Update, July 18: A trusty source close to Washington tells EurasiaNet.org that Economics Minister Temir Sariev's allegations are "way off" and characterized him as a "populist" with an unclear agenda. But someone is going to be very unpopular when that money doesn't come home. Stay tuned.
The son of Kyrgyzstan’s deposed dictator might be living a cushy life in the United Kingdom, but money he stashed in the United States is reportedly now sitting behind bars.
Russia’s Kommersant daily, citing Kyrgyzstan’s Economics Minister, reported on July 17 that Washington has frozen three of Maxim Bakiyev’s American bank accounts, which held $74.4 million.
Bakiyev is the son of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted amid street violence in April 2010. The younger Bakiyev, who fled to the UK, was known in Kyrgyzstan as the “prince” for parlaying his father’s influence into lucrative and opaque business deals. To this day, in Kyrgyzstan he might be more reviled than his father. In March, a Bishkek court found the younger Bakiyev guilty in absentia of embezzling over $100 million in state funds. He received a 25-year prison sentence.
Late last year, the Department of Justice tried to extradite the younger Bakiyev from London to the United States to face charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and obstruction of justice. An affidavit, filed last April in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, appeared to finger Maxim as “co-conspirator #1” in an insider trading case involving US securities. (The affidavit did not name Maxim Bakiyev.)
Astana and fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov are engaged in an escalating war of words after Italy expressed contrition for deporting his wife and daughter to Kazakhstan.
Italy revoked the deportation order on July 12, citing failings in the procedure that saw Alma Shalabayeva and six-year-old Alua Ablyazova arrested in an overnight raid near Rome on May 28-29 and whisked to Kazakhstan on a private jet. Shalabayeva is now under criminal investigation in Almaty for allegedly using forged documents.
“It was a grave failure not to inform the government of the entire episode, which had from the start elements and characteristics that were not ordinary,” Reuters quoted a statement from Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s office as saying.
The speed of the deportation was questioned at the time, with Shalabayeva’s Italian lawyer Riccardo Olivo describing it as “incredible” and accusing Rome of having “handed her over as a hostage to a dictator.”
Ablyazov says he believes his wife and daughter are in “grave danger” in Kazakhstan. In a letter to Letta quoted by La Stampa, he hailed the “courageous decision” to revoke the deportation order but said he feared Astana planned to send his wife to jail and his daughter to an orphanage.
Torture and inhumane methods of confinement are rife in Kazakhstan, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International alleged in a new report published on July 11.
The report, “Old Habits: The routine use of torture and other ill treatment in Kazakhstan,” accused Astana of breaking its “bold promise” to the United Nations in 2010 that it “would not rest until all vestiges of torture had been fully and totally eliminated.”
“In 2013, the security forces in Kazakhstan still enjoy impunity for human rights violations,” Amnesty said.
The report singled out fatal unrest in the western oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011, pointing to a “lack of effective investigation and prosecution into the use of excessive and lethal force […] as well as the torture and other ill-treatment” of protestors detained over the violence.
Fifteen civilians died in clashes with security forces in Zhanaozen after a protracted oil strike spiraled out of control. Allegations of torture by detained protestors – who said they had suffered beatings, suffocation, and sexual abuse – were dismissed by investigators and 37 civilians were convicted of unrest-related crimes. Some were amnestied or given suspended sentences; 10 remain in jail, as does opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov (alleged to have fomented the unrest) and six police officers jailed over the demonstrators’ deaths.
The people of Kazakhstan are used to images of President Nursultan Nazarbayev dominating their TV screens, but it’s rare to catch a glimpse of what makes the man tick.
In a carefully scripted documentary beamed around the country ahead of his birthday this weekend, Kazakhstan got to see the Leader of the Nation’s human face. “Nazarbayev. Live.” – a documentary credited as the brainchild the president’s press secretary – aired on the private KTK channel on July 4.
The film came two days ahead of a big celebration for Kazakhstan: July 6, Nazarbayev’s 73rd birthday, marks 15 years since he moved the capital to Astana.
The documentary struck an informal note, with two young presenters in jeans interviewing a relaxed Nazarbayev, snappily dressed in a blue shirt, purple tie and red waistcoat, over tea in his residence.
Nazarbayev revealed some fond memories: his rural childhood in the village of Shamalgan outside Almaty, when he always wanted to “be first;” his baptism by fire at the furnaces of the Temirtau steelworks, where he started his career and had to “overcome fear” and learn “collectivism” and “discipline.”
From there Nazarbayev built a Communist Party career, rising to the top job as Soviet Kazakhstan’s first secretary in 1989. Archive footage showed him 20 days after that appointment appeasing an irate crowd of striking steelworkers – demonstrating the popular touch he hasn’t lost.
Security services across the former Soviet Union are increasingly collaborating to send Central Asian nationals – often critics and others with legitimate asylum requests – home to countries where they face a real risk of torture and abuse, according to a new report by London-based Amnesty International.
In the July 3 report, "Return to torture: Extradition, forcible returns and removals to Central Asia," the watchdog exposed the ease with which Central Asian states secure the return of their citizens from other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a post-Soviet club. Few CIS nations wish to damage relations by refusing extradition requests, the report says. Moreover, perceived mutual interests in fighting terrorism come long before human rights in this region, even though the threat is often exaggerated.
“Twenty years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, old collegiate ties, common institutional cultures and the shared perception across the region of the threat from Islamist extremist groups bind together the successor institutions to the Soviet KGB,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director, said in a press release. “These renditions would not be possible without the complicity of public officials in the judicial and law enforcement structures. Nor would they be possible without CIS states willfully disregarding the absolute ban on torture and their obligation not to return people to countries where they may be at risk of torture.”
