NEW YORK, 18 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The brutal killing of Altynbek Sarsenbaev has generated a political storm in Kazakhstan, where opposition leaders are pointing an accusatory finger at the government.
Sarsenbaev, his driver, and a bodyguard, whose bodies were found with their hands tied, appear to have been executed. He is the second major opposition figure to have met a violent death in the last three months.
But what makes Sarsenbaev's murder potentially damaging to the government is that he was once among President Nursultan Nazarbaev's closest allies.
Sarsenbaev served as Kazakh ambassador to Russia from 2002 to 2003, but broke with Nazarbaev in 2003, dismayed by what he saw as the Kazakh leader's drift toward authoritarianism.
The Kazakh government says it believes the murder was either an attempt to destabilize Kazakhstan or financially motivated.
FBI Confirms Kazakh Government's Invitation
By calling in the FBI, it may hope to deflect criticism.
Steven Kodak, a senior official at the FBI, told RFE/RL that it was sending a team out to Kazakhstan to have a look at the case.
"I can confirm the fact that request has been made for the FBI's assistance in this and we are sending individuals over to make an assessment at this time and determination that we made as to what type of assistance we can offer," Kodak said. "That's all I can say at this time."
Kazakh Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov said on 16 February that several scenarios were being investigated, each by a separate team.
The FBI says that it usually responds positively to requests from foreign government's for investigative assistance.
"In most circumstances, cases that we investigate at the request of a host country, we normally have full cooperation of that country," Kodak says. "All we do is we turn our results over to that host country. What they do with those results is their concern. If it conflicts with something that they've put out -- that's up to them. We'll do an impartial investigation and turn those results over to that host country."
Roman Vassilenko, a counselor at the Kazakh Embassy in Washington, said the FBI team would have the full cooperation of the Kazakh authorities.
"The whole point of why they are invited is for them to have full cooperation," Vassilenko said. "I don't know what role they will be playing but what I can say is that we need to see first what role they play and then we need to see what kind of conclusions there are. So I think it is premature to comment on any of this right now."
Nazarbaev says the decision to invite the FBI will ensure the total transparency of the investigation. The Kazakh Interior Ministry of Kazakhstan has offered a 10 million tenge ($74,600) bounty for credible information leading to those who organized and carried out the crime.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev addressomg a rally of supporters on the day following the December 4 vote (epa)
DANGEROUS TO BE IN THE OPPOSITION: On December 8, RFE/RL's Washington office hosted a discussion of the December 4 presidential election in Kazkhstan. RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director MERHAT SHARIPZHAN and RFE/RL Central Asia Analyst DANIEL KIMMAGE participated in the discussion.
Sharipzhan highlighted the difficulties faced by opposition candidates -- including the untimely deaths of prominent opposition leaders -- and argued that they effectively chilled the political environment in the country. He also noted that the government repeatedly confiscated opposition newspapers during the campaign. However, he noted that Kazakhstan's relatively strong economy boosted Nazarbaev's popularity. Kimmage discussed Nazarbaev's pledge to proceed with democratization only after the economy is put in order, describing the political system in Kazakhstan as a form of "managed democracy."
Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 90 minutes):
RFE/RL's complete coverage and background of Kazakhstan's presidential election on December 4, 2005.