A court in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, has sentenced a key figure in a corruption case involving the upcoming EXPO-2017 fair to 14 years in jail.
The court on June 9 convicted Talgat Ermegiyaev, former head of fair organizer Astana EXPO-2017 company, after finding him guilty of embezzling 10.2 billion tenge ($30 million).
The conviction casts an unfortunate shadow over an event that was intended to showcase Kazakhstan as an innovative and modern economic powerhouse.
As part of his punishment, Ermegiyaev will also be stripped of six cars, shareholdings in companies that he owned and funds in three separate bank accounts.
Another 22 people were also on trial over the corruption probe. Twelve had fully admitted their guilt and assisted the investigation.
Among those who turned state witness were 61-year old Kazhymurat Usenov, former head of the construction department at Astana EXPO-2017.
This was not Usenov’s first brush with notoriety. In 2013, his son, Maksat, while drunk plowed his car into six people waiting at a bus stop, killing one of them. Maksat Usenov got off with just a fine, 45 days of house arrest and the loss of his driving license in a verdict that sparked widespread outrage. All the same, he was subsequently seen driving a car and again got into an accident in 2014. The scandal forced his father’s resignation.
Ermegiyaev is insistent he is innocent and claims he has been made a scapegoat.
Security forces in Kazakhstan on June 10 mopped up most of the remnants of the armed gang that sowed terror in western city of Aktobe over the weekend.
The Antiterrorism Center said in a statement that the gunman were located overnight in an apartment on Nekrasov Street in Aktobe. Troops with the National Security Committee and Interior Ministry surrounded the building and evacuated residents to safety.
Authorities said the gunmen refused to lay down their weapons and instead fired on security forces. Four of the gunmen were killed when the apartment was stormed.
Another man, identified by officials as an accomplice to the gunmen, was killed at another location when he opened fire on a patrol car.
A correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kazakhstan service Azattyq reported seeing multiple armed personnel carriers and fire engines, as well as dozens of security forces, at the scene. The correspondent reported hearing at least two blasts.
Several journalists were forced to delete video footage and photos of the special operation, Azattyq reported.
Earlier in the week, the head of the National Security Committee said that six gunmen were on the run, which means at least one person still remains at large.
This brings the total death toll among the alleged perpetrators of the attacks on June 5 to at least 18. Seven people — four civilians and three servicemen — were killed on that day.
With the critical phase of operations nearing conclusion, attention would be expected to turn now to determining the motives of the group.
Condemnations have been rolling in over the past few days for the trial in Tajikistan that culminated last week with lengthy jail sentences for numerous opposition politicians.
With palpable reluctance, the US Embassy joined in with the chorus on June 9 with a remarkably feeble statement on the proceedings at the widely condemned trial of the Islamic Renaissance Party’s leadership. The statement reiterated that the embassy had earlier urged Tajikistan to conduct a fair and transparent trial, but signally avoided observing whether the court had in fact lived up to those standards. Such criticism as was formulated was tepid in the extreme.
“The U.S. Embassy has also raised with the government its concerns that the public was not allowed to attend and observe the proceedings,” the statement said.
The Supreme Court in Dushanbe on June 2 sentenced Mahmadali Hayit and Saidumar Khusaini, deputy leaders of the now-banned IRPT, to life in prison on flimsy charges of involvement in a purported attempted coup in September. Another 12 leading party figures were handed sentences of between two and 28 years in jail at the end of the closed-doors trial.
Not only were the public, journalists and diplomats prevented from attending the trial, but independent media have been informally warned against reporting any statements from the IRPT in future on pain of having their licenses revoked.
The US Embassy statement was decidedly understated about what the IRPT trial has put at stake.
“These and other recent actions silence opposition voices and discourage free and open participation in Tajikistan’s democratic development,” the statement said. “The long-term security, stability, and prosperity that Tajikistan desires can only come through a strong commitment to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
Qahhor Mahkamov, the first president of Tajikistan, who led the country until the eve of independence and at a time of profound political convulsions, has died at the age of 84.
Asia-Plus website reported on June 8 that Mahkamov had long been suffering from illness.
