The former head of Kazakhstan’s security services, a long-time associate of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been detained on suspicion of leaking state secrets and abuse of office.
Nartay Dutbayev presided over the National Security Committee, or KNB, from December 2001 to February 2006 — a period that saw the murder of two prominent opposition figures that government critics have routinely lain at the feet of the security services.
Dutbayev is a hardy survivor on Kazakhstan’s political scene, so his arrest is nothing short of startling. He and at least two other individuals, named as a Nurlan Hasen and Yerlan Nurtayev, were detained and placed in a KNB holding cells on December 26. News of the detentions was announced two days later.
Nothing is known about the details of the offenses that Dutbayev is suspected of having committed, so journalists and commentators have indulged in a frenzy of speculation.
Political analyst Daniyar Ashimbayev told Sputnik Kazakhstan that the clearance for going after Dutbayev could only have been granted at the highest levels.
“The issue was most likely agreed upon in the higher echelons — at the very least, in the presidential administration,” Ashimbayev said.
Guljan Yergaliyeva, a prominent journalist who has run several media outlets, suggested to RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyk, that the case could be somehow linked to Mukhtar Ablyazov, the disgraced banker and avowed Nazarbayev foe. Dutbayev was in charge at the KNB in May 2003, when Ablyazov was released from prison following a presidential pardon. Ablyazov was at the time serving a six-year prison sentence on corruption and abuse of power charges.
In trademark conspiratorial mode, Ablyazov himself emerged from the woodwork to comment on Facebook about the Dutbayev case. In his post, he cites Italian law enforcement officials as saying that Hasen, who he says is also a KNB functionary, was involved in the kidnapping and removal of his wife, Alma Shalabayeva, from Italy to Kazakhstan in 2013.
“Now Nazarbayev is getting rid of the witnesses to his crimes,” Ablyazov wrote.
Yet others have cast this episode as breakout of elite infighting and the handiwork of KNB chief and former prime minister Karimov Masimov. One line of thinking doing the rounds is that work is afoot to clear the ground in advance of a transition at the top, but predictions of imminent seismic shifts in Kazakhstan’s leadership are so frequent and so invariably wrong that such theorizing has to be treated with utmost caution.
What is clear though is that few beyond the immediate circles around the presidential administration or the KNB appear immune to the possibility of criminal investigations these days. In the final analysis, this may be the greater goal at play — sowing a level of tension and wariness among top officials with a view to enhancing compliance and, possibly, cut back on the scale of corruption.
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