Who Is Behind the MEGA Mall Problems?

The pandemic and the economic, social and everyday life problems it created have put a serious strain on the life of the Kazakh citizens. Even on the lives of those who are rich and influential. Case in point: Number 6 on the Forbes.kz’ most influential Kazakh entrepreneurs list.

The reader may know that we are talking about Nurlan Smagulov, the owner of the MEGA shopping mall network.

To confirm this, let us quote several paragraphs from his interview of October 26, 2020, published under the telling title «Nurlan Smagulov on the Shopping Malls and Flee Markets: Why Is There the Double Standards?» (text in bold by KZ.expert). 

«Radio Business FM presents Nurlan Smagulov’s interview given to media magnate Armanzhan Baytasov. In the interview, Nurlan Smagulov talks about what was happening on Saturday, October 24, when the MEGA shopping malls opened their doors on a weekend for the first time after a long timeout. We were happy that the MEGAs had finally opened, but problems had wasted little time to appear. What is happening now?» — asked Armanzhan Baytasov. 

— You are completely right, on Saturday, the MEGA shopping mall network opened in Almaty and in Nur-Sultan. We were in a happy mood because, On October 19 of the current year, the Interdepartmental Commission chaired by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan ordered that, starting from October 24,  the shopping malls should operate until 5 p.m. on a regular basis. The suggestion was made by Minister of Healthcare Alexey Tsoy, and the Prime Minister supported the idea. I myself was present at the Commission meeting in a remote mode; it was in the city akimate, and Chief Sanitary Inspector of Almaty Zhandarbek Bekshin was right next to me.

We opened on Saturday and, in the course of the day, all kinds of commissions and inspections came to the malls, even those from the local branches of Nur Otan. In Nur-Sultan, we even had a police squad from the Esilsky Police Department that came to arrest the CEO of the mall. We were at a loss and couldn’t understand what was happening since, as law-abiding and right-minded citizens and entrepreneurs, we were operating in the exact accordance with the Interdepartmental Commission’s orders».

«I have a counter-question: why the chief sanitary inspectors do not implement the order given by the Interdepartmental Commission? The order clearly states that the shopping malls may be opened in the green zone which includes both Almaty and Nur-Sultan. In reality, we had idle-timed until 5 p.m. and are now expecting fees and administrative subpoenas, and we intend to respond in the same manner and seek justice in courts».

KZ.expert truly hopes that Nurlan Smagulov and his team will be able to defend their business interests in courts and before administrative authorities. However, we do have some doubts as to whether they will be successful. 

Photo from the Respublika archives

The thing is that, according to our insiders, the «raids» of the sanitary inspectors on the MEGA malls in Almaty and Nur-Sultan had to do not only with their professional enthusiasm and responsibility as public officials but with the nudging on the part of some of the country’s very influential people.

These influential people, first of all, billionaire and one of the most powerful Elbasy’s allies Bulat Utemuratov, are extremely keen on the MEGA malls experiencing as many problems as possible and not earning enough money to cover the expenses. (The latter, by the way, are high enough without even counting the credit interests — learn more here).

Why the keenness? Because, allegedly, they want to appropriate this future-proof and, most importantly, already operating business.

One should recall that, in 2002-2003, after Akorda had completely destroyed Mukhtar Ablyazov’s Astana-Holding Business Group due to the political reaosns, Smagulov was forced to seek an influential protector. And he did find one, Bulat Utemuratov. Later, however, after many years of the forced cooperation, Smagulov had struck out on his own (albeit with big financial losses — see «On the Risks of Bulat Utemuratov» and «On the Oligarchs and Their Frontmen».

Still, Utemuratov (famous for his ability to profit at a time of a crisis by using Kazakhstan’s two key resources — his relations with Nursultan Nazarbayev for whom he had been acting as his unofficial «wallet» for more than 30 years and large amounts of money on hand) would very much like to get both Nurlan Smagulov and his MEGA malls back to his influence orbit. And, we must add, he is not the only one having this desire.

Therefore, we predict that Mr. Smagulov will have to, yet again, fight for his independence and fortune with those craving to give him a bear hug. And there is no guarantee that, this time, he will prevail. There are just too many current problems to deal with.

P.S. By the way, Internet-resource Informburo.kz controlled by the Utemuratov group was one of the first media-sources reporting on the Mega shopping mall problems.


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