Anti-corruption investigators have reportedly detained recently dismissed National Economy Minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev on suspicion of taking bribes.
Tengri news website on January 10 cited the Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption as saying Bishimbayev has been taken into custody and is being held at an Interior Ministry pre-trial facility in Astana pending investigations.
Bishimbayev was fired by presidential decree on December 28 and replaced by Timur Suleimenov.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev later hinted during a government meeting on December 30 that personnel changes at the National Economy Ministry stemmed from ongoing investigations into Bishimbayev and his dealings with the state-owned Baiterek holding company.
Dark clouds have for a while been gathering over Baiterek, or more specifically its daughter company Baiterek Development, which has been under investigation since mid-November.
On November 21, a number of executives at the company were arrested on suspicion of taking bribes from lobbyists for companies seeking contracts as part of the state’s ambitious Nurly Zhol infrastructure development program. According to the Kazakhstan edition of Forbes magazine, the amount of bribes taken amounted to 288 million tenge, around $900,000.
As recently as December 6, Bishimbayev told reporters on the sidelines of a government meeting that he was unaware that there had been any bribe-taking at Baiterek Development. When asked if the people under investigation were his subordinates, he failed to answer.
“I cannot comment — the investigators will deal with everything,” he said.
Bishimbayev was appointed National Economy Minister in May 2016, prior to which he was in charge of the Baiterek holding company, a role he had filled since May 2013.
In an unrelated case, a court in the business capital, Almaty, on January 9 ordered the 2-month arrest of the head of the Single Pension Fund, Ruslan Yerdenayev, and several other officials as part of an investigation into embezzlement.
Anti-corruption rhetoric has been a mainstay of political pronouncements in Kazakhstan for decades although all too little has been done to address the problem.
A spate of criminal investigations and high-level appointments suggests, however, that the government is taking things a little more seriously this time — or at least trying to be seen to take things more seriously. The need to create at least the impression that an anti-corruption drive is in place is made particularly urgent by the economic stagnation incurred after months of low global prices for oil — Kazakhstan’s core export commodity. Bishimbayev’s replacement, Timur Suleimenov, announced on January 10 that Kazakhstan’s economy had expanded by 1 percent in 2016, defying the predictions of contraction predicted in some quarters but all the same confirming that the country is indeed enduring a dramatic slowdown in growth.
In one telling recent appointment, the long-time head of tax committee, Daulet Yergozhin, was in November moved to a new job as deputy head of the National Security Committee, a body more readily associated with combating terrorism or assisting in clamping down on the political opposition.