How Kazakhstan Is Cleansing Itself of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Legacy


“New Kazakhstan,” the term introduced by Kasym-Jomart Tokayev after the attempted coup d’état in January 2022, has also given birth to a thesis about “Old Kazakhstan.”

“Old Kazakhstan” is associated with the country’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his numerous relatives, who penetrated all spheres of life in the country. So,  which former head of state’s relatives fell into the clutches of justice?

Gulmira Satybaldy

Gulmira Satybaldy, former wife of Kairat Satybaldyuly, nephew of the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is currently on trial in Almaty. She is accused of locking up her relative and business partner, Abai Zhunusov, for 165 days and, after intimidating him, transferring his shares in various companies to her proxies. Damages are estimated at $2.2 million (1.4 billion KZT).

The guilty verdict, which few doubt will be passed, will not be her first. On 4 May 2023, the Astana court sentenced Gulmira Satybaldy to seven years’ imprisonment for self-rule and kidnapping. A month later, on 30 June 2023, the Kyzylorda court sentenced her to eight years in prison for embezzlement and misappropriation of other people’s property. The new, harsher sentence absorbed the previous punishment.

Kairat Satybaldyuly

Next is Kairat Satybaldyuly, a rather grim figure from the Nazarbayev clan. In the early noughties, on the now defunct Internet site “Aziopa,” which was attributed to Nazarbayev’s former eldest son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev,  Kairat Satybaldyuly was painted black with hints of his handcuffing his wife to the radiator and beating her. It also pointed to Kairat’s presidential ambitions.

Satybaldyuly is the son of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s younger brother, Satybaldy, who died in 1981 in a car accident. According to Forbes Kazakhstan, during his uncle’s presidency, Kairat was listed as one of the country’s most influential business people with a fortune of 163 million dollars.

According to Kazakhstan’s media, the nephew of the former president of Kazakhstan was listed as the sole founder of the offshore firm Skyline Investment Company S.A., which owns over 24% of the shares of Kazakhstan’s telecommunications company Kazakhtelecom. In addition to working  in the civil service, including in the National Security Committee, he was deputy akim of Astana, and held senior positions in national companies.

Detained in March 2022 on suspicion of abuse of power and large-scale embezzlement of funds by Kazakhtelecom JSC and Transport Service Center JSC, Satybaldyuly was held in custody until the trial.

In court, Satybaldyuly reached a mediation agreement with the injured parties and paid 40 billion tenge ($89.5 million) in damages. He also entered into a procedural plea agreement.

In September 2022, he was sentenced to six years in prison. The court ordered the confiscation of his property and banned him from working in the civil service for ten years. A submission was also made to the President of Kazakhstan to strip Satybaldyuly of the title “Major General of the National Security Bodies of Kazakhstan,” as well as the state orders “Kurmet” and “Parasat.”

Despite reports that the Anti-Corruption Service of Kazakhstan is investigating criminal cases against Satybaldyuly involving tax and customs evasion and legalizing criminal proceeds, none have been taken to court.

Samat Abish

Samat Abish, the youngest son of Satybaldy Nazarbayev, is another rogue nephew.  Among Kazakh officials, it is not uncommon for blood relatives to have different surnames and indeed, makes it easier for them to ascend without attracting widespread public attention.

The 45-year-old Samat Abish began building his career in 2000 in the ranks of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan (KNB). After a period of four years in the criminal justice system, he returned to the KNB as first deputy chairman and lieutenant general of national security.

In January 2022, after mass protests in Kazakhstan, there were reports of his removal and detention as a relative of Nazarbayev. They were later unconfirmed but on 17 January 2022, Abish was relieved of his post in the KNB.

Samat’s fate remained unknown for two years for two years until Majilis deputy Yermurat Bapi reported that “on 26 February  Samat Abish, ex-first deputy chairman of the National Security Committee, nephew of Nursultan Nazarbayev, was freed from his 8-year sentence by a closed court decision”.

Journalists tried and failed to obtain details or a clear answer as to why such a significant sentence was suspended.

Bolat Nazarbayev

The brother of Nursultan Abishevich escaped his nephew’s fate by passing away as the result of a long illness aged 70.

However, on 20 August 2022, it was revealed that a criminal case had been filed concerning raiding by both him and his former wife, Maira Kurmangalieva. According to reports, a pre-trial investigation had commenced on 17 June .

Notably, on 14 July  of the same year, a raiding group attempting to seize prominent business structures was halted in Almaty. According to the Agency for Financial Monitoring (AFM), “the attackers used violence, threats, and blackmail to coerce well-known entrepreneurs in the country into transferring their property free of charge.

On 21 July, images and data of the detainees were published, alongside a report that Kospaev Yeldos Aydyngaliyevich Kospaev was wanted in connection to the case.

The detainees and Yeldos Kospaev were linked to Bolat Nazarbayev, with  Yeldos named “Bolat Nazarbayev’s raiding specialist.”

Bolat’s son, Yerbol Nazarbayev, should also be mentioned. In February this year, Majilis deputy Abzal Kuspan proposed a commission to review criminal cases illegally fabricated on political and other grounds by relatives of Nursultan Nazarbayev and other influential people, and cited how Yerbol Nazarbayev, a high-ranking officer of the Anti-Corruption Service, initiated such fictitious criminal cases.