Mahkamov was born to a peasant family on April 16, 1932, in the northern city of Khujand, which produced much of Tajikistan Soviet elite. His career followed a classic Soviet trajectory.
In 1953, he graduated from the Leningrad mountain mining institute and that same year began working as an engineer at a coal mine in Shurab, a village straddling the border with Kyrgyzstan. While progressing steadily up the ranks of the mining sector, in 1957, he joined the Communist Party.
In 1961, he was appointed chairman of the city executive committee of Leninabad, as Khujand was known at the time. Two years later, he was promoted to chairman of the Tajik SSR’s State Planning Committee, or Gosplan, a position he occupied for 19 years. From 1965, he simultaneously acted as deputy chairman of ministers in the Tajik SSR. And then from 1982 to 1986, he served as chairman of ministers in the Tajik SSR.
In December 1984, Mahkamov was appointed first secretary of the central committee of the Communist Party of Tajikistan, de facto making him the republic’s leader. From 1986, he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Despite being a true-believer in the communist system, Mahkamov embraced the reforms that came with perestroika and thought they would enable to flourishing of national self-awareness.
In his first public statement since the bloodshed in Aktobe, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev depicted his country as being a target for outside-led, violent revolutionaries.
The rhetoric underscored the frenzied paranoia gripping the leadership in Astana as policymakers struggle to devise solutions to an increasingly radicalized mood in the country.
Nazarbayev was ostensibly referring in his June 8 address to the string of shootouts over the weekend, but the remarks suggested he also sees antigovernment protests as part of the broad destabilizing efforts hatched by mysterious foreign parties.
He was explicit about his suspicions that Aktobe was organized by outside forces.
“According to information in our possession, the terrorist acts were organized by adherent of radical pseudo-religious currents — they received instructions from overseas,” Nazarbayev said in a televised speech, which included a belated expression of condolence for the families of people killed in Aktobe.
From there, it was a short leap to the recent anti-land reform protests. Nazarbayev did not identify the rallies specifically, but the implication was clear.
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, meeting with National Security Committee chief Vladimir Zhumakanov on June 8, 2016.
Authorities in Kazakhstan look like anything but in control.
For a whole three days after violence erupted in the western city of Aktobe, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev was nowhere to be seen.
Prime Minister Karim Masimov tepidly assured his Cabinet on June 6 that the president was monitoring events closely: “The head of state is maintaining this issue under his control.” But still no messages, of either reassurance or condolence, came out of the presidential administration in Astana.
The silence was finally broken on June 8, when the Akorda presidential administration released a video of a brief exchange between Nazarbayev and the chairman of the National Security Committee, Vladimir Zhumakanov.
In the briefing, Zhumakanov told Nazarbayev that 13 of the attackers involved in the shootouts in Aktobe had been killed and that another 14 were injured. Between gunmen, servicemen and civilians, a total of 20 people died in the clashes.
“During preparations for the crime, 20 people declined to participate directly — they have been identified and questioned,” he said. “Six people are wanted and, according to our information, they are in the Aktobe region.”
Nazarbayev, who looked weary and curiously had a bottle of hand sanitizer before him on his desk, tried to transmit some sense of menace and grit, although not very effectively.
“We know they are in the region, their names are known and the population has been warned. It is imperative that every last one is captured,” he said, barely raising his voice above a monotone. “If they resist, they must be eliminated. They should all be punished in a most severe fashion.”
Kazakhstan’s intelligence agency has named a Kazakh businessman as one of the mysterious “third forces” behind recent land protests that investigators claim was an attempt to mount a coup to overthrow President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Tokhtar Tuleshov, an entrepreneur from southern Kazakhstan who has been under arrest on corruption charges since January, “actively took specific steps toward the forcible seizure of power,” Ruslan Karasev, a spokesman for the National Security Committee, known by its Russian acronym — KNB, said at a briefing on June 6.
The KNB has proof that “protest actions against so-called ‘land reform’ that took place in the cities of Atyrau, Astana, Almaty, Uralsk and Kyzylorda were inspired and financed by Tuleshov.”
Protests against planned land reforms hit cities around Kazakhstan in late April and May, and an attempt to hold a nationwide day of protest on May 21 ended in forcible dispersals and the arrests of over 1,000 people, according to civil society campaigners.
