Why They Arrested Satybaldy

On March 13, 2022, Kayrat Satybaldyuly, the eldest nephew of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, was arrested in the Almaty airport when attempting to board a private jet on its way to the United Arab Emirates.

The brief press-release of the Kazakh Anticorruption Agency states that ‘a criminal case opened in relation to abuse of authority and embezzlement of very large funds of Kazakhtelecom JSC’ has served as the reason for this high-profile law-enforcement operation.

At the same time, the press-release mentions that ‘Satubaldyuly’s involvement in other crimes threatening the safety of the state is being investigated’ and that ‘in accordance with Article 201 of the Kazakh Criminal Code, all the additional information has been classified in the interest of the investigation’.

Kayrat Satybaldyuly is known in the country not only as a close relative of Nazarbayev and a zealous Muslim practising a rather radical version of Islam but also as a major shareholder of Kazakhtelecom NC (read about this here, here  and here)  and as a secret co-owner of the Kasparov.kz bank (read about it here and here).

We do not know exactly what he has been charged with. Therefore, we are not going to cast stones and take delight in his arrest but will pose a simple question.

Why President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has suddenly dared to sanction what, up until this moment, seemed impossible in Kazakhstan, namely, an arrest of a Nazarbayev family member on a criminal charge?

We at KZ.expert believe there can be only three answers. It looks like the current President of Kazakhstan -

a) either has grown so politically strong that he is feeling confident enough to encroach upon the sacred;

б) or has been forced to agree to Kayrat Satybaldyuly’s arrest since the accusation against the Elbasy’s nephew is of such a serious nature and is so proof positive that it could be dangerous for him and Akorda to start defending the former;

в) or has received such a weighty support of either the leading elite clans of the country or some very influential foreign political leader that it has made it possible for him to take a landmark step in the modern history of Kazakhstan and arrest Nazarbayev’s close relative (the one who has not been banished from the family).  

As to the first answer, it does have merit. In our opinion, however, it is going to take quite some time to stabilise the domestic political situation in Kazakhstan especially given that the war between Russia and Ukraine with the collective West standing behind it is overlapping with the January tragedy. Therefore, we seriously doubt the confidence of Tokayev’s position especially since the top of the power pyramid is always shaken more violently than the bottom (where the ordinary Kazakh citizens dwell).

We are not discarding this second answer. However, it looks like Kayrat Satybaldy’s crime may involve illegal acquisition of Kazakhtelecom JFC shares from Aygul Nuriyeva and Karim Masimov (who was standing behind her back) or siphoning the dividends off to offshores.

This, of course, could be regarded as abuse of authority and embezzlement of large Kazakhtelecom JSC funds. However, that would be an exaggeration since at least several hundred people in Kazakhstan should be put in jail for the exact same crime.

As to the third answer, we consider it most likely. Although we do not believe that the Kazakh ruling elite a significant part of which consists of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s family members and the affiliated clans had suddenly chosen to unite and bring support to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in such a strong and unequivocal manner that the latter was inspired to sanction the arrest of Kayrat Satybaldy.

In view of this, the second variant of the third answer arises - a support on the part of a foreign political leader. Who could it be? Undoubtedly, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moreover, we do allow for the possibility that the high-profile arrest of Nazarbayev’s nephew when attempting to board a plane in Almaty airport on its way to the United Arab Emirates (and on the very day of his second daughter’s wedding celebration) was the Elbasy’s punishment.

For what? Perhaps, for his visit to Turkey on the invitation of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But why would Putin get so angry with his former colleague?

First of all, it could be because Nazarbayev had agreed to participate in an event that the Russian President could regard as harmful for Russia. Or to make contacts there that could be regarded as the betrayal of the common interests of the CSTO countries.

Second of all, on the back of the Third World War with the collective West led by the United States (the war that Russia drastically escalated on February 24, 2022, by adding a real military action in Ukraine to the political, economic, scientific, technological and financial fronts), Nazarbayev has become a huge problem for Kremlin.

For, due to the abnormal corruptness of the Elbasy and his family, they are not simply more than vulnerable to the drastic escalation of the sanctions pressure against Russia and its neighbours and friends, but they can easily become a 5th column in the rear of the Russian troops.

In other words, Nursultan Nazarbayev and his clan are the easiest way to exert pressure on the ruling elite of Kazakhstan demanding Akorda to refuse to support Russia today and, perhaps, to betray tomorrow.

If our assumption is correct, Vladimir Putin has probably indicated or, most likely, directly told Kassym-Jomart Tokayev that Nursultan Nazarbayev has become a problem not only for the Kazakh citizens but for Russia as well. In view of this, the second President of Kazakhstan had no choice but to send a clear message to his predecessor at the presidential post.

And the arrest of Kayrat Satybaldy (perhaps the last of Nazarbayev’s relatives who has still not fled the country) was this message.

The question is - will the Elbasy learn his lesson? And how will he react to the arrest of his eldest nephew and his possible long-term imprisonment?

Will he keep silent or will he engage in a counter-attack via leaking compromising materials on Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and his most trusted henchmen?

Experience tells us that Nursultan Nazarbayev is unlikely to have trusted his successor so completely that he didn’t dig a bellyful of kompromat against him.


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