Apologies and Blame: Former Economy Minister on Trial in Kazakhstan for Corruption

Kuandyk Bishimbayev, accused of bribery and embez­zle­ment, main­tains his innocence.

In one of Kazakhstan’s high­est pro­file cor­rup­tion cas­es, for­mer Economy Minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev stands accused by the state of bribery and embez­zle­ment stem­ming from his days as chair­man of the state-run hold­ing Baiterek.

Bishimbayev (whose name can also be angli­cized as Quandyq Bishimbaev) went on tri­al last November along­side 22 oth­ers, some of whom have already plead guilty and oth­ers who, like Bishimbayev, main­tain their innocence.

In his first com­ments in court since the tri­al began Bishimbayev apol­o­gized to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. According to RFE/RL, he said, “I feel ashamed for the sit­u­a­tion I am in now. I failed the pres­i­dent when I cre­at­ed my team… I picked up wrong peo­ple, who used me and my trust. I apol­o­gize to the pres­i­dent and to the nation for that.”

Bishimbayev said he would always be “deeply loy­al to the pres­i­dent and the inter­ests of our coun­try and people.”

When he was arrest­ed in January 2017, Crossroads Asia’s Paolo Sorbello recount­ed Bishimbayev’s downfall:

Kuandyk Bishimbayev served as econ­o­my min­is­ter from May to late December 2016, when he was abrupt­ly dis­missed. A cou­ple of weeks lat­er he was first detained and then arrest­ed on cor­rup­tion charges. He is accused of hav­ing accept­ed bribes between 2013 and 2015 while head­ing the Baiterek Holding, a state-owned con­glom­er­ate in charge of sev­er­al oth­er com­pa­nies that over­see or car­ry out gov­ern­ment ten­ders. The charges could land him a 15-year sentence.

Investigators say Bishimbayev embez­zled about $3.1 mil­lion from a $130.6 mil­lion con­struc­tion project. Bishimbayev report­ed­ly received about $2 mil­lion personally.

The scheme, as the 23-per­son case demon­strates, took a net­work to achieve and involved two com­pa­nies, laun­der­ing through pay­ments dis­guised as being for con­struc­tion work­ers’ food and hous­ing, and rout­ing to Bishimbayev via his cousin.

As Bruce Pannier has writ­ten, there are also notes of elite pol­i­tick­ing behind both Bishimbayev’s mete­oric rise — he was named econ­o­my min­is­ter at the age of 36 — and his sud­den down­fall sev­er­al months later.

Bishimbayev was not the first Baiterek Holding chair­man to face cor­rup­tion charges. In November 2016, a month before Bishimbayev’s down­fall began with his dis­missal, Bakhyt Zhaksybaev was arrest­ed. Zhaksybaev was anoth­er for­mer chair­man of Baiterek Holding’s board, as close to his arrest as April 2016, accord­ing to a press release which names him as chair­man. At the time of his arrest, Zhaksybaev was chair­man of anoth­er joint stock com­pa­ny, the Kazakhstan Center for Modernization and Development of Housing and Communal Services, under the econ­o­my ministry.

In Transparency International’s 2016 cor­rup­tion per­cep­tions index, Kazakhstan fell into the bot­tom quar­ter. Despite a hand­ful of arrets of high pro­file fig­ures for cor­rup­tion, it remains a seri­ous issue in the coun­try and only time will tell if the root­ing out of cor­rup­tion offi­cials is more pol­i­tics than it is ref­or­ma­tion of insti­tu­tion­al practices.

By Catherine Putz

Apologies and Blame: Former Economy Minister on Trial in Kazakhstan for Corruption

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