A former top police officer in Kazakhstan who has been on trial on charges of enabling the bloody unrest that gripped the country for days in early 2022 has fled the country.
Local media reported over the weekend that that Serik Kudebayev, 58, who was under house arrest, crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan on March 23 and flew out to Istanbul later the same day.
It is unclear how he was able to cross the Kazakh border. The border service said on April 3 that Kudebayev did not cross any official border checkpoints
The charge leveled at Kudebayev is that he was, while serving as head of police for the Almaty region, a subdivision that does not include the city of Almaty itself, culpable of failing to act to halt the turmoil that unfolded in the first few days of January 2022. Instead of seeking to restore calm, he abandoned his post in the city of Taldykorgan. Video footage released by the General Prosecutor's Office shows images of Kudebayev accompanied by armed guards abandoning his precinct, getting into a car and driving away.
Kudebayev was one of many law enforcement and security services officers to do the same over the period, a fact that investigators say lends credence to claims that part of the disturbances were orchestrated by people seeking to seize power. The authorities typically demur when pressed to be specific about whom they suspect to have been behind what they have cast as an attempted coup.
The chaos that Kudebayev failed to police occurred days after a series of escalating, but peaceful, nationwide anti-government protests. Events only turned violent following a robust crackdown of largely disciplined marches by police and, subsequently, when aggressive elements entered the fray. More than 230 people lost their lives in the events.
In spite of many security officials leaving their post, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was able to avoid the complete collapse of his government, partly by enlisting the support of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, which deployed troops a few days into the crisis.
Kudebayev was fired last April and became the object of a criminal investigation a month later.
His trial began in Taldykorgan in January. In his defense, Kudebayev has claimed that he fled the city so that he could travel in person to enlist a special rapid response squad to restore order, since telephone connections purportedly did not work. Prosecutors dismissed this counternarrative and asked the court for a nine-year sentence.
A verdict was first due to be delivered on March 10, but that session was postponed due to Kudebayev’s alleged ill-health. At the end of March, the judge presiding over the trial ordered the former police officer to be brought to the court by force, which is when the Prosecutor General's Office discovered that the defendant had absconded.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.