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Kazakhstan: As One Door Closes For The Elite, Another Opens

Prague, 30 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakhstan will mark on December 16 six years of independence from the Soviet Union. In this short span of time the country has had three different constitutions, three prime ministers and three parliaments.

The latest prime minister, Nurlan Balgimbaev, appointed by Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier this month, has now put together his new cabinet. Some Kazakh observers doubt that Balgimbaev and his team will last long, given President Nursultan Nazarbayev's proven tendency to replace political appointees and officials. But losing a post in the Kazakh government does not necessarily mean the end of the line in career terms. For many people, as one door closes, another opens -- often to a business career which is more lucrative than politics.

For instance, since leaving their high official positions, former Kazakh prime minister Sergey Tereshchenko, ousted vice premier Asyghat Jabaghin and former Kazakh minister of the economy, Mars Urkimbayev, have all managed to switch to being owners of big international businesses.

Moreover, involvement in scandals does not necessarily lead to disbarrment from high positions. Asyghat Jabaghin, onetime governor of Pavlodar Oblast in Northern Kazakhstan and later vice premier of Kazakhstan, lost all his official positions amid allegations of involvement in dubious activities relating to the privatization process in Kazakhstan. But he has now returned to the political scene as the new minister of trade, industry and economy.

A former education minister, Talghat Mamashev, lost that position owing to involvement in a scandal involving the Presidential Students' Exchange Program, which is known as the Bolashak-Future program.

Through that scheme, many Kazakh officials -- including Mamashev himself -- sent their children to study at U.S. universities. Mamashev is however currently chairman of the official Foundation for Education Support.

The former governor of Eastern Kazakhstan Oblast, Amangeldy Bektemisov, who had been sacked from that position for financial mismanagement, is now chief of the Kazakh state agricultural company known as Ken Dala. This is a key company through which the U.S. concern John Deere -- the world's biggest agricultural machinery manufacturer -- sells tractors and combines to Kazakhstan.

Often companies led by former Kazakh officials who lost their jobs are registered in the neighboring Russian Federation, some offshore zones or special economic zones, and thus do not pay taxes, or pay less tax than is usually the case under Kazakh laws.

Kazakhstan has attracted thousands of millions of dollars in foreign investment in the last four years. Particularly under the government of Sergey Tereshchenko, much money was directed towards different private companies owned by Kazakh officials or their relatives. Afterwards, some of the companies were dissolved and no information about the whereabouts of the foreign credits has been given. Since Tereshchenko's time, there have been two other Kazakh governments, and by now it's practically impossible to determine what happened to the money which was forwarded to private companies.

The privatization process in Kazakhstan, during which all the Kazakh industrial giants and economic facilities had been sold to foreign companies, has also revealed many problems. Many industrial objects were sold to Western companies for excessively low prices, which led to many rumors about bribery in the privatization sector. Some members of the Kazakh parliament's lower house, the Majilis, started to push for discussion of the issue. Akejan Kejegeldin, the former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, sacked from his position early in October, told Kazakh journalists just before he was ousted that privatization in Kazakhstan could be defined as the division of national resources among an "oligarchy".

Some deputies in the Kazakh parliament have started discussing the possibility of new conflict-of-interest laws to get the situation under better control. One idea is a regulation which would prohibit any former official sacked from a position -- especially when that post dealt with finance, oil and gas production, investments or privatization -- from doing business in similar fields for one or two years. Many observers in Kazakhstan however are skeptical that the deputies will be able to achieve much, so tightly woven is the magic circle which binds together those who are benefiting most from Kazakhstan's political and economic life.