Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 170

According to UPI, the New York Times and other sources, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other State Department officials may have interfered with the progress of the corruption investigation against Kazakhstan’s former prime minister and current ally of communist groups, Akezhan Kazhegeldin. On September 10, Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry–acting on the instructions of Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office–arrested Kazhegeldin on his arrival in Moscow on a flight from London. The Russian authorities were carrying out an arrest warrant issued by Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general through the Interpol. Kazhegeldin has been wanted in Kazakhstan since 1998 for questioning on charges which include illegal financial operations abroad and tax evasion. The investigation focuses on multimillion-dollar bank accounts allegedly held abroad by the ex-premier and on his and his wife’s alleged acquisition of expensive real estate in the West. According to Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general, Yury Khitrin, the arrest warrant was issued after Kazhegeldin had ignored ten summons to appear for questioning and withheld documents requested of him by the investigation. Kazhegeldin, for his part, had claimed that his life would have been in danger had he returned.

Kazhegeldin headed Kazakhstan’s government from 1994 until 1997, when President Nursultan Nazarbaev pressured him into resigning on face-saving medical grounds. By all accounts and appearances, Kazhegeldin became wealthy while in government and has since moved about various Western residences and has engaged the services of legal and lobbying firms. In 1998 he briefly returned to Kazakhstan to run in that year’s presidential election, but his candidacy was disqualified on a legal technicality. Kazhegeldin heads from abroad the Republican People’s Party (RPP), which campaigns in Kazakhstan’s current parliamentary elections and has formed a political bloc with the communist and Russian-oriented groups (see below).

From September 10-15, Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office weighed the Kazakhstani counterpart’s request to extradite Kazhegeldin for questioning in Kazakhstan. Kazhegeldin spent those days mostly in the Barvikha sanatorium outside Moscow, a facility regularly used by heads of state such as Russia’s Boris Yeltsin–and occasionally by Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev. The suspense seems to have ended temporarily yesterday when the Kazakhstani authorities rescinded the arrest warrant. That step, in turn, let the Russian authorities off the hook; they released Kazhgeldin yesterday. According to reports from Washington, several congressmen–along with the State Department–interceded with Russia and Kazakhstan to let Kazhegeldin go free.

Meanwhile, in Almaty and Astana Kazhegeldin’s RPP, the Communist Party and smaller leftist groups organized joint protests against Kazhegeldin’s detention and demanded his release. They portray the investigation against him as designed to suppress political freedoms and to influence the course of the current electoral campaign. For their part, Khitrin and Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev issued statements rejecting any politicization of, and pressures upon, the criminal investigation (Itar-Tass, Habar, September 11-15; New York Times, September 12; UPI, September 15).

Kazhegeldin’s alignment with Kazakhstani leftist and Russia-oriented groups dates back to the 1998 presidential election. In the current campaign for parliamentary elections, Kazhegeldin’s RPP is a component of the Republic bloc along with the Communist Party, the left-wing Orleu [Progress] movement, the Union of Russian, Slavic and Cossack Associations, and the Officers’ Union–the latter being a group of Soviet Army veterans. Also cooperating with the bloc is the Workers’ Party, whose two top candidates–recently disqualified from the electoral contest–are veteran leaders of pro-Soviet rallies and pickets. In a September 8 statement from abroad, Kazhegeldin protested against the disqualification of both these two candidates and his own candidacy.

Among the RPP’s allies, only the Communist Party carries some political weight; the other groups are marginal–though they assert that their strength could significantly increase, were they granted unrestricted access to the mass media. In an August 27 statement, Communist Party First Secretary Serikbolsyn Abdildin described Kazhegeldin as “the country’s protector abroad.” Indeed the Communist Party leaders tactfully stayed home when their allies in the Republic bloc, including the RPP, recently made a collective lobbying appearance on Capitol Hill. In his August 27 statement, Abdildin predicted that the communist and Kazhegeldin parliamentary deputies would form a bloc in the new parliament. Uncharacteristically for a communist party, that of Kazakhstan calls for legalizing bank accounts held unlawfully abroad by certain Kazakhstani citizens (Itar-Tass, August 27; Habar, September 8; see the Monitor, April 22, July 8).