Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev family losing its grip on economy
The tussle over a market reveals how Nazarbayev-era officials were complicit in enriching the president’s family.
A court in Kazakhstan has returned a wholesale market to state ownership, offering a glimpse into the multimillion-dollar profits made by cronies of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev during his three-decade rule.
The Barys IV market was sold to Bolat Nazarbayev, the ex-president’s brother, in 2013 at five times less than its market value, dealing a whopping loss of some $8 million to the state, the prosecutor told the court.
The market was worth 1.5 billion tenge, which would have been equivalent to nearly $10 million at the exchange rate at the time.
Bolat Nazarbayev’s Bayza-BN company snapped it up for about $2 million.
It was Almaty city hall’s State Property and Privatization Department that signed off on the deal, to the detriment of the public purse and the taxpayer, the court heard. That reveals how complicit official structures were in enabling the Nazarbayev family to extend its tentacles across swathes of the economy.
With the former first family out of favor in the new political climate in Kazakhstan, the court declared the sale null and void, Ekspress K newspaper reported on October 4.
This is not the first time Bolat Nazarbayev has found his business interests under attack since the Nazarbayev family fell into disgrace following civil unrest in January, amid suspicions that some members stoked deadly violence.
In March Bolat Nazarbayev shut down his lucrative bitcoin mining operations, which law-enforcement officers said had been “presenting a threat to the country’s economic security” through rampant consumption of energy.
Earlier this year President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered a crackdown on Altyn Orda, an Almaty wholesale market reputed to be associated with Bolat Nazarbayev, which Tokayev described as a “shady environment for criminal elements.”
He had already demanded an end to smuggling on the Chinese border, where the president’s brother is reputed to have business interests.
His whereabouts are currently unknown, though he reportedly left Kazakhstan in January.
Another family member whose interests have been targeted is Aliya Nazarbayeva, the former president’s youngest daughter. After the Bloody January violence, Tokayev ordered the state to take over a company with a monopoly on car recycling fees that was linked to her.
This is all intended to deliver on Tokayev’s pledge of “de-oligopolization” for Kazakhstan, meaning an end to the cronyism and corruption that dogged the country under Nazarbayev.
A commission Tokayev set up in June to recoup illicit assets has already recovered nearly half a billion dollars’ worth.
But efforts to root out vested economic interests linked to the Nazarbayev family are not all-encompassing.
The businesses of Kazakhstan’s richest couple, Dinara Kulibayeva, Nazarbayev’s middle daughter, and her husband Timur Kulibayev – currently worth $3.9 billion each according to Forbes – remain untouched.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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