23 декабря 2022
Paolo Sorbello, photo from Akorda.kz

The Week in Kazakhstan: Qandy Qantar Memorial Unveiled in Almaty

A journalist was detained, Russia and Belarus exported their wood labeling it as “Kazakh” to avoid sanctions

The Week in Kazakhstan: Qandy Qantar Memorial Unveiled in Almaty

On December 23, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev traveled to Almaty and unveiled a memorial for the victims of Qandy Qantar, the violent repression of urban protests in January 2022. A large area in Republic Square, the theater of the protests and the clashes, is now reserved for the steles composing the Tagzym Memorial (Kazakh for “reverence”). “It was a time of testing for our people. Our statehood was under threat,” Tokayev said.

The day before, residents of Taraz, a city in the south of the country, visited the local prosecutor general’s office to demand the charges against their dead relatives be removed. A court in Taraz charged a range of people for participating in mass riots at the time of Qandy Qantar. Some of the accused had been killed during clashes with the police.

On December 22, Tokayev flew to Uzbekistan, where he met President Shavkat Mirzyoyev and signed a Border Demarcation Treaty, a landmark agreement between the two countries. Both presidents vowed for increased cooperation in terms of trade and investment.

Journalist Mikhail Kozachkov was detained on Sunday, accused of being an accomplice to an organized criminal group. Kozachkov denied all accusations and said he considers this a personal retaliation of the chairman of the Financial Monitoring Agency, Zhanat Elimanov. On December 20, the authorities confirmed his pre-trial detention was set for two months.

Magzum Mirzagaliyev, CEO of Kazmunaigas, the state-owned oil and gas company, said on December 21 that the company would consider a trial shipment of Kazakhstani oil to Germany via the Druzhba pipeline, a key infrastructure linking Russia and its European customers. Experts interviewed by Vlast, however, said that the shrinking Russian supplies are vastly larger than the available spare capacity that Kazakhstan could provide.

Justice minister Kanat Mussin told the press on Monday that Respublica, a party of entrepreneurs, had successfully registered. Hours later, however, the ministry’s press service said the information was incorrect and that the party has yet to obtain all the relevant permissions. Ministries routinely provide the press with ambiguous or incorrect information in Kazakhstan.

Nazarbayev Fund, a charitable foundation linked to former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, withdrew on December 22 a lawsuit it had filed in September in a US court against the Organized Crime and Corruption Research Center (OCCRP). In January 2022, in collaboration with Vlast and Kyrgyzstan’s Kloop, OCCRP had published an investigation into the activities of the Fund and other organizations linked to Nazarbayev. In the suit, the Fund said the publication was defamatory and demanded that OCCRP took down the article and compensated $100,000 in damages.

OCCRP journalists and their colleagues across Eurasia unveiled a sanction-busting scheme in the trade of wood. After the European Union’s ban on imports of Russian wood, due to sanctions related to the war in Ukraine, European customers saw a spike in imports of wood from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Border authorities, however, found that the extra $30 million-worth of wood imported were mislabeled and in fact originated from Russia and Belarus. On December 23, after the investigation was published, Kazakhstan’s ministry of industry said that no wood was exported to Europe due to a ban on foreign sales of wood in force since 2019.

In the first half of 2022, the government recovered around $1.4 billion in illegally offshored assets, the prosecutor general’s office said on December 22. A complete list of the assets and their beneficial owners was not released.

The prosecutor general’s office said on December 20 that most of the 43 billion tenge (around $95 million) that were stolen in a highway repair contract were allocated to KazGerStroy, a company that only existed for five days in September 2021, before being hastily liquidated. The company is believed to be linked to former elite members close to Nazarbayev.

Kazakhstan’s government will introduce a luxury tax in 2024, within the framework of a new Tax Code, the ministry of economy said on Thursday.

The Central Bank said on December 23 that the “7-20-25” state mortgage incentive would be renewed until the end of 2023. The government plans to allocate 100 billion tenge ($215 million) to cover the subsidy. The incentive, which eases credit for buying homes, was initially adopted in May 2018.

Altynalmas, a gold mining company, said it would stop operations near the village of Bestobe in the northern Akmolinsk region. The company said its decision came on the back of the pressure from local residents, who complained of worsening environmental conditions. The mine will be shut in the coming months. Altynalmas could transfer its mining rights to another investor.

The Almaty city government denied a series of requests by local feminist associations to conduct a rally for International Women’s Day on March 8. The administration insists that a youth movement, the League of Volunteers, had already filed three applications to conduct rallies on the same day in the same locations. The feminist groups insist the justification of the refusal was fabricated and called the government to reconsider.