Viewing cable 09ASTANA677, KAZAKHSTAN: GOVERNMENT’S ANTI-CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN
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|09ASTANA677||2009-04-22 11:11||2010-11-29 23:11||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Astana|
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Wednesday, 22 April 2009, 11:43 C O N F I D E N T I A L ASTANA 000677 SIPDIS STATE FOR SCA/CEN EO 12958 DECL: 04/22/2019 TAGS PGOV, PREL, SOCI, KCRM, KZ SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN: GOVERNMENT’S ANTI-CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN -- SWEEPING EFFORT OR SELECTIVE TARGETING? REF: A. 08 ASTANA 0680 B. 08 ASTANA 1309 Classified By: Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland, 1.4 (b) and (d) ¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The Kazakhstani authorities recently launched a well-publicized anti-corruption campaign that has resulted in the arrest of several high-ranking individuals, including the Minister of Environment and a Deputy Minister of Defense, and in convictions of a number of others. The campaign appears to have the full support of President Nazarbayev, who has repeatedly called on the government and the ruling Nur Otan party to battle this “most serious evil.” Political analysts and civil society leaders remain skeptical, however, that the government’s clean-up efforts will bring permanent results. Most see the campaign simply as evidence of a power struggle among elite groups within the Kazakhstani government and doubt that any of the “biggest fish” will be affected. END SUMMARY. GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES ANTI-CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN ¶2. (SBU) The Kazakhstani authorities recently launched a well-publicized anti-corruption campaign that seems to be aimed at the higher echelons of the government and has already brought down several senior individuals. Over the past two months, the Agency for Fighting Economic Crimes and Corruption (also known as the Financial Police) launched investigations against several government officials on suspicion of corruption and abuse of power. The list includes Minister of Environment Nurlan Iskakov and two of his deputy ministers, the director of the Astana City Construction Company and one of his deputies, the Chairman of the Water Resources Committee, and the Director of the Astana Health Department. All of the officials have been removed from their positions and are currently in detention or under house arrest pending the outcome of investigations against them. Investigations have also been launched against numerous mid-level officials and officials in local government, and two regional governors -- for South Kazakhstan and East Kazakhstan oblasts -- have been replaced and are under investigation. In addition, on April 13, the Committee for National Security (KNB) detained Deputy Defense Minister Kazhimurat Mayermanov on suspicion of abuse of office (i.e., corruption) in connection with government contracts with two Israeli defense firms to design and manufacture new artillery systems. ¶3. (SBU) Several high-ranking government officials were charged or prosecuted for corruption-related crimes in an earlier “wave” last year. In August 2008, Yuriy Tleumuratov, the Chairman of the Financial Control Committee at the Ministry of Finance, and Ruslan Yusupov, an office director in the same committee, were arrested and charged with bribery and abuse of power. (NOTE: Then-Tax Committee Chairman Nurlan Rahkmetov resigned shortly thereafter, stating that ethics rules demand he share responsibility for the wrong-doings of his subordinates. Some commentators suggested, however, that he had been directly involved in the crimes. END NOTE.) In November 2008, Zhaksybek Kulekeyev, the former chairman of the national railroad company Temir Zholy, was convicted of accepting bribes and abusing his authority (see ref A). ¶4. (SBU) Perhaps the most high-profile official convicted of corruption-related crimes is Serik Burkitbayev, the former head of KazMunaiGaz and a one-time advisor to President Nazarbayev (see ref B). Burkitbayev was tried in a closed trial and convicted on March 24 for abuse of power, misappropriation of property, and embezzlement. His case, however, is surrounded by political intrigue -- Burkitbayev was at one point a close associate of Rakhat Aliyev, Nazarbayev’s exiled former son-in-law, and some press reports have suggested that his conviction was the result of his links to Aliyev rather than his corrupt dealings. Some media accounts claimed that Burkitbayev provided Aliyev with the eavesdropping equipment he apparently used to record embarrassing conversations among senior government officials which were later uploaded to the Internet. Aliyev himself publicly criticized the conviction and vowed to bring the attention of the international community to the case. ORDER COMES FROM THE TOP ¶5. (SBU) The anti-corruption drive certainly has the highest backing. On April 1, President Nazarbayev commended Financial Police head Kairat Kozhamzharov for his anti-corruption efforts and told him to continue the fight “irrespective of people’s status