Security services in Kazakhstan said on May 23 that they have arrested one of the country’s richest men on charges of corruption.
The Committee for National Security, or KNB, said in a statement that Yerkyn Amirkhanov was initially detained on May 5 on suspicion of paying a bribe to a government official. A court ordered that he remain in custody for at least two months pending investigation.
No details about the investigation have been made public and it is unclear why the KNB has taken so long to make news of the arrest public. One clue, however, was that Amirkhanov was identified by the KNB as the chairman in charge of purchases for a Kazakhstan-based company called Сentrkazenergomontazh, which is engaged in the maintenance and installation of power station infrastructure.
According to the company’s website, it is currently engaged in building a major thermal power plant in the capital, Astana.
Amirkhanov’s arrest is notable as he is a businessperson of some considerable stature in Kazakhstan. In May 2017, he was ranked 40th on the rich list of the local edition of Forbes magazine with a personal worth of $135 million. He reportedly has commercial interests in the energy, financial and chemicals sectors.
He had also been a member of the board at EximBank Kazakhstan until December, but was removed from that position as a result of shareholder action. That bank was one of several singled out for criticism by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in a recent outburst about what the leader said was a misuse of money set aside by the government for bailing out failing lenders. As a result of those remarks, the handful of banks named were plunged into a liquidity crisis as spooked depositors sought to withdraw their cash.
Sultanbek Sultangaliyev, head of the Resonans online think tank, said that Amirkhanov’s arrest needs to be understood in the context of a broader set of probes by the authorities into the banking sector. Other prominent bankers from Kazakhstan have recently been caught up in the sweep — Zhomart Yertayev was detained at Astana’s request in Moscow earlier this month, while around the same time, German police held a leading shareholder at Qazag Banki, Bahyt Ibragim.
“I am quite confident that these will not be the last people connected to Kazakhstan’s banking system who are detained. It is clear that in these events we see not just a redistribution of influence within the country's financial sector, but also a political struggle among the elites that is being exacerbated by the depletion of financial flows ahead of the handover of power,” Sultangaliyev said, referring to a long-expected transition away from the now quarter century-long rule of Nazarbayev.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.