Authorities have apparently confiscated vast swathes of land from the unpopular brother of Kazakhstan’s first president, with the ruling Amanat party keen to take the credit as parliamentary elections loom.
Bolat Nazarbayev, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s younger brother, has appeared to be under pressure for some time since last year’s bloody unrest left the once-untouchable family badly tainted.
Nevertheless, despite losing asset after asset, authorities have not yet launched any attempt to arrest the businessman, who is said to be both ill and living abroad.
Amanat on February 1 released a statement on the confiscation of land belonging to the younger Nazarbayev, a former plumber who became fantastically wealthy during his sibling’s three-decade rule.
The party said that it had identified tracts of land illegally obtained by Bolat Nazarbayev “in cooperation” with authorities, who it said had confiscated 299,000 hectares of Nazarbayev’s land in Zhambyl and Mangystau regions.
More land owned by Nazarbayev is under investigation, the party said.
“The ‘nobility’ of the surname, past merits and the thickness of the wallet are not an obstacle to restoring justice,” the statement quoted the party’s governance and anti-corruption point man Yerlan Sairov as saying. “You took it away from the people? Return it!”
Formerly called Nur Otan in a none-too-subtle nod to Nazarbayev, the ruling party has remained a dominant force despite the fact that thanks to Tokayev-inspired constitutional changes, presidents are no longer permitted to be members of political parties.
Ordinary people with problems to solve often prefer to take them to the local branches of the ruling party than to their local government agencies. It was on the basis of such complaints that Amanat took action on the land question, Sairov said.
Amanat seems likely to snap up a majority in the newly downsized 90-seat legislature at elections on March 19, notwithstanding the fact that a third of those seats will go to independents.
So-called de-Nazarbayevification – broadly, the process of squeezing the former first family out of private wealth and public life – is a useful electoral strategy these days.
In the build-up to Tokayev’s practically uncontested re-election in November, he approved changing the name of Kazakhstan’s capital back to Astana after more than three years as “Nur-Sultan.”
That the proposal to name the capital after Nazarbayev had come from Tokayev himself on the day he replaced his mentor as president hardly seemed to matter.
How much of this is theater is difficult to say, but Bolat Nazarbayev, 69, seems to be losing more of his riches faster than other members of the clan.
Also on February 1, an Almaty court ruled against his appeal against a prior verdict that invalidated his ownership of a bazaar called Barys IV.
The Barys IV market was sold to Bolat Nazarbayev’s company in 2013 at five times less than its market value, dealing a whopping loss of some $8 million to the state, the prosecutor had told the court before the judge ruled against Nazarbayev last year.
Back in March of last year, Bolat Nazarbayev was named and shamed in a report detailing the Agency for Financial Monitoring’s activities to shut down what it termed illegal cryptocurrency mining operations.
And yet for all the hints at illegality on brother Nazarbayev’s part, there is no sign of a drive to jail him.
To date, his nephew Kairat Satybaldy is the only close blood relative of the former head of state to be convicted of a crime, receiving a six-and-a-half-year jail sentence for embezzlement in September.
Bolat Nazarbayev was even able to claim a small victory in a court case that ruled that a businessman who accused him of overseeing a hostile takeover of a glass factory was guilty of defamation. Nazarbayev was awarded 500,000 tenge, just over $1,000 in damages. Mainstream media showed videos and images of Bolot in a wheelchair last year, in what critics speculated was an attempt to tame public passions to have him incarcerated.
The issue of land ownership is sensitive in Kazakhstan, and Tokayev has been sure to be on the right side of it.
In 2021 he signed a permanent ban on the sale and lease of agricultural land to foreigners, putting to bed a controversy that had sparked nationwide protests in 2016.
In the fall speech where he announced his plan to hold and run in a snap presidential election, he said that a government drive had returned 2.9 million hectares of land illegally acquired by individuals and companies to the state. Some 5 million more hectares of land would be returned by the end of that year, he promised.
In Tokayev’s first-ever state of the nation address in 2019, he railed against “so-called absentee landlords” and ordered authorities to step up the hunt for agricultural land that had been acquired but left fallow.
Artyem Sochnev is a writer based in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan.