Two high-profile criminal trials in Kazakhstan — one for murder and the other for corruption — wrapped up this week with guilty verdicts and prison sentences for all involved.
On March 16, a court in the Zhambyl region sentenced businessman Murathan Tokmadi to 10 years in jail for the 2004 killing of Yerzhan Tatishev, who was the chairman of Bank TuranAlem at the time of his death.
The sentencing ostensibly closes the book on an odd episode that has since it first occurred been written off as a hunting accident. The court heard more than 50 witnesses over a month of hearings.
Tokmadi reportedly confessed his guilt last year and confirmed that position in his plea to the court during the trial. The businessmen told the court that he had carried out the killing on the order of avowed government critic Mukhtar Ablyazov, who went on to take control of what was rebranded as BTA Bank. Ablyazov, who lives in Europe, derided the accusation as false and suggested Tokmadi had been tortured into making the confession.
Before he was detained in June by the National Security Committee, or KNB, Tokmadi enjoyed ample access to country’s elite, including to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. So it came as a profound shock to many when the KNB and the Interior Ministry declared that Tokmadi was in fact the head of an organized crime group known as Deputatsky Korpus, which they said had spread fear through the business community.
Tokmadi provided some last-minute drama to proceedings by escaping from the hospital where he was undergoing treatment on the evening of March 8. He was recaptured and remanded in a police cell within hours.
Earlier in the week, on March 14, a packed courtroom in Astana heard a judge also hand a 10-year prison sentence to former National Economy Minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev on corruption charges. Bishimbayev has also been banned from ever again holding a government post.
Bishimbayev was accused of accepting $2 million in bribes during his time at the helm of the state-run Baiterek holding company, an entity tasked with ensuring implementation of the government’s economic development goals. Prosecutors said Bishimbayev also embezzled another $3.1 million during the construction of a glass-manufacturing factory financed by Baiterek.
The former minister, a 37-year-old once seen as a promising representative of a post-Soviet generation of civil servants tasked with modernizing Kazakhstan, denied all the charges. He insisted that his only crime was to hire untrustworthy staff who then went on to betray him.
Bishimbayev is one of the best-known graduates of one of Kazakhstan’s most-vaunted success stories: the Bolashak scholars program. Named after the Kazakh word meaning “future,” Bolashak was created by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1993 with the express goal of modernizing the country by having Kazakhstan’s most promising young people study at top-class universities around the world.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.