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Kazakhstan: The Case Of The Vanishing Oil

By Merhat Sharipzahn

Almaty, 14 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The world of officialdom in Kazakhstan has been put in a whirl by a senior official's assertion that up to $500 million worth of oil has "gone missing."

The statement was made by the chairman of the Interministerial Commission on Privatization of Oil and Gas Production, Sarybay Kalmurzayev, at the end of October.

Kalmurzayev then left for an official trip for Japan, so that it was impossible to gain any immediate clarification on his allegation.

Our correspondent in Almaty reports that amid the surprise and confusion he left behind, Oil and Gas Industry Minister Oleg Kinasov held a special press briefing.

Kinasov told journalists said that the information about the disappearance of $500 million worth of Kazakh oil could not be confirmed.

He said that a rapidly-ordered search around the relevant organizations, enterprises and ministries had failed to find documentation of any kind to confirm Kalmurzayev's statement.

He also said that, in view of the lack of documents, it was impossible to speak of particular volumes of missing oil or concrete sums of money.

Kinasov refused to tell journalists his attitude towards Kalmurzayev's statement. But he did remark that such kinds of comments sometimes came from people who don't understand the peculiarities of oil and gas production.

Our correspondent reports that in response to Kinasov's request for information, the Finance Ministry answered by saying that at the end of last year the Committee of Finance Control had carried out a special check of oil and gas production enterprises in Kazakhstan. The ministry said "some shortcomings in the work and activities of those enterprises had been found" in the course of this check.

It said the amount of oil deemed to be missing from the system was valued at about 14.9 million Tenge, about $225,750.

The Ministry said that a figure of $500 million in lost oil "had never been mentioned before".

In a separate response, the Committee of State Property said that the figure of $500 million probably referred to the value of oil which had not been properly registered anywhere, rather than to a quantity which had really disappeared or been stolen.

At last report, the Ministry of Economy was still "keeping mum" about the matter -- meaning that it was not disclosing anything.

Our correspondent notes that the Oil and Gas Industry Ministry owes 8,000 million Tenge to workers in the oil and gas production sphere.