On February 2, 2018, the Judicial Division for Criminal Cases of the Kazakhstan Military Court made a sensational decision to exchange the prison term for big monetary fines and to execute an immediate release of Kanat Sultanbekov, the former Deputy Chairman of the Kazakhstan Engineering National Company, and of Gil Smolinski (one of his accomplices).
Why do we consider this decision sensational?
First, here is the list of the people convicted (apart from Sultanbekov and Smolinski) in connection to this criminal case: Mukhtar Karabekov, Head of the Center of the Military Representative Offices at the Defense Ministry, Aybek Bekturganov, Director of the Kazlegprom-Almaty company, Arsen Tolemisov, Head of the Central Warehouse at the Defense Ministry, Girmen Bisenov, President of the Uralskagroremmash company, Kanat Baykadamov, Lieutenant Colonel of Military Unit 14776 at the Defense Ministry, Malik Syzdykov, Vice CEO of the Kazakhstanskaya Aviatsionnaya Industria company, Mberekrehim Gabdul-Kabirov, Head of Center 10 of the Military Representative Offices at the Defense Ministry.
Apart from Sultanbekov and Gil, only two of these people had their sentences reduced but, nonetheless, remained behind bars.
Here is a quote from the text of the court resolution: “To remove from the descriptive and the resolution part of the sentence the conclusions and decisions of the court on finding Mberekrekhim Gabdul-Kabirov guilty and on sentencing him according to Article 366 Part 3 Clause 4 of the Criminal Code and Article 24 Part 3 of Article 366 Part 3 Clauses 2 and 4 of the Criminal Code as superfluously imputed. To remove from the descriptive and the resolution part of the sentence the conclusions and decisions of the court on finding Mukhtar Karabekov guilty and on sentencing him according to Article 24 Parts 3, 28 of Part 4 of the Criminal Code and sentence him to 4 years of imprisonment according to Article 366 Parts 2, 4 of the Criminal Code with the application of Part 4 of Article 55 of the Criminal Code”.
Judging by the prosecutorial materials and the gravity of the first sentence, it was Kanat Sultanbekov who primarily stood behind organizing the corruption schemes. However, it was, once again, Kanat Sultanbekov who got released earlier than anyone else.
Second, the monetary fine that Sultanbekov now must pay instead of serving time in prison turned out to be only twice as big as the amount of the bribes he had taken.
Here is a quote from the Judicial Division for Criminal Cases’ resolution: “The sentence, in the part of committing to serving prison term by convicted Kanat Sultanbekov and Gil Smolinsli, must be vacated. Sultanbekov is to be sentenced according to Article 366 Part 4 of the Criminal Code to paying the fine in the amount of 2 139 834 310 tenge that is twice the size of the bribe, according to Part 6 of Article 62 of the Criminal Code, to reduce the imposed sentence by 334 310 tenge and inflict the final penalty of paying the fine in the amount of 2 139 500 000 tenge”.
We cannot remember another effective sentence inflicted on the high-rank corrupt officials where the fine would be so small. Usually, the Kazakhstan courts sentence former officials and the managers of the quasi-state agencies to paying the fines several dozen times as big as the amounts of the bribes they took.
The irrationality of the Judicial Division for Criminal Cases’ decision (both legal and political) is so obvious that the Head of the agency Zhandos Musabekuly was forced to give a special explanation as to why the sentencing had been changed.
According to what he said during the pronouncement of the verdict, “when sentencing Sultanbekov and Smolinski, the court did not consider all the rules of Articles 52 and 55. In the opinion of the Judicial Division for Criminal Cases, the court of original jurisdiction did not take into consideration the rules of general purpose. The sentencing was unjust due to its extreme harshness. To achieve the purpose of the sentencing that is to reform Sultanbekov and Smolinski and to prevent new offences, considering the nature and the level of the social danger of the crime and taking into account the extenuating circumstances, it is enough to sentence them to paying the fines”.
Zhandos Musabekuly also pointed out that “imposing the sentence that is easier than the allowed limits is acceptable provided there are exceptional circumstances that lower the level of the social danger and that the accused parties actively assisted in solving the crime”.
As for the “exceptional circumstances”, in this particular case, we believe, it has to do with someone influential among the Kazakhstan authorities standing up for Kanat Sultanbekov. We do not know for certain who this someone is, but the list of the candidates should not be hard to compile by studying the work history of the former Deputy Chairman of the Kazakhstan Engineering National Company.
The reasons for Kanat Sultanbekov’s defender (s) to act the way they do, to us, are quite obvious:
- first, they are saving a member of their clan because it is customary for Kazakhstan;
- second, it is possible they are saving themselves since the accused may start talking as it has happened before in our country’s history;
- third, they are instilling confidence in their allies;
- fourth, they are showing their political power to the competing groups.
This is why we have no doubt that the former Deputy Chairman of the national company will have no difficulty to pay $6.5 mln to the Kazakhstan state budget.
Of course, this practice that can be called “better a small fish than an empty dish” does not help to reduce the corruption in the country but rather stimulates it. Because now taking bribes in Kazakhstan clearly fits in the business-scheme when the elevated risk is compensated with the significant shadowy earnings. The point is to take as much as you can, to have a solid protection, and to share what you have in a timely fashion. And, just in case, to try and make sure that the amount of the bribes or embezzlements that, sooner or later, you will be charged with is not too high.