The purge of high-ranking and influential figures in the immediate circle of Kazakhstan’s former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, appears to be in full swing.
In the latest major personnel reshuffle, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on January 17 ordered the dismissal of Samat Abish, a nephew of Nazarbayev’s, as first deputy head of the powerful National Security Committee, or KNB.
The government has explicitly made a point of denying insistent rumors that Abish may have been involved in instigating the bloody unrest that rattled the country earlier this month. His removal nevertheless indicates he has lost the trust of the national leadership.
Abish’s former direct superior, Karim Masimov, was arrested shortly after the outbreak of disturbances in Almaty and stands accused of treason and seeking to violently seize power. Yet another two of Masimov’s deputies at the KNB, Anuar Sadykulov, who headed the body’s special forces division, and Daulet Yergozhin, are facing similar charges.
According to the latest official bulletins, at least 225 people were killed in this month’s unrest.
“Some of them were armed bandits who participated in the terrorist attacks against buildings and law enforcement officers. Among the dead there were 19 military and police officers,” Serik Shalabayev, head of the criminal prosecution service at the General Prosecutor's Office, said at an online briefing on January 15.
Shalabayev noted that death tolls and estimates on how many people were injured, which are said to amount to more than 4,300 individuals, may yet be revised.
Tokayev has in public shied away from alluding to any possible elite infighting and has instead cast the events of early January as a vast terrorist conspiracy carried out by 20,000 “terrorists.” The authorities have produced scant evidence for that dramatic allegation, however.
The General Prosecutor’s Office has to date spoken of 546 ongoing criminal investigations in connection with the turbulence. Of that total, 44 investigations deal with terrorism charges.
It is not just the security apparatus that is being cleansed of Nazarbayev loyalists.
On January 17, Timur Kulibayev, the multibillionaire husband of Nazarbayev’s second of three daughters, Dinara, resigned as chairman of Atameken, an influential business lobby group. He had been at the helm of the group for eight years. Two days earlier, another two Nazarbayev sons-in-law were squeezed out. Dimash Dosanov, the husband of Aliya Nazarbayeva, quit his role as KazTransOil chairman, while Kairat Sharipbayev, the rumored husband of Dariga, the oldest daughter, stepped down as chairman of QazaqGaz (formerly KazTranGaz).
This may mark only the beginning of sweeping changes. State enterprises and major private companies are said to be stuffed with figures loyal to Nazarbayev and his immediate relatives.
The companies formerly led by Dosanov and Sharipbayev are both entities within the Samruk-Kazyna national wealth fund, which is poised to come under new levels of scrutiny. Speaking on January 11 to lawmakers, Tokayev talked about the need to check the investment vehicle’s less-than-transparent operations.
The president’s office revisited the topic on January 17.
“It is on the fund that the job of restructuring the economy and redirecting resources toward the good of the people depends,” Tokayev’s spokesman, Berik Uali, said. “President Tokayev has demanded that the government ensure the creation of a genuinely competitive environment in key sectors of the economy, as well as transparency in the acquisitions of [Samruk-Kazyna] and state-owned companies.”
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.