Kazakhs re-investigate death of Ablyazov-tied top banker after “hit job” confession

Kazakhs re-investigate death of Ablyazov-tied top banker after “hit job” confession
Fugitive Kazakh banker Mukhtar Ablyazov.
By Nizom Khodjayev in Tashkent October 27, 2017

Kazakh state prosecutors announced on October 25 that they are restarting an investigation into the death of a prominent Kazakh banker, Yerzhan Tatishev.

The decision was taken after his killer, businessman Muratkhan Tokmadi, who had previously claimed he killed Tatishev by accident during a hunting trip, allegedly admitted he murdered the victim in a “hit job” at Kazakh fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov’s behest. Ablyazov, whose website depicts him as a political dissident who is one of the key figures of the Kazakh opposition, has long contended Astana has been engaged in a succession of dirty tricks to sully his name.

The fugitive banker

Ablyazov is a former head of BTA Bank. He became chairman of the bank in 2004 shortly after the death of Tatishev, who was, at the time, the bank’s chief executive. 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 $5bn from the lender.

An in-absentia trial sentenced Ablyazov on June 7 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 France's highest 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 Kazakh President Nursultan 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.

Tatishev’s killer

Tatishev’s death was previously ruled to be a case of involuntary manslaughter. The man who killed him, Tokmadi, was freed until he was detained again in mid-2017 amid allegations that he was the leader of a racketeering group.

Tokmadi’s wife, Jamilya Aimbetova-Tokmadi, said on her Instagram page that her husband was tortured while in detention and that she did not believe the Kazakh security services’ (KNB's) allegations. She claimed she had been 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 behalf of Ablyazov. 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.

The 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.

Tokmadi is an owner of large glass manufacturing producers, including KazStroySteklo. Nazarbayev has previously granted government awards to Tokmadi’s business for high-quality work.

The statement by the Kazakh prosecutors did not actually tie Tokmadi to Ablyazov, but the exiled banker put out a Facebook post on October 25 condemning the government for forcing the detained Kazakh businessman to falsely testify against him.