Kazakstan: Police Corruption Worsens

Extortion and dishonesty has always been rife among the country's law enforcement officers and many are now suspected of serious involvement in the drugs trade.

Kazakstan: Police Corruption Worsens

Extortion and dishonesty has always been rife among the country's law enforcement officers and many are now suspected of serious involvement in the drugs trade.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

At the end of May, a traffic police captain in southern Kazakstan was caught with ten kilograms of heroin in his car. A search of his Shymkent home turned up hand grenades, pistols and ammunition and a number of blank legal documents stamped by the local courts.

His superior officer, Amankul Kasymbekov, said he was shocked by the revelations, "He had no violations or reprimands on his record and I would never have suspected him of doing anything illegal."

But this is not the first time the force's officers have been caught committing serious offences. Another police chief, when asked the distinction between his subordinates and common criminals, answered with a laugh, "The difference is in the thickness of a cigarette paper."

The region's head of internal security, Kalmakhan Erjanov, told IWPR that 39 criminal charges have been brought against the force in 2002 compared to only 29 in the corresponding period the previous year. "Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in the number of crimes committed by police," he said.

"Our colleagues are mainly accused of extortion and of abusing their professional powers. Recently, though, we have seen a new form of crime - drug dealing. Last year, officers from the Saryagash district police station were arrested for transporting heroin and a captain was arrested for a similar offence earlier this year."

These figures do not reflect the real picture. Colleagues can take steps to protect the "honour" of the profession by forging documents or retroactively dismissing an officer suspected for criminality, so that it appears that he was not a working policeman when his offences were committed.

A year ago, the head of southern Kazakstan's drug abuse clinic, Doctor Fatima Mustafetova, alleged that Shymkent's drug houses are under police protection, telling IWPR that her patients say there is cooperation between the force and the dealers it is supposed to tackle. She was subsequently fired.

The relationship is simple and profitable. The drug dealer approaches a high-placed policeman, pays him a sum of money and the officer's men turn a blind eye. When the former encounters a wealthy client, he informs the police who then take him into custody. The suspect pays a large sum of money - anything from 700 to 1,000 US dollars for an addict caught with several grams of heroin, much more for bulk-buyers - to secure his release. The confiscated drugs are then returned to the dealer.

This stench of corruption hovered around the police even under the strict Soviet regime, when the force was recognised as one of the sleaziest sections of society. Today, dishonesty would appear to have reached frightening proportions.

"What's the point of firing us and putting us in jail?" one policeman asked IWPR. "Others will take the place of those you dismiss, and soon they will be the same as their predecessors."

The officers claim there is no escape from institutionalised extortion within the police. A fresh recruit applying to join any law enforcement department will need money to get the job - and the position he or she is awarded is entirely dependent on the amount of cash paid.

A brief survey conducted by IWPR among the senior pupils at a Shymkent school indicated that most intend to study law so that they can work in the police force, the prosecutor's office, the courts or customs and tax services. Few will have been attracted by the prospect of becoming loyal civil servants.

As long as the police force gives out a message that crime pays, it is understandable - if regrettable - that Kazakstan's young people will aspire to join such a "profitable" profession.

Daur Dosybiev is an independent journalist in Shymkent

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