The anti-corruption service in Kazakhstan has detained the former head of a business lobby group close to one of the former president’s billionaire sons-in-law on suspicion of soliciting a bribe reportedly worth almost $30 million.
The Anti-Corruption Service said in a statement on May 11 that Ablai Myrzakhmetov was seeking the payment in return for helping a relative of the bribe-giver avoid criminal prosecution.
It is unclear in what capacity Myrzakhmetov might have been able to offer this assistance. He is not known to hold a government post.
Details around the arrest are being kept under wraps in the interests of not derailing the investigation, the anti-corruption body said. Local media have reported , however, citing unnamed government insiders, that Myrzakhmetov was taken into custody after accepting a 13 billion tenge ($29 million) payment.
Myrzakhmetov served as chairman of the board of the Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs from 2013 until his resignation in February last year. He stepped down one month after Timur Kulibayev, who is the husband of one of ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughters, quit as chair of the Atameken presidium, a post he had held for eight years.
The departures of Myrzakhmetov and Kulibayev from Atameken followed the major, deadly nationwide turmoil in January 2022 that started out as protests against the rise in price for car fuel but evolved in a broader show of discontent against the corrupt legacy of Nazarbayev’s three-decade-long rule. In the weeks after the unrest subsided, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev made concerted efforts to be seen as trying to dismantle some aspects of the cronyism that flourished under his predecessor, who stepped down in 2019.
News of Myrzakhmetov’s arrest comes at a particularly awkward time for Kulibayev. Despite assurances from Tokayev that major businessmen who grew fabulously wealthy under Nazarbayev would increasingly be required to make their riches available for the nation’s needs, Kulibayev’s worth only appears to have grown.
According the latest Kazakhstan rich list produced by the local edition of Forbes magazine, Kulibayev’s fortune has expanded by $400 million over the past year to reach $4.3 billion. His varied portfolio of assets includes a stake in the country’s largest lender, Halyk Bank, oil companies, a network of gas stations, an airline, and an alcohol producer.
In 2021, Myrzakhmetov was ranked 20th in a Forbes list of the “50 most influential businessmen in Kazakhstan.” At that time, he was known to own two enterprises: a medical products manufacturing plant and investment vehicle for developing gold deposits.
This is not Myrzakhmetov’s first brush with the law. In 2003, he was sentenced by the Supreme Court to a five-year suspended sentence for embezzlement, fraud and forging documents. He was found to have committed those offenses while working as head of the national railway company. At another time, he served as a Minister for Transport and Communications.
It was also in 2003 that another pair of former top officials – Mukhtar Ablyazov and Galymzhan Zhakiyanov – were caught up in anti-corruption sweeps.
Political commentators speculated at the time that Myrzakhmetov received lighter treatment from prosecutors because, unlike that pair, he had not dabbled in funding opposition groups. He was so loyal to the Nazarbayev regime, in fact, that by 2005 he was appointed a member of a presidential Council of Entrepreneurs and then made head of the presidium of what was then known as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.