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, two countries where torture is reportedly rampant, are making the most requests.
They carried banners advertising a virtual tweet-march through Moscow, where a real Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade was banned in 2012 for the next 100 years, and calling on Westerners to boycott Russian vodka. But, persecuted at home, Russian speakers from the former Soviet Union reveled in the opportunity to celebrate their sexual orientation during New York’s recent Pride Parade.
“I came to be happy and to show that we can have this kind of happiness back home,” commented Anton Krasovksy, a TV journalist who has become a crusader for gay rights in Russia since coming out on national television in January – and promptly losing his job.
“I really want for people in other countries – countries of Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, in Kazakhstan and Belarus, and even in Eastern Europe, where there is discrimination – to see that things can be completely different. It could be not now, but at some point,” added Krasovsky, whose Kontr TV Channel was shut down after his coming out.
Cheered by hundreds of thousands of onlookers as they made their way down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan as part of the 44th annual New York Pride Parade on June 30, many of the 150 Russian-speakers and sympathizers who marched under the banner of RUSA LGBT, New York’s Russian-speaking gay and lesbian association, shared the sentiment.
Chinese energy major CNPC is about to snap up a stake in Kazakhstan’s super-giant Kashagan oil field just as the project prepares to start commercial production, expanding an already significant Chinese presence in Kazakhstan’s energy sector.
Astana says it will buy a foreign-owned stake that is up for sale and which India had been eying. A top Kazakh industry official has said the government plans to sell this share to state-run CNPC.
News of the shakeup broke on July 2, when the Oil and Gas Ministry announced that it had notified Texas-based ConocoPhillips of its intention to exercise its legal right to have first option as the American company divests itself of its 8.49 percent stake in Kashagan in a bid to streamline its assets.
The statement did not say what the government – which already owns a 16.85 percent stake in the seven-member consortium operating Kashagan, the North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC) – intends to do with its newly-acquired stake. However, on July 1 the head of Kazakhstan’s state energy company KazMunayGaz (KMG), Lyazzat Kiinov, shed light on Astana’s plans: it will buy ConocoPhillips’ stake and also sell a stake to CNPC, he told Reuters.
Kiinov did not specify the price but confirmed that it would be over $5 billion: “not substantially, but more.”
In the end, CNPC is expected to hold ConocoPhillips’ 8.49 percent stake, leaving the remaining holdings unchanged: oil majors ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, and Eni each hold 16.85 percent (as does KMG), and Japan’s INPEX holds 7.56 percent.
A Russian rocket has exploded and crashed shortly after taking off from the Baikonur space-launch site in central Kazakhstan. The incident is likely to make further waves in Russo-Kazakh relations, which are already strained over cosmic cooperation.
Dramatic live video broadcast by the Rossiya 24 channel showed the Proton-M rocket taking off from Baikonur then veering off course before bursting into flames, breaking up and crashing to the ground.
The rocket engines cut out 17 seconds after takeoff and it crashed 2.5 kilometers from the launch pad, Russian space agency Roskosmos said. It added that there were no reported casualties or damage at the scene of the crash. Video of the incident showed the burning rocket, which was carrying three satellites into space, setting fire to the ground where it landed.
A Russian space industry source told RIA Novosti that problems with the flight control system were the likely cause of the crash, but Kazakh Emergencies Situations Minister Vladimir Boyko preliminarily put it down to engine failure, as a result of which there was “combustion of fuel, some of which fell to the ground and continued to burn,” he said in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
Villagers in a valley in eastern Kazakhstan knew what to blame when they kept being hit by misfortune: the restless spirits of one of their illustrious ancestors, unearthed from his elaborate grave a decade ago by archeologists.
Now, to the chagrin of historians from Kazakhstan and Russia who have spent 10 years studying the body for clues about the ancient Scythians who inhabited the steppes of Eurasia, the body has been returned to the grave to appease those spirits, KTK TV reports.
The villagers had lobbied heavily to have the body returned from Almaty, where it was being studied, and buried because “since the burial mound was dug up, utter misfortune has befallen the region: hurricanes keep raging over and over, cattle is dying in the villages, and children are being born sick. All this, the villagers said, was because historians disturbed the spirits of the ancestors.”
The Scythian nobleman, originally buried decked out in gold as a mark of respect for his rank, was returned to his original grave near the settlement of Shilikty at a ceremonial burial, and the villagers now plan to erect a memorial in his honor. The hapless historians have managed to secure agreement that they can reenter the grave for more studies if the need arises.
Kazakhstan is a treasure trove of amazing archeological finds. The jewel in the crown is the Golden Man, found in the Issyk burial mound just outside Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, in 1969. Believed to have been a young Scythian prince who lived in the 4th or 5th century BC, he was interred wearing some 4,000 gold ornaments.
The United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual World Drug Report today. There are not a lot of surprises for Central Asia watchers, but the study is a good reminder of just how entrenched Afghan narcotics are in the region.
Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of illicit opiates, accounting for 74 percent of global production in 2012. Those narcotics continue to pass relatively unhindered from Afghanistan through Central Asia for markets in Russia and Eastern Europe. On the way, they wreck havoc, as increasing numbers of Central Asians succumb to heroin addiction and HIV.
What’s being done? The striking chart to the right shows how, over the past ten years, interdiction in the region has actually fallen, especially in Tajikistan (shown in pink).
Over the same period, Afghan drug production generally increased (with the exception of 2012, when, due to adverse weather and disease, production fell by 36 percent). “A preliminary assessment of opium poppy cultivation trends in Afghanistan in 2013 revealed that such cultivation is likely to increase in the main opium growing regions, which would be the third consecutive increase since 2010,” the report says.
Why, then, the dramatic decline in seizures in Central Asia? The UNODC sort of sidesteps issue: