Prosecutors in Kazakhstan say they have concluded their investigations into the actions of a former senior security official related to former President Nursultan Nazarbayev during bloody unrest in January 2022 and that the case will now be taken up by the courts.
Samat Abish, Nazarbayev’s nephew, who was serving as deputy head of the National Security Committee, or KNB, at the time of the turmoil, stands accused of abuse of office.
The Prosecutor General’s office said in a statement on January 15 that details of the investigation will be classified as they include state secrets.
Abish, who is said by officials to still be in Kazakhstan under a written undertaking not to leave the country, although he has not been seen by any independent parties, faces up to 10 years in prison.
His fate in many respects mirrors the declining fortunes of Nazarbayev’s close relatives and associates, who have over decades amassed sweeping power and riches.
In the immediate wake of the events popularly known as Bloody January, Abish’s then-boss, KNB chair Karim Masimov was arrested on charges of allegedly abetting the instigators of the unrest. A court in Astana in April 2023 sentenced Masimov to 18 years in prison on charges of high treason. Several of his deputies also got long prison terms.
Analysts have long openly argued that Abish is likely to have played an equal, if not much larger, role in directing the events than Masimov. One widely circulated theory is that Abish was among a group of revanchist Nazarbayev cronies displeased at the implications of President Kassym-Jomart’s growing influence.
But to begin with, Abish was merely dismissed, not arrested. That fact prompted commentators to speculate that Tokayev was reluctant to instigate full-out intra-elite conflict.
When General Prosecutor Berik Asylov was quizzed in January 2023 about what was happening with Abish, he insisted that the former KNB deputy chief was being handled only as a witness not a criminal suspect, although he struggled to address the question of whether Abish had been aware of the impending unrest ahead of time.
That changed in September, when prosecutors announced they were, after all, launching a criminal investigation into Abish. The specifics of what prosecutors believe Abish did, though, has not been divulged.
Another Nazarbayev nephew, Kairat Satybaldy, proved less able to avoid the fallout of the Bloody January unrest. He was arrested in March 2022 and later charged with defrauding the national telecommunications giant Kazakhtelecom and a railway services company to the tune of 12 billion tenge ($25 million) and 28 billion tenge, respectively. In September that year, he was sentenced to six years in prison.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.