Accessibility links

Breaking News

Kazakhstan: Alleged Killer's Bombshell Shakes Up Murder Trial

Altynbek Sarsenbaev pictured in December 2005 (RFE/RL) A key defendant in the trial for the murder of a leading opposition politician alleges that the crime was part of a much wider plot to depose President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

PRAGUE, August 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The murder in February of opposition leader and former Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev and two of his aides has already led to two senior official departures.

Security chief Nartai Dutbaev resigned, and charges have been brought against the former head of the Senate administration, Yerzhan Utembaev.

Prosecutors are trying to prove that Utembaev ordered the murder because he was insulted by interviews Sarsenbaev gave in which he accused Utembaev of being a heavy drinker.

When Utembaev came to testify, he recanted a confession that he said was coerced and which apparently only the president has seen.

Other defendants who also confessed to their roles prior to the opening of the trial on June 14, in Taldy Qorgan, some 250 kilometers north of Almaty, have similarly retracted admissions of guilt.

But defendant Rustam Ibragimov, a former police officer accused of organizing the actual killing, added to the complicated web of intrigue on August 2. He implicated the speaker of the country's senate -- along with the former Senate administration head Utembaev and ex-security chief Dutbaev.

He also alleged involvement by the CIA and the Roman Catholic Church.

According to a transcript of Ibragimov's testimony taken by Danabek Bimenov, a correspondent from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Ibragimov said: "'I don't see any reason to hide the names of those protecting Utembaev, and I understand that my life is in real danger if I remain silent. Therefore, I am naming these people -- they are the chairman of the Senate, [Nurtai] Abykaev, and the former chairman of the National Security Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan, [Nurtai] Dutbaev. From Utembaev's comments, I know that Aleksei Kikshaev is connected to the CIA and the Vatican. Together with Abykaev, they have the goal of removing the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, [Nursultan] Nazarbaev, in two or three years and putting Abykaev in his place."

Senate speaker Abykaev is a longtime friend of President Nazarbaev and Utembaev's former boss. He is also a former chairman of the National Security Committee.

Ibragimov claimed a former presidential adviser introduced him to Utembaev, who later said that same adviser had unspecified links to the CIA and the Vatican.

Ibragimov also said the three men he implicated sought a meeting with Sarsenbaev just prior to his murder.

Tolegen Zhukeev is a co-chairman of the opposition party that Sarsenbaev helped to form, Naghyz Ak Zhol (True Bright Path). He is attending the trial, and told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that this week's revelations could change the course of the trial.

"It is difficult to say now, but it looks like there might gradually be big changes," he said. "But we shouldn't trust everything that [Ibragimov] said. There are many messages in his statements. It is hard to believe that those two persons named planned to overthrow the powers-that-be. It might be that [Ibragimov] is not the one who decided to say this in court. But it is impossible that Utembaev could have been involved in such plans -- he is simply not that sort of man. Utembaev is a person with an absolutely different character and background."

Sarsenbaev's brother, Rysbek, was willing to grant more credibility to Ibragimov's testimony. While the revelations might serve Ibragimov's interests, telling the truth might also provide the defendant with his best hope for protection:

Rysbek says Ibragimov is revealing the alleged plot "on purpose. This is not just to exonerate and save himself. He simply realizes that people around him, including his brothers and other relatives, might be in danger. He mentioned, if you remember, that his brother Ilakhunov has been in custody for four or five months -- allegedly for involvement in some crime seven years ago."

Rysbek and others in the opposition have suggested much more senior involvement in the crime.

"Those who ordered the crime are very senior officials, and they are fighting among themselves," he says. "Utembaev and Ibragimov are just puppets in their hands. And those who pull those puppets' strings are still hiding in the shadows. They haven't even been found yet."

The first deputy chairman of the National Security Committee, Vladimir Bozhko, on August 3 suggested that Ibragimov's testimony was merely "the fabrications of sick people."

Ibragimov's assertions about an alleged coup had little effect on the trial on Thursday, when forensics experts took the stand.

But Sarsenbaev's murder has already resulted in two high-ranking officials leaving their posts. More testimony like Ibragimov's could raise concerns about further official involvement.

The trial is expected to continue for weeks yet, with scores more witnesses due to take the stand.

(Merhat Sharipzhan of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

SUBSCRIBE For regular news and analysis on all five Central Asian countries by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Central Asia Report."