and connections.” Nazarbayev has repeatedly called on the government and the ruling Nur Otan party to battle this “most serious evil,” and there is evidence that his words have been taken to heart. Following the President’s criticism of the “corrupt state” of the Shymkent Medical Academy, the Health Ministry reorganized it, shutting down all but three faculties and transferring close to three thousand students to other institutions. The Ministry of Interior (MVD) recently announced that in response to “goals set forth by the President,” the Ministry will reorganize its hiring and promotion processes to increase transparency. And the Ministry of Education publicly committed to cleaning up corruption at schools and universities. BIG FISH OR SMALL FRY? ¶6. (C) Despite the high publicity surrounding the round-up of corrupt officials, independent analysts remain skeptical that the government’s clean-up efforts will bring permanent results. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us on April 7 that arrests of individual “wayward” officials will have little effect unless systemic corruption -- “the gray economy in government services” -- is addressed. Evidence of corrupt dealings could be dug up against numerous high-level government officials, argued XXXXXXXXXXX, so the decision about which officials to bring to justice becomes a purely political one. He predicted that the campaign will bring down the level of corruption in the short-term -- “some will think twice” -- but will have little effect on the system as a whole. ¶7. (C) Political analyst XXXXXXXXXXXX sees the recent convictions more as a sign of intra-elite warfare than evidence of a concerted anti-corruption effort. As evidence, he pointed to the cases of Kulikeyev and Burkitbayev, both of whom XXXXXXXXXXXX believes were convicted on marginal evidence. XXXXXXXXXXXX sees the anti-corruption effort as little more than a fight for property in uncertain economic times -- “the accused are the unlucky losers.” ¶8. (C) Civil society activist XXXXXXXXXXXX also describes the discredited officials as “the weak links in the chain” and believes that the “real sharks” are continuing to operate with impunity. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the criminal investigations themselves are hardly transparent and some, like the investigation against former Vice Minister of Environment Alzhan Braliyev, are border-line illegal. (NOTE: A contact of our Public Affairs Section who knows Braliyev personally questioned the veracity of the evidence against him and maintained to us that he is “taking the fall” for his boss, former Minister of Environment Nurlan Iskakov. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that several of Bralieyev’s associates and friends are coming together to fund his defense. END NOTE.) XXXXXXXXXXXX ascribed the recent “fury of activity” to new management at the Financial Police. Kozhamzharov was appointed in December 2008 and was given what XXXXXXXXXXXX believes were express orders from President Nazarbayev to clean up the government, “within reason, of course.” OPPOSITION LEADERS SEE EFFORTS AS “FUTILE” ¶9. (C) Key opposition leaders also voiced skepticism about the efficacy of the anti-corruption efforts. XXXXXXXXXXXX sees the campaign as “selective punishment” that will not touch the highest echelons of the government. XXXXXXXXXXXXdescribed it as a power struggle between leading elite groups “with corruption used as an excuse.” XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested that the campaign was aimed at eliminating the competition of Nazarbayev son-in-law Timur Kulibayev, who XXXXXXXXXXXX believes has been selected as his successor. (COMMENT: XXXXXXXXXXXX’s view appears to be a bit off base, since Kulibayev’s strongest competitors as potential Nazarbayev successors -- such as Astana Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov -- have not been affected by the anti-corruption campaign. END COMMENT.) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that Kazakhstan’s endemic corruption problems can only be addressed through appropriate changes to legislation -- “all else is futile.” ¶10. (C) COMMENT: Corruption is endemic among Kazakhstani officialdom, as it is across the CIS. Blessed with strong tax revenues, government salaries are high in Kazakhstan compared to its neighbors -- for example, Prime Minister Masimov’s salary is over $50,000 a year -- but most senior officials live lifestyles that require much higher incomes. In many instances, they receive profits from businesses registered in the names of their spouses or other relatives. In other cases, they’re stealing directly from the public trough. The officials taken down by the anti-corruption campaign are thus just a tiny fraction of those with dirt on their hands. The ongoing anti-corruption campaign does appear to be targeting some officials who have gone too far -- and don’t have adequate protection from above to ward off the law enforcement authorities. In other cases, however, it seems likely that officials no more corrupt than any one else have been targeted by rivals taking advantage of the anti-corruption campaign to bring them down. END COMMENT. HOAGLAND