Aqmola City, Kazakhstan; 18 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Kazakhstan has been hit by what appears to be a case of fraud involving the offer of highly-paid jobs in France and Norway.
RFE/RL's correspondent in Aqmola City reports that thousands of Kazakhs signed up for the scheme, and may have lost in total as much as $1million.
The story begins when a travel agency called Akmola Kontinent advertised opportunities for ordinary Kazakhs to travel to Norway to work at oil producing facilities, or to France to help in the wine industry. In both cases the wages allegedly being offered were between $150 and $160 per day. All that was necessary for those wishing to participate was to fill in a special form and pay a fee equivalent to $500 to cover registration and taxes.
Our correspondent reports that thousands of Kazakhs did put down their money and prepared to head west, where they hoped to recoup the cost of their deposit after only three days' work, and then be into profit. Some 500 clients were named as the first contingent headed for Norway to take up permanent positions there.
But things did not go quite according to plan. Two principals of Akmola Kontinent and the manager of the company's branch in Qaragandy City have allegedly disappeared with the clients' money and their documents. Among the anguished and enraged clients left behind were people from Petropavlovsk, Pavlodar, Qaragandy, Jambyl and Oskemen cities, and elsewhere. Officials have refrained from stating an exact number of people suffering in the case.
On Monday this week about 200 people demonstrated in Aqmola City. They blocked one of the central streets of the city and demanded that a way be found for them to get their money back.
Our correspondent in Aqmola City interviewed senior officers of the city's police investigation center, sub-colonel Omirzaq Syzdykov and major Munsiz Iliyasov.
They said that the Akmola Kontinent company had been officially registered as a private company as required, and that it had never previously been suspected of breaking any rules or laws in Kazakhstan. The police officials said that three principals of the company had fled to Moscow. They had invited a female employee of the company to accompany them to Russia. The woman told Kazakh police later that the men warned her they would punish her if she tried to return to Kazakhstan. However she did subsequently slip away from them and returned home, and now she is a witness helping police with their inquires.
Our correspondent reports that one of the most galling aspects of the case for those involved is that, together with the financial loss, they have been deprived of their new passports.
Some of them had to wait for up to 10 months to get the new passports of independent Kazakhstan, which were introduced in 1995 and are being printed in Germany.
In 1995, there was a scandal which occurred in Almaty City, in which a company called Smagulov and Co. organized a pyramid lottery. The owner of that firm, Nurlan Smagulov, disappeared with a large amount of money misappropriated from his clients.