Kazakhstan is having real trouble holding onto senior energy officials.
An Astana court on November 18 ruled that Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Shkarupa be held in jail for two months pending investigations following accusations from prosecutors that he embezzled 215 million tenge ($586,000) earmarked for installing heating meters in the town of Saran, in the Karaganda region.
Shkarupa had not long been in the job when the General Prosecutor’s Office announced, on November 7, that it was filing a case against him. He was appointed to the post on October 9. In 2015, at the time during which he is accused of committing the corruption offenses, he was mayor of Saran.
This is the third corruption scandal to hit the Energy Ministry this year.
Shkarupa’s predecessor, Bakytzhan Dzhaksaliyev, has been under house arrest since June. In his case, the anti-corruption agency, which answers directly to the president’s office, accused Dzhaksaliyev of signing off on a $2.4 million bill to clean a lake in the Borovoye resort while knowing this was 30 times superior to the real value of the work.
In March, another deputy energy minister, Gani Sadibekov, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the same lake-cleaning scheme. Sadibekov is accused of colluding with the head of the company that won the contract to do the work. The anti-corruption agency says Sadibekov was responsible for defrauding the state of $2.7 million.
Quite why cleaning lakes falls under the Energy Ministry’s remit is unclear.
The arrest of allegedly corrupt high-ranking officials is becoming a routine event in Kazakhstan. On paper, that is a good sign. There have been two prominent trials this year.
In April, Ruslan Yerdenaev, a former head of the state pension fund — the Single Accumulated Savings Fund, or ENPF in its Russian initials — was sentenced to 12 years in jail on charges of embezzlement and bribery. Prosecutors said he had caused the government damage totaling $13.6 million. A month earlier, former National Economy Minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev was sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting a $2 million bribe from a construction contractor.
The government touts such trials as the result of its tireless battle against graft. Independent commentators are a little more skeptical, describing the fall of officials as typically being the result of intra-elite squabbles.
The other reading is that these are less bountiful times for bribe-takers.
The sharp fall in the price of oil in 2015 had a particularly deleterious effect on Kazakhstan’s economy. The aftereffects of that crisis, which led to a brief contraction of the country's gross domestic product, are still being felt today.
“If before … the budget was enough to go around for everybody, that is no longer the case. Interests are clashing and people are being arrested. This is not a sign of diminishing corruption, it demonstrates a reduction in corruption money to go around,” political analyst Aidos Sarym told RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service earlier this year.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.