Kazak 'Hits' Linked to Business Rivalry

Assassinations highlight grey area between business and politics in post-Soviet Kazakstan

Kazak 'Hits' Linked to Business Rivalry

Assassinations highlight grey area between business and politics in post-Soviet Kazakstan

A recent spate of contract killings in Kazakstan has prompted speculation that a bitter turf war is being fought over the most lucrative sectors of local industry.

And, while the independent media openly criticises the police for their apparent inability to catch the culprits, experts believe the murder plots may implicate top government officials who are effectively above the law.

Last month, Sazyzbai Shailin, director of the state-owned Jasyl Aimak, was shot dead at his Astana home. Detectives believe the murder could be connected to a recent contract to plant trees and gardens across the capital which was awarded to Shailin's company.

They are also investigating a theory that Shailin was killed because of something he overheard or witnessed during his time as head of a "presidential" nature reserve. The park in question was a favourite destination for members of Kazakstan's political elite.

The case highlights the grey area between business and politics in post-Soviet Kazakstan.

Askar Kurmanbaev, a political analyst, commented, "In Kazakstan, many influential people take an active part in carving up spheres of influence in the most profitable industry sectors - including the arms trade."

This facet of political life is clearly illustrated by a murder trial currently being held behind closed doors in Almaty.

Local observers say the atmosphere of secrecy surrounding the case indicates that it could incriminate senior government officials.

The victim was Talgat Ibraev, director of Kazspetseksport, which deals in military ordnance and is the largest state-run enterprise in Kazakstan.

Ibraev's successor, Ersa Kashkarov, has been charged with masterminding the assassination whilst the 11 other defendants in the trial include Anatoly Adamov, a former colonel in military intelligence.

Another suspect, Amangeldy Amangaliev, reportedly committed suicide last autumn whilst in police custody -- but his relatives suspect foul play.

Mystery also surrounds the death of Igor Bogatyrev, first deputy to the akim of the Karagandy oblast, who was found dead in July last year.

The official police verdict was suicide but Bogatyrev's relatives claim there were no fingerprints on the weapon found near his body.

Further more, a ballistics expert from the directorate of internal affairs in Karagandy said the bullet which killed Bogatyrev could not have been fired from the gun in question.

However, the courts have sent the case back for further investigation on three occasions and it seems unlikely that the family's calls for justice will be satisfied.

Ironically, the recent spate of contract killings has coincided with a major reshuffle in the Kazak corridors of power. At the beginning of January, President Nursultan Nazarbaev dismissed the heads of most state ministries, fuelling hopes that a corrupt old guard would be replaced by new reformers.

However, Boris Kaltsov, a lecturer at the State University of Kazakstan, remarked, "Changes in the authorities are unlikely to have a serious impact on the criminal situation."

And Jusup Altynbaev, an expert from the Kazak Academy of Sciences, said, "By the end of the 1990s, the most powerful groupings in Kazak industry and politics had already been established.

These groups were prepared to eliminate any apparent rivals in the struggle for dominance and for the most profitable sectors.

"Their task was made easier by the weakness of the security services and the links between some influential people and organised crime."

However, most people in Kazakstan are far more concerned with the rapid growth of street crime than with the murder of state officials. Pensioner Nadezhda Sidorova commented, "People here are more afraid of the police than they are of the criminals."

Alexander Kovalchuk is a political analyst from Almaty

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