Officials in Kazakhstan have denied a report by investigative media outlet Verstka alleging that Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska bought a business jet from a Kazakh airline as a way of circumventing Western sanctions.
Verstka claimed in a report published on Jan 5 that the Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft was bought for around $36 million from Irtysh Air in February 2023. The outlet said its reporting was based on scrutiny of Russian customs data and an analysis of Deripaska’s movements over the past year.
Deripaska and companies associated with him have been subjected to sanctions by the U.S. government since 2018 over his connections to the Russian state. Those links led the European Union and the United Kingdom to impose their own sanctions following Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine.
Kazakhstan’s Transportation Ministry has promptly dismissed Verstka’s reporting, specifically refuting the notion that the Falcon 7X in question was purchased from a Kazakh carrier with a view to bypassing sanctions.
The ministry stated that the aircraft was never registered in Kazakhstan's civil aircraft registry. Moreover, Irtysh Air, the airline in question, has not held an active civil aircraft operator certificate for almost a decade and has not operated flights over that period, the ministry’s statement read.
Independent media outlets are skeptical about this denial, however. News website Vlast.kz said it had not received any response to queries over the possibility that the airline had bought the aircraft in question and immediately resold it without going through the motions of registering it in Kazakhstan.
Dwelling on this scenario further, Vlast.kz explained that it has become common practice for sanctions-evaders to buy assets through third-party intermediaries that never actually take physical receipt of the item in question.
Digging into Irtysh Air, Vlast.kz detected some apparently suspicious irregularities over its tax payments, despite the fact that the company does not offer regular flights. While the company paid the equivalent of around $5,000 in taxes in 2022, its bills to the tax service in 2023 — the year of the alleged jet sale — amounted to around $66,000.
For all this, National Economy Minister Alibek Kuantyrov boasted in December that not a single company in Kazakhstan has been subjected to secondary Russia-related sanctions — a fate that has befallen several entities in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.