In one of the greatest falls from grace in the post-independence history of Kazakhstan, a court in the industrial city of Karaganda on December 11 sentenced former prime minister Serik Akhmetov to 10 years in jail for corruption.
The severity of the punishment has set tongues wagging about ulterior motives and show trials, especially since corruption is rife and cases of abuse of office have abounded in recent years, but rarely with such severe outcomes.
Akhmetov was arrested on charges of grave corruption on November 18, 2014, less than one month after being removed from his post as defense minister. Rumors immediately began circulating of infighting among Kazakhstan’s notoriously fractious elites.
According to prosecutors, Akhmetov, who was prime minister for 18 months until his resignation in April 2014, took bribes of $2.4 million and embezzled large amounts of a state resources.
Another 20 officials from the Karaganda city and region were also in the dock in the broad-ranging and lengthy trial, which reviewed material contained in 338 volumes of evidence.
Prosecutors had asked for a 12 year sentence. Although the sentence passed was milder, it also included provisions for the confiscation of Akhmetov’s property.
Akhmetov, who had until his arrest been a figure whose work experience suggested unusually close ties to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, appealed in vain for clemency before being convicted.
“I sincerely ask forgiveness of Nursultan Abishevich for failing to live up to his trust. I understand that I bear moral responsibility for the fact that, among other things, such an atmosphere has been created in Karaganda. And that the head of state has been forced to think and worry about these things,” Akhmetov said.
Indeed, it is a guaranteed certainty that such a politically contentious case involving a core former member of the inner circle would have been watched closely by Nazarbayev.
Petr Svoik, an economist with a background of activism in the ranks of the opposition, said the relatively small sums of money in question suggested the case was sparked by something deeper than just corruption.
“This isn’t the largest amount of money. Not for the level of a prime minister,” Svoik told Deutsche Welle’s Russian language service. “There is a hint at disloyalty toward the current rulers. And even his apology did no good.”