulip Hotel as the ruling family welcomed a new addition to the sprawling Nazarbayev clan.
Two students from Kazakhstan have been charged with obstructing the investigation into the Boston marathon bombing, which left three dead and over 100 injured in April.
Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both 19-year-old students from Kazakhstan, were indicted by a federal grand jury on August 8, USA Today reports.
The two students, who were associates of the two brothers suspected of carrying out the fatal April 15 attack, face up to 25 years in jail on charges of obstructing justice and conspiring to obstruct justice (overtaking conspiracy charges brought against them in May). They will be formally charged in a federal court in Boston on August 13, the report quoted a spokeswoman for the US attorney as saying.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are alleged to have disposed of evidence by throwing away the backpack of the surviving suspected bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, after hearing about the terrorist attack in the media and finding their friend’s backpack contained suspicious objects.
Kadyrbayev's attorney, Robert Stahl, expressed disappointment at the charges and said his client had been “shocked and horrified to learn that someone he knew was involved in the terrible Marathon bombing.”
“Even though he was literally stunned and in fear, and even though he is from a country where the police are routinely distrusted, from the moment the authorities approached him he has fully cooperated,” the attorney said in a statement quoted by USA Today.
Now that Kazakhstani oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov has been apprehended, banking officials in Kazakhstan are striving to recover as much as they can of the $6 billion he is accused of embezzling. Meanwhile, officials in Astana are pressing for Ablyazov’s extradition while his supporters contend he would not receive a fair trial in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court has denied jailed opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov a review of his controversial trial and imprisonment, a case widely condemned as legally flawed and politically motivated.
Kozlov was jailed in October 2012 for seven and a half years on charges of seeking to overthrow the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and stoking fatal unrest in the town of Zhanaozen in December 2011, which left 15 dead when security forces fired on unarmed protestors.
“The circus is over, the judges have pronounced their decision – there are no grounds for opening a supervisory review,” Kozlov’s wife Aliya Turusbekova wrote on her Facebook page after the Supreme Court ruling on August 5, which effectively put an end to Kozlov’s legal battle. Kozlov has argued that he only engaged in legitimate political opposition and is a scapegoat for the Zhanaozen violence, while Astana rejects claims of political motivation in his case.
Pressure is mounting in Europe over graft probes linked to associates of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, as reports emerge that French and Latvian investigators are closing in on corruption enquiries previously confined to Sweden and Switzerland.
French investigators have opened a probe “targeting Gulnara Karimova” and linked to a money-laundering case connected to her associates, the Rue89 news website reported on July 31, citing an unidentified judicial source.
Swiss prosecutors confirmed earlier this month that French police had raided properties in France at the behest of the Swiss inquiry, which is investigating four Uzbek associates of Karimova’s for money laundering. One of the properties was a Paris flat belonging to Karimova, BBC Russian reported at the time, citing an “informed source.”
Rue89 said properties “which could belong to Gulnara Karimova” had been searched on June 18, adding that she owns “several bolt-holes in France” including a villa outside Saint-Tropez and a property in Paris’s chic 16th arrondissement. Rue89 said Karimova owned the real estate through Paris-based companies managed by Alisher Ergashev, a suspect in the Swiss dirty money probe.
Fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has been on the run from police in Kazakhstan and Britain, has been captured in the south of France, according to a report in the Financial Times.
Ablyazov was arrested on July 31 by French special forces near the billionaires’ playground of Cannes, the FT quoted an unnamed family lawyer as saying. It did not specify on what charges Ablyazov had been detained: Kazakhstan has been pursuing him for alleged financial crimes that Ablyazov denies, and he also has a case to answer in Britain, where he escaped a jail sentence for contempt of court last year by going underground.
Ablyazov formerly chaired Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which he also owned through an undeclared holding until it was forcibly nationalized in 2009. Ablyazov fled to London, where he was sued by his former bank for allegedly defrauding it of some $6 billion.
After years of legal wrangling, Ablyazov – who accuses Astana of pursuing him for political reasons and has asylum in the United Kingdom – fled to an unknown destination when the London High Court ordered him jailed for “deliberate and brazen” deception (concealing assets he had been ordered to disclose in the fraud case). Ablyazov was later debarred from fighting the case and the courts ordered his assets sold to compensate BTA Bank.