Kazakh civil society lobbies for anti-corruption sanctions

A loose coali­tion of Kazakh civ­il soci­ety groups has hired a for­mer con­gres­sion­al aide to lob­by Congress and the Joe Biden admin­is­tra­tion for sanc­tions against cor­rupt actors in the cen­tral Asian country. 

The Coalition of Civil Society of Kazakhstan — also known as Dongelek Ystel — has retained Alexander Beckles, a for­mer leg­isla­tive direc­tor to for­mer Rep. Edolphus Towns (D‑N.Y.), to lob­by on “democ­ra­cy, sta­bil­i­ty and pros­per­i­ty in the region of Kazakhstan, as well as issues of finance, includ­ing rules and gov­ern­men­tal pro­grams relat­ed to anti-mon­ey laun­der­ing, inter­na­tion­al sanc­tions, and anti­cor­rup­tion.” The con­tract is for $40,000 per month for an ini­tial one-year term.

The engage­ment was first dis­closed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in March. Beckles how­ev­er has now dis­closed a state­ment of work that pro­vides new details about his engage­ment, which includes: 

  • Helping US offi­cials and Kazakh activists work togeth­er to “expose, inves­ti­gate and stop mon­ey laun­der­ing and vio­la­tion of mon­ey laun­der­ing laws”;
  • Impose sanc­tions against Kazakh indi­vid­u­als deemed “human rights abusers, klep­to­crats, and cor­rupt actors” under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and ban them and their close rel­a­tives from enter­ing the United States;
  • Convince the US Treasury Department to freeze the assets of cor­rupt Kazakh offi­cials in the United States; and 
  • Initiate crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tions and sup­port ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tions against Kazakh klep­to­crats and American com­pa­nies owned by them and their relatives. 

The agree­ment was signed by the head of the coalition’s for­eign office, Serik Medetbekov, who is based in Germany. Medetbekov told Foreign Lobby Reportin a phone inter­view that the coali­tion was formed about 18 months ago and is fund­ed by dona­tions, includ­ing by Kazakh busi­ness lead­ers domes­ti­cal­ly and abroad who want to see rule of law improve in the country.

We are try­ing to bring atten­tion of the new admin­is­tra­tion to the Central Asian coun­tries,” he said. “There is evi­dence that the mon­ey stolen from those coun­tries is flow­ing to the West and cor­rupt­ing the demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tems of the West.”

Medetbekov said the coali­tion most­ly rep­re­sents a younger gen­er­a­tion of civ­il soci­ety activists fed up with endem­ic cor­rup­tion under for­mer President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned in March 2019 after three decades in pow­er. The sit­u­a­tion has improved under his suc­ces­sor Kassym-Jomart Tokayevaccord­ing to Transparency International, but remains concerning.

The coali­tion notably works with new move­ments and fledg­ling polit­i­cal par­ties, such as the oppo­si­tion Democratic Party of Kazakhstan led by Janbolat Mamai, a 32-year-old jour­nal­ist who was con­vict­ed in 2017 on what he says were trumped-up mon­ey laun­der­ing charges. Meanwhile the coalition’s spokesman is a well-known human rights activist and blog­ger, Alnur Ilyashev, who was found guilty last year of spread­ing false infor­ma­tion for social media posts crit­i­ciz­ing Kazakhstan’s rul­ing par­ty, Nur Otan, over its han­dling of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and oth­er matters.

We are try­ing to work with the whole demo­c­ra­t­ic part of civ­il soci­ety part of Kazakhstan,” Medetbekov said. “There are a lot of civ­il move­ment in Kazakhstan. And they are all against the regime.”

Medetbekov said the coali­tion par­tic­u­lar­ly wants to go after illic­it Kazakh for­tunes. He cit­ed the exam­ples of Timur Kulibayev, a Nazarbayev son-in-law accused of siphon­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars off of a pipeline project paid for with Chinese loans; Nazarbayev broth­er Bolat Nazarbayev, whose US assets once includ­ed a $20 mil­lion Fifth Avenue con­do in New York; and Mukhtar Ablyazov, a for­mer banker turned oppo­si­tion fig­ure who now lives in France and is accused of embez­zling more than $7.5 bil­lion from Kazakh bank BTA, where he served as CEO before it was nation­al­ized in 2009.

We oppose the peo­ple … who worked for this regime, stole the mon­ey, ran to the West and now pre­tend that they are in the oppo­si­tion to the regime,” Medetbekov said. “For us it’s impos­si­ble — if some­body steals mon­ey on the street in New York, police will be there in a few min­utes. But oth­er per­sons are break­ing American law and nobody is tak­ing care of it. This is the point.”

This is the first time Beckles has reg­is­tered his firm, Alexander Beckles LLC, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), although he is reg­is­tered to lob­by for the gov­ern­ments of Burundi, Guinea and Uganda as a con­sul­tant to Scribe Strategies & Advisors. He also lob­bies for the Democratic Republic of the Congo state min­ing com­pa­ny Gecamines via Scribe.

The lob­by­ing appears to have had some ear­ly results.

On May 7 the chair­man of the Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson (D‑Miss.), deliv­ered remarks on the floor of the US House of Representatives “address­ing the sit­u­a­tion in Kazakhstan con­cern­ing klep­toc­ra­cy.” The remarks focused par­tic­u­lar­ly on the accu­sa­tions against Kulibayev. 

Fighting cor­rup­tion is an imper­a­tive for the United States. As a bea­con of lib­er­ty and the rule of law, it is our duty and the purest expres­sion of our val­ues. It is also a high­ly prac­ti­cal form of soft pow­er that advances our nation­al secu­ri­ty,” Thompson said. “As Kazakhstan is aspir­ing to be a strate­gic part­ner of the United States, I call on my col­leagues to join me in urg­ing the Biden Administration to review this case of klep­toc­ra­cy and cor­rupt offi­cials from Kazakhstan and assure that it will be includ­ed in our government’s dis­cus­sions regard­ing this impor­tant part of the world.”

Neither Beckles nor Thompson’s office respond­ed to a request for comment.

The coali­tion, how­ev­er, prompt­ly high­light­ed the remarks on its Facebook page.x

Document Doc file

Foreign Lobby by Julian Pecquet

FaceBook Page @DongelekYstel  · Community organisation

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