LONDON (TCA) — Authorities in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have stepped up legal action to prevent widespread corruption in both countries from getting out of hand. No official on whatever level is being spared, with the clear aim to gain public support for the campaigns. Much remains unclear, though, regarding the more profound causes and correct definitions of felonies categorised as “corruption” but consisting of a wide and complex variety of irregularities.
On November 19, news broke that former Kazakh PM Serik Akhmetov had been put under house arrest in his native town of Karaganda on suspicion of involvement in a widespread corruption network. His arrest is part of a large-scale operation meant to dismantle what seems to have been a well-organised circuit of briberies and kickbacks in Karaganda – which also happens to be the area where President Nursultan Nazarbayev originally comes from.
“The Governor of the province of Karaganda Baurzhan Abdishev was detained in September this year on suspicion of abuse of office,” Tengrinews reported of late. “This was followed by the arrest of former Mayor of Karaganda city Meiram Smagulov and head of the department on land relations Yernar Daribekov.” The wave of arrests also hit executives of the National Socio–Entrepreneurial Corporation Saryarka, the Special Economic Zone Industrial Park of Metallurgy and Metalworking, and KazAgroFinance.
Just two days earlier, President Nazarbayev had been quoted by news media as announcing the fresh campaign, saying that there would be no exceptions in the fight against corruption in Kazakhstan, following a meeting with the Attorney General and head of the Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Combating Corruption Kairat Kozhamzharov. "We are prosecuting high-ranking officials in spite their posts. Everyone gets what one deserves if they violate the law and get involved in corruption," Nazarbayev was quoted as declaring.
In Kyrgyzstan, punitive measures against corruption and related cases take place on an even broader and more exhaustive scale. In December 2011, the Speaker of Kyrgyzstan's Parliament Akhmatbek Keldibekov, himself a prominent member of the right-wing Ata Zhurt party, stepped down after allegations that he had “links with organised crime”. “Keldibekov had been accused of links to organised criminal groups and of abusing his powers as parliamentary speaker,” a Reuters report published at the time was to read. “He dismissed the charges as ‘muck-raking’, although he did admit to giving a government car registration plate to a family member.”
Later, in November 2013, a court in Bishkek convicted the former city mayor and member of the same Parliament’s Ata Zhurt faction Nariman Tyuleyev to 11 years in prison, along with similar terms for four of his former subordinates. Appeal at the central city court has recently been rejected. The mayor had “…instructed two of his subordinates to purchase 200 buses from a Chinese company without holding bids and find a carrier (Xin Hai Teng) for the delivery of buses to the Torugart customs post for $1 million 412 thousand, although the delivery required $486.2 thousand only as the investigation revealed,” a review of the case by the local agency 24.kg was to read. The rest simply disappeared in the officials’ pockets.
Similar cases against existing or former officials have been brought by the score in Kyrgyzstan ever since. Some cases consist of complex bribery and/or kickback schemes, but most of them are of the same character as Tyuleyev’s and come down to simple racketeering. A typical defence argument is to label the case “political” driven by political opponents seeking either to eliminate rivals or take revenge for political defeat or challenge. Such attempts tend to be made with the aim to mobilise “humanitarian” and “human rights” movements varying from serious and prestigious ones to makeshift organisations with the final goal to circumvent justice.
Organised criminal groups
But the most worrying aspect of crimes resorting under the general indication “corruption” is that they are no longer isolated cases under the category of white collar crime, but increasingly involve the more classical category of heavy cloak-and-dagger crime as well. According to the chairman of the Kazakh Agency for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption Rashid Tusupbekov in an interview with the Kazakhstanskaya Pravda in early March this year, the involvement of organised crime in corruption schemes is no longer an assumption but an established fact.
“Uncontrolled cash mass is largely conductive to the shadow economy,” the official stated. “Cash is used in bribes, to fund terrorist organisations and organised criminal groups. Criminals are taking advantage of the absence of legal restrictions on cashing and through pseudo-businesses withdraw large sums of money, launder it, embezzle it, evade taxes. Over the last 2 years financial police have suppressed about 1200 pseudo-businesses, apprehended in flagrante delicto 125 offenders committing cashing and pseudo-transactions. More than 30 tax officials were brought to justice for patronising pseudo-business, including the former head of South Kazakhstan Revenue Department and his deputy, the deputy head of the Almaty Tax Department, and a number of heads of regional tax offices in different regions.”
But the official admits in his interview that crackdowns are not the final solution to the problem, which should be sought in an overall change in mentality. For “corruption” is not just the act. The word also refers to a general state of mind, either of an individual or of a community.