Kazakh police on March 9 reported the recapture of businessman Muratkhan Tokmadi, who has pleaded guilty to the murder of prominent Kazakh banker Yerzhan Tatishev in a “hit job” allegedly ordered by fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov. All the roads running out of Taraz, in the south of Kazakhstan near the Kyrgyz border, were blocked by police officers, who managed to take Tokmadi back into custody a matter of hours after his escape from a prison hospital, according to local media reports.
Tokmadi’s trial on the murder charge began on February 16 in Taraz. Ablyazov has made public statements saying the allegations that he ordered Tokmadi to kill Tatishev—CEO of BTA Bank at the time he died from a single shot to the head in 2004—are a "lie." Tokmadi’s wife, Jamilya Aimbetova-Tokmadi, said on her Instagram page last year that her husband was tortured while in detention and that she did not believe the Kazakh Security Services’ (KNB's) allegations. She claimed she was threatened by the KNB for vocalising her opinions. Furthermore, she alleged that the KNB was attempting to force Tokmadi to “admit” from prison that he murdered Tatishev on Ablyazov’s orders. Aimbetova-Tokmadi maintained that a Youtube video from July 2017 featuring her husband’s relative Beken Imankaliyev, who accused Tokmadi of killing Tatishev, was disingenuous as Imankaliyev was likely pressured to record it.
Ablyazov became BTA Bank’s chairman in 2004 shortly after Tatishev’s death. The Kazakh authorities accuse Ablyazov of massive fraud—Kazakh sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna took over BTA Bank in 2009 and subsequently alleged Ablyazov and his subordinates had siphoned off as much as $5bn from the lender.
It was last October that Kazakh state prosecutors announced that they were were restarting an investigation into the death of Tatishev. The death was previously ruled to be a case of involuntary manslaughter that occurred during a hunting trip, which only involved Tokmadi and Tatishev. Tokmadi, was freed until he was detained again in mid-2017 amid allegations that he was the leader of a racketeering group.
‘Confession’in a TV documentary
An October 25 statement about the reopening of the Tatishev case followed a television documentary aired on October 24 in which Tokmadi states that Tatishev’s death was a “hit job” ordered by Ablyazov. While it is possible that Ablyazov may have played a role in Tatishev’s demise, at the time of his death some Kazakh analysts stated that his death might have been orchestrated by Kazakh elites at large.
Tokmadi is an owner of large glass manufacturing producers, including KazStroySteklo. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has previously granted government awards to Tokmadi’s business for high-quality work.
An in-absentia trial sentenced Ablyazov on June 7 last year to 20 years in prison for crimes including the theft of pension assets and savings. An Almaty court convicted him of abusing office, organising and leading a criminal group, financial mismanagement and embezzlement. Ablyazov reportedly described the trial as a farce. According to the charges, Ablyazov allegedly stole pension assets and personal savings as well as loans received from foreign financial institutions, causing damages estimated at $7.5bn.
Ablyazov initially fled Kazakhstan for the UK where he was granted political asylum. After a British court issued an order to arrest him for contempt of court, he then fled to France. In 2013, Ablyazov was arrested in France after 18 months in hiding. He was released from jail on December 9 last year after the highest French administrative court cancelled an order for his extradition to Russia. That move was made based on Ablyazov’s claims that the whole case against him is politically motivated.
An extradition to Russia would mean he would be immediately surrendered to Kazakhstan, Ablyazov has claimed.
While in exile, Ablyazov has been a vocal critic of President Nazarbayev’s regime. He has alleged that the Kazakh authorities’ accusations are part of a vendetta against him for trangressing against Nazarbayev by breaking a code of trust between the Kazakh oligarchs. Prior to falling out of favour with Kazakhstan’s regime, Ablyazov briefly led an opposition movement against Nazarbayev in 2002 before re-aligning himself with the regime.
Turning against Nazarbayev once again, this time in Europe, Ablyazov earned himself a number of supporters, including human rights activists and Kazakh dissidents. His allies argue that the supposed diversion of money by Ablyazov, even if it were potentially true, would only show that he played by the rules of the Kazakh oligarchs and that he now poses a threat to the regime due to the insider secrets he gained by partaking in the kleptocracy.