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Kazakh Atomic Kingpin Suddenly Radioactive

  • Bruce Pannier

Just days before he was sacked and charged, Mukhtar Dzhakishev boasted to RFE/RL of KazAtomProm's success and outlined plans for the company's future.

Just days before he was sacked and charged, Mukhtar Dzhakishev boasted to RFE/RL of KazAtomProm's success and outlined plans for the company's future.

What a difference a few days can make.

Mukhtar Dzhakishev was once considered one of the richest and most powerful men in Kazakhstan: the head of a company with access to the world's second-largest reserves of uranium, with lucrative contracts with Russia, China, and India.

Until last week, Dzhakishev headed the strategically vital KazAtomProm, one of Kazakhstan's most lucrative state companies. But now, Dzhakishev finds himself under arrest and possibly in line to join other fallen executives who have landed in Kazakh jails with lengthy prison sentences.

Dzhakishev faces charges of embezzlement of state property after the trail of an investigation of a major bank reportedly led authorities to him.

At KazAtomProm, Dzhakishev oversaw Kazakhstan's huge production of uranium and negotiated agreements for its export, while playing a crucial role in efforts to construct nuclear power plants at home and abroad.

From Rags...

When he took over KazAtomProm in 1998, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Now it is an international powerhouse that has aspirations to be the world's leading uranium exporter within the next few years.

This year alone, Dzhakishev brokered deals with Beijing to help build nuclear power plants in China. In return, Kazakhstan was to receive Chinese expertise in building two nuclear power plants on Kazakh soil. Similar deals were worked out with India. Combined, the agreements were worth tens of millions of dollars plus, and provided Kazakhstan access to lucrative technological knowledge.

Nevertheless, the ax fell on May 21 when he was dismissed from his post and embezzlement charges were filed against him. Apparently he never saw it coming.

Just days earlier, Dzhakishev had spoken to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service about KazAtomProm's success under his leadership and optimistically outlined plans for the future.

"We already have a strategy for geological exploration through the year 2030," Dzhakishev said, "and in accordance with these plans we have determined the deposits we will be developing and have preliminary forecasts for the output [of uranium] from these areas that will help us expand output and this strategy will allow Kazakhstan to continue producing large volumes up until 2090 or 2100."

...To Investigations

Reports indicate that Dzhakishev's ouster and charges against him came after an investigation of the head of Kazakhstan's BTA Bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov, that was carried out by the Prosecutor-General's Office uncovered links to Jakishev.

Ablyazov is accused of defrauding the government and is believed to have fled the country, reportedly to Russia.

Three KazAtomProm vice presidents were also said to have been arrested, joining the ranks of recently fallen executives at key state companies.

In March this year, the former head of the state oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz, Serik Burkitbaev, was jailed for six years for "economic crimes."

In November, the head of the national railway company, Zhaksybek Kulekeev, was sentenced to prison for taking bribes.

KazAtomProm has been under scrutiny in the past in relation to Kazakhstan's apparent shortcomings in keeping track of nuclear materials.

Radioactive Trouble

In the second half of the 1990s, there were several reported incidents of radioactive material vanishing, and there were cases in which Kazakh citizens were caught trying to sell uranium and even plutonium.

Among the more alarming reports were of a truck from Kazakhstan being stopped at the Uzbek border in April 2000, where a search uncovered radioactive substances bound for Quetta, Pakistan.

In 2002, the South Korean newspaper "Seoul Segye Ilbo" reported that North Korea had purchased uranium from Kazakhstan's Ulba Metallurgical Plant, which is owned by KazAtomProm.

Sultan Khan Zhussip and Yerzhan Karabek of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report

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