“[Tuleshov’s] plan of action envisioned the destabilization of the situation in the country by means of creating hotbeds of tension, organizing protest actions and mass unrest, against the background of which he planned to form a so-called alternative government and change the structure of the existing power,” Karasev said.
Authorities in Kazakhstan said at least 10 people were killed on June 5 in a spate of shootouts in the western city of Aktobe instigated by a group of religious extremists.
Internet connections in the city were suspended shortly after the unrest broke out and officials provided only scant details about the unfolding events, fueling online speculation and sometimes muddled reporting.
Late in the evening, Interior Ministry spokesman Almas Sadubayev was reported as saying that a group of gunmen in the mid-afternoon stormed a hunting supplies shop, killing a sales clerk and a guard. Three police officers dispatched to the scene received gunshot wounds. During a raid on another gun store later in the day, a customer was killed, Sadubayev told Vlast.kz.
Sadubayev the armed gang also commandeered a commuter bus and rammed the gates of military base in the city.
“Having got into the grounds [of the base], they opened fire indiscriminately, killing three and wounding six servicemen,” he said.
Police joined troops on the base in repelling the assault and killed one of the attackers in the process, Sadubayev said.
Authorities reacted to the outbreak of violence by deploying special forces and declaring an antiterrorist operation.
“During the antiterrorist operation in Aktobe, four criminals were killed, seven were detained — two of them were injured,” Sadubayev said.
Earlier statements from the Interior Ministry identified the attackers as “adherents of nontraditional, radical religious groups.” That term is typically used as shorthand for Islamic extremists.
In recognition of their degree of concern, authorities declared a level red terrorism alert, the highest available.
The leadership of what was once Tajikistan’s last surviving genuine opposition party has been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, ending a trial that has sealed the country’s inexorable descent into full-fledged authoritarianism.
The Supreme Court in Dushanbe sentenced Mahmadali Hayit and Saidumar Khusaini, deputy leaders of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, to life in prison, RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Ozodi, reported on June 2.
IRPT faced accusations that it was involved in an alleged attempted coup in September that authorities say was mounted by a disaffected deputy defense minister.
Another 12 leading party figures were handed sentences of between two and 28 years in jail at the end of the closed-doors trial, according to lawyers and relatives of the accused.
The mildest sentence, two years in jail, was reserved for Zarafo Rahmoni, the only woman on trial. The others senteced were Rahmatullo Rajab, Kiemiddin Avazov, Abdukahhor Davlat, Sattor Karimov (28 years), Zubaydulloh Roziq (25 years), Fayzmuhammad Muhammadalii (23 years), Rustam Sadiddin (20 years), Vohidkhon Qosiddinov (20 years), Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda (16 years), Mahmadsharif Nabiev and Abdusamad Ghairatov (14 years). All were members of IRPT political council, except for Ghairatov, who led the party cell in the southern Kulob region.
The sentences are in line with what had been expected and reflect the rapid decline of Tajikistan’s political freedoms and human rights.
The summit of leaders from Eurasian Economic Union member states in Astana this week brought much grumbling with it, but there are some incremental signs of progress.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev set the tone on May 31 by pointing out problems on the border with Kazakhstan.
“Despite the positive aspects of integration, including the elimination of customs controls on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border, the improvement of conditions for [Kyrgyz labor] migrants in Russia and other [EEU] states, I would like to note a number of problems. These are the matters of the harmonization of railway [transit] tariffs, the ban on the export of Kyrgyz potatoes to Kazakhstan, [phytosanitary-veterinary] controls on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border, the transit of goods in Russia and a number of other things,” Atambayev said in remarks cited by Sputnik news agency.
There is a lot to unpack there, and even the good news Atambayev offered needs to be qualified.
Although custom controls were indeed lifted at the Kyrgyz-Kazakhstan border, it was only for them to be replaced with more stringent inspection regimes aimed at quashing the activities of unregistered traders exploiting differences in prices for various goods in the respective countries. Lengthy waits are still the norm for motorists and it will be a long time before the EEU becomes the kind of border-free space one sees in western Europe.