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3 февраля 2023
Paolo Sorbello, photo by Zhanara Karimova

The Week in Kazakhstan: Criminal Records and Revolving Doors

Kazakhstan to send (a little) oil to Germany, activists organize a rally in Astana

The Week in Kazakhstan: Criminal Records and Revolving Doors

Several parties held congresses and announced their participation in the upcoming parliamentary and local elections, scheduled for March 19.

Ak Zhol, which has a long history of siding with the ruling party in the Majilis, the lower house of Parliament, confirmed that its candidates would run. Another party already in parliament, the People’s Party, announced its participation in the elections during their January 30 congress. The National Social Democratic Party, which had previously boycotted the 2021 elections, said it will participate this time around.

The Federation of Trade Unions, a government-controlled organization of labor collectives, also announced it would push candidates forward for seats in parliament and local assemblies. Due to its status as a quasi-governmental organization, observers believe its representatives will participate only in single-mandate districts (around 30% of the available seats).

Atyrau activist Max Bokai (formerly known as Bokayev) said the local electoral office refused his application to register as a candidate for a seat in the Majilis. Bokai planned to run in a single-mandate constituency. The electoral office said that his previous criminal record makes him ineligible. Bokai was arrested in 2016 for organizing a rally against amendments to the Land Code and served almost five years in prison.

The Financial Monitoring Agency said it concluded its pre-trial investigation on a case involving logistics company Eurotransit Nur Zholy, accused of having artificially inflated the pricing of its deliveries across the border area with China. Kairat Sharipbayev, the former head of KazTransGas and husband of Dariga Nazarbayeva (the eldest daughter of ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev), together with other members of his family, was the company’s ultimate beneficiary.

Serikkali Brekeshev, former minister of ecology, was appointed deputy chairman of the board at Kazmunaigas, the state oil and gas company. Previously, Brekeshev had also worked in KazTransGas, the gas network monopolist, now renamed Qazaqgaz. Magzum Mirzagaliyev, Kazmunaigas’ chairman of the board, had also previously served as minister of ecology.

Kazakhstani, Russian, and German officials confirmed this week that the shipments of Kazakh oil through the Druzhba pipeline system through Russia to Europe will already take place in February. Earlier in December, we wrote how marginal these shipments will be compared to Kazakhstan’s total export potential, and how other routes through both Russia and China continue to be crucial directions for its oil trade abroad. In 2023, Germany is poised to receive around 1.2 million tons of Kazakh oil, around 1.8% of last year’s total exports.

On January 30, a group of activists organized a rally in Astana demanding tougher penalties against gender-based violence. Activists said they would like to see “harassment” added to the criminal code and that victims of domestic violence would get better protection from the authorities.

Several participants in protests near the regional government building in the northern city of Aktobe in January 2022 were sentenced “for participating in a mass riot,” the court said on February 1. Nursultan Isayev was served the harshest sentence, 15 years in prison, for having caused damage to police and civilian cars. Most other defendants received suspended sentences and some were covered by the countrywide amnesty granted to those who had not been charged with violent crimes. Trials are continuing against civilians and security officials involved in Qandy Qantar (Kazakh for “Bloody January”, the violent repression of urban protests across the country).

Makhambet Abzhan, who ran a popular Telegram channel, was found guilty of disseminating false information and extortion. He was arrested in July 2022. Abzhan claims charges against him are politically motivated.