Yerbol Nazarbayev joined the Anti-Corruption Agency of Kazakhstan in 2015. Six months after the January events, as claimed by Anticor itself, he resigned .

Anipa Nazarbayeva

Last September, the name of Anipa Nazarbayeva,  sister of Kazakhstan’s first president, came to the fore. At the end of May 2023, a court was held on the return to state ownership of the Ushkonyr College of Water Management in Shamalgan, the birthplace of the Nazarbayev clan near Almaty.

In 2022, local authorities sued Anipa’s Abishevna Nazarbayeva firm, “Anipa,”  which in turn, was transferred to a trust management firm with the right to buy out.

The case stated: “To terminate the contract of trust management with the right of subsequent redemption of communal property objects of the state communal state enterprise ‘Ushkonyr College of Water Management’ No. 3 of 7 July, 2016, concluded between the republican state institution ‘Finance Department of Almaty region’ and individual entrepreneur ‘Anipa’ represented by Nazarbayeva Anipa Abishevna.”

In April this year, at a briefing in Almaty of representatives of the movement “Victims of Old Kazakhstan,” Anipa Nazarbayeva’s name was heard again. She was accused of raiding the Almaty market “Kenzhekhan.” Businessmen who  suffered losses from Anipa Nazarbayeva’s activities demanded an objective investigation into the circumstances of the market seizure.

Aliya Nazarbayeva

At the briefing of the above, the same “Victims of Old Kazakhstan” accused Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter Aliya, of raiding.

Aliya Nazarbayeva got off lightly regarding the criminal case against “Operator ROP” LLP. However, the Kazakhstan public, headed by the Majilisman Yermurat Bapi will continue attempts to force the law into investigating her activities.

Their efforts have been spurred by the Western press.  In 2022, the British edition of The Telegraph reported that the youngest daughter of the former president withdrew more than $300 million from Kazakhstan and spent it on purchasing luxury real estate and given  Kazakhstan’s  large-scale campaign to recover illegally withdrawn assets, it is held that Aliya Nazarbayeva’s actions should be thoroughly investigated.

Kairat Boranbayev

Whilst the sword of justice hangs over Anipa and Aliya Nazarbayev, there are others who got off more lightly. The first in line is businessman Kairat Boranbayev, whose daughter was married to Nazarbayev’s youngest grandson, Aisultan, who died of a drug overdose.

Kairat got off lightly, but not cheaply. In March 2022, he was detained on suspicion of “embezzlement of funds on a huge scale in the quasi-state sector;” namely for the sum of about 14.6 billion tenge ($32.6 million) on transactions in the resale of gas to the national company QazaqGaz.

A year later, in March 2023, the court sentenced Kairat Boranbayev to eight years for large-scale embezzlement and money laundering but a few months later, in September,  an appeals court in Astana reduced the sentence to six years in a general regime colony with property confiscation.

Judging by media reports, Boranbayev transferred significant assets to the state, including  a hotel complex in Astana, a chain of fitness centers, an oil production company, and an oil field in western Kazakhstan. In addition, it was reported that he “transferred 30 billion tenge to the state fund to support educational infrastructure.”

As a result, in October, Kairat Boranbayev managed to trade off an actual prison sentence with restrictions on his freedom.

He continued to own the Kairat soccer club and was re-elected president of the RK Federation of Paralympic Sports. The investigation into his embezzlement continues.

Berik Imashev, Kairat Sharipbaev, Dimash Dosanov

A group of comrades was less severely affected.

Berik Imashev, the brother-in-law of Dariga Nazarbayeva, the eldest daughter of the former president (he is the father of the wife of Nurali Aliyev, the son of Dariga Nazarbayeva and Rakhat Aliyev), left his post as head of Kazakhstan’s Central Election Commission in January 2022.

Kairat Sharipbayev, Dariga Nazarbayeva’s second husband, resigned as chairman of the board of QazaqGaz (formerly KazTransGaz) in the same year.

Dimash Dosanov, the husband of Aliya Nazarbayeva, the former president’s youngest daughter, also resigned as chairman of the board of KazTransOil JSC, the largest oil pipeline company in the republic.

Askar Kulibayev

Dinara Nazarbayeva, middle daughter of the first president of Kazakhstan, is married to Timur Kulibayev. Thus, Askar Kulibayev is the matchmaker of Nursultan Nazarbayev himself, who was once an influential person in the Kazakhstan establishment.

It was recently, announced that, following a claim by the Almaty prosecutor, a $66 million oil terminal located in the waters of the Aktau International Sea Trade Port was returned to state ownership.

Something of a sensation, the claim was filed to compensate for damage caused by the illegal seizure of a foreign investor’s property by a company owned by Askar Kulibayev.

If Kazakhstan’s investigative bodies, in their efforts to thoroughly “cleanse” Kazakhstan from the influence of Nazarbayev’s clan, have targeted the patriarchs—even those unrelated by blood to the founding father—there is hope they will also reach the daughters. And by so doing,  demonstrate to society that New Kazakhstan is here to stay.


Times of Central Asia