Kazakstan: Soros Denies Exit Claims

The authorities are suspected of planting a story that falsely suggested the imminent departure of leading philanthropic organisation.

Kazakstan: Soros Denies Exit Claims

The authorities are suspected of planting a story that falsely suggested the imminent departure of leading philanthropic organisation.

Pro-government media have been accused of misinformation after publishing reports claiming that the Soros Foundation in Kazakstan, SFK, was pulling out of the country.

KTK TV ran the news on June 21 in its evening news programme. The same report was broadcast on the ORT Kazakstan channel four days later. Both stations are controlled by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliev.

The foundation's press spokesperson Ermek Tursynov believes the broadcasts sought to shake public confidence in the organisation following a speech by its head George Soros that was wrongly interpreted as an attack on the Kazak leadership.

The speech was made on June 13 in London during the launch of a campaign, organised by the NGO Global Witness, to force energy and mining companies to disclose payments they make to governments of developing countries.

"All over the world, countries that should be rich remain poor. Though blessed with valuable minerals such as oil, diamonds and gold, the ordinary people of Angola, Nigeria, Kazakstan and elsewhere are mired in poverty while corrupt officials prosper. Money that could be used to reduce poverty and jump-start economic growth is stolen instead," said Soros.

Tursynov suggested that someone in the government might have felt that Soros' remarks would attract unwanted attention to a Kazak leadership corruption scandal. The speech was preceded by parliamentary deputies' demands for an investigation into the Swiss bank accounts of high-ranking Kazak officials, where money from the oil revenue is believed to be held.

The fact that the misleading news reports appeared in the pro-government media has led opposition members and NGOs to suggest that the authorities were involved.

Pyotr Svoik, a member of the opposition DVK, told IWPR, "The government really does create major obstacles for international organisations that support the cause of civil society in Kazakstan. They would give a great deal to see these organisations leave the country."

Sergei Duvanov, editor of the International Bureau for Human Rights and Observance of the Law, agreed, "The foundation allocates money for the development of an open society and democratic institutions, which inconveniences the government, which then takes various steps to close it down.

"Evidently, this misinformation was provided by the media to influence public opinion, so people would think the SFK is not going to be around here much longer."

Kazak ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson Adil Abishev has sought to distance the government from the media allegations.

"This is unconfirmed information, no one has even thought about closing down the foundation as it performs useful work in Kazakstan. I'm not aware who could have distributed this information and for what purpose."

The SFK coverage coincides with recent government pressure on the country's opposition media, such as the television channels Tan and Irbis, and the newspaper Delovoe obozrenie - Respublika.

Soros, an international financier and philanthropist, has created foundations in 31 countries around the world, conducting and supporting various programmes in education, civil society and independent media among others.

Since its inception in July 1995, SFK has invested 25 million US dollars in various projects here and more than 7,000 Kazaks have benefited from the foundation's grants.

"Measures may be taken against the foundation, despite the fact that it is very fastidious and careful, and does not finance the opposition directly," warned Duvanov.

"It gives money to NGOs and various organisations working on democratic processes, but does not support the opposition press and political parties as this is forbidden by law. I think that the government's concern is somewhat excessive."

Andrei Chebotarev of the anti-corruption body Transparency Kazakstan described the media stories as "propaganda organised by a pro-government group of oligarchs".

"This was intentional misinformation with the goal of putting pressure on the foundation and also on public organisations linked to it," he claimed.

Aryeh Neier, president of the foundation's Open Society Institute, which has its headquarters in New York, made an official announcement in the popular Kazakstan weekly Novoe Pokolenie, that "we will continue to support the SFK and all its projects in the region".

Even after the official denial from Soros management, the media concerned show no inclination to publish a retraction, clarification or apology.

"No one has taken responsibility for the misinformation. We have grounds to believe that it was a special case, perhaps an initiative taken by unscrupulous journalists who misunderstood Soros. We do not intend to take anyone to court," said Tursynov.

Timur Jagiparov is an independent journalist

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