Kazakhstan’s security services have presented an extraordinarily exotic case against a businessman accused of organizing anti-land reform protests as a means to seizing power.
The National Security Committee, or KNB in its Russian initials, said on July 11 that it is pursuing cases against 25 people following its investigation into the alleged criminal activities of Tohtar Tuleshov.
The would-be plotting detailed by the KNB is deeply convoluted and riddled with gaping holes.
KNB spokesman Ruslan Karasev told reporters that Tuleshov has “maintained contacts and supplied funding to leaders and authorities in a trans-national criminal group known abroad as the Brothers’ Circle.”
While the formal existence of the Brothers’ Circle is subject of debate, members suspected of belonging to the loose association of Eurasian crime lords have been targeted for sanctions by the US Treasury Department.
The Treasury Department describes the organization as “a criminal group composed of leaders and senior members of several Eurasian criminal groups that are largely based in countries of the former Soviet Union, but also operate in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.”
The KNB claimed that Tuleshov had developed regular contacts with a veritable Who’s Who of criminal kingpins, many of whom are better known by their nicknames. They included Aslan Usoyan (Dyed Khassan), a Russian mafia boss killed in a gangland-style assassination in early 2013, Gafur Rahimov (Chyorny Gafur), who is said to be a close confidante of Uzbekistan’s president, Georgy Sorokin (Zhora Tashkentsky), Noizin Jumayev (Maxim Buharsky), and Ilyas Sultanov (Dyadya Ilyas).
“During the investigations, we obtained undeniable evidence of regular transfers of large quantities of cash from Tuleshov to these people,” Karasev said.
Tuleshov’s business operations were run out of the city of Shymkent, which is right across the border from Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, and as a consequence has strong links to the neighboring country.
According to the KNB, Tuleshov used these criminal ties to buy into several investments in Uzbekistan, including a hotel, a paint factory, a confectionery factory and a major stake in a local bank.
As investigators are at pains to point out, Tuleshov was not just the owner of a major brewery, as is often pointed out. He owned a major holding company with interests in agriculture, film production and other areas. His business extended into Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The real mystery in all this has to be how Tuleshov was able to carry on unsuspected with all his supposed high-visibility megalomania not just in full view of the authorities, but with their active support.
Karasev said that in a bid to flex his muscles, Tuleshov last August organized a major “military-sporting exhibition” under the guise of a big birthday party for his father.
“He managed to involve regular soldiers with service weapons, heavy military equipment and three combat aircraft from the Southern regional command division of the Defense Ministry,” Karasev was quoted as saying by Novosti-Kazakhstan news agency.
Tuleshov invited representatives of private international military companies — mercenaries in other words — to show off their skills in protecting individuals from attacks, Karasev said.
This is all well and good, but how does any of this prove that Tuleshov had designs on taking over the country? The KNB unveiled what it thinks is pretty convincing evidence.
“The KNB showed a photo [retrieved from Tuleshov’s personal computer] showing Tuleshov sitting in a chair and looking at the Akorda [presidential administration building],” news website Today.kz reported.
Karasev helpfully pointed out that the picture had not been doctored and that the conclusion was inescapable.
“This is another detail in his psychological makeup that demonstrates his ambitions,” he said. “If his plan had been successful, Tuleshov would have used administrative resources to get rid of his huge banking debts and thereby ensure the economic wellbeing of his family and businesses.”
Anybody possessing photos of themselves looking at a government building might be well advised to destroy them now.
Evidently aware of the preposterousness of the argument, Karasev laid it on further with background evidence of Tuleshov’s plot to gain international respectability.
“From the start of 2012, Tuleshov sought membership in international organizations, like the International Federation of Journalists and the Union of Cossack Social Organizations,” Karasev said.
Cynics might note that Kazakhstan itself has sought prominent roles in international organizations in a bid for respectability, but comparing the behavior of an accused criminal kingpin to that of Astana would surely be a slander too far. Also, it might be worth pointing out that Tuleshov’s bid to develop an international profile extended almost entirely to Russia.
Tuleshov endeavored to burnish his image further by funding a staunchly pro-Russian think tank and touted himself overseas as a unofficial representative for Kazakhstan, Karasev said.
“All of this, in his opinion, was mean to enshrine him as a politician, and create an image as a successful and resolute businessman and statesman,” the KNB spokesman said.
But behind all that, Tuleshov was allegedly creating a little army out of the security details of all his companies.
“Tuleshov had more than 90 trained militants,” Karasev said.
Searches of the businessman’s companies turned up grenades, sticks of dynamite, large amounts of ammunition and more than 60 firearms registered to the security contractors.
Details of Tuleshov’s alleged involvement in the wave of land protests only seem to have been provided by the KNB as an afterthought. That would appear to be mainly as there are precious few of them. No evidence was presented — not even a picture of Tuleshov looking at a field or something along those lines.
The authorities may bring forward something more firm somewhere down the road, but it is quite possible that in an effort to quash the protest movement, the security services have overreached.
When Tuleshov’s trial goes to court, hearings are likely to generate more international interest than they would have done had the case involved only accusations of involvement in organized crime. Now, the cases of Tuleshov and the prosecuted protesters will gain more attention, further trashing the reputation of Kazakhstan’s doleful justice system.