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Kazakhstan: Opposition Leader Sentenced To Six Years In Prison

By Antoine Blua/Bruce Pannier

Prague, 18 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakhstan's Supreme Court today found former Energy Minister and opposition leader Mukhtar Abliyazov guilty of abuse of office and illegal financial dealings. The court sentenced him to six years in prison and ordered him to pay $3.6 million in fines.

Abliyazov, 39, maintained his innocence throughout the trial, which started late last month. He claimed the charges against him were politically motivated and appeared only after he co-founded the opposition Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) movement last November.

Another co-founder of the DVK, Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, is currently on trial for abuse of power when he was governor of Kazakhstan's northern Pavlodar region in 1998-1999.

In the courtroom today, Abliyazov reportedly smiled at his wife and daughter as the judge read the verdict. His family presented him with a bouquet of flowers as he was led from the room to begin serving his sentence. Since the ruling was given by the Supreme Court, there can be no appeal.

The conviction is not only a blow to Abliyazov and his family but also to the DVK, which is calling for greater democratic and economic freedom. The movement this year drew the ire of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev after it accused the president of holding money in bank accounts abroad.

Abliyazov's supporters disagreed with the verdict. Parliamentary deputy Serikbolsyn Abdildin, leader of the Communist Party and a member of the DVK's council, told RFE/RL that Abliyazov and Zhaqiyanov are far from being criminals. "We repeat once again: Whatever was organized against these brave men [Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov], who are now really becoming national heroes, is a politically motivated order. These are no other motives than political ones in these cases," Abdildin said.

Abliyazov maintained throughout the trial that he was a victim of the government. He said he had done his best during his time as energy minister to improve the economy and democratic institutions in Kazakhstan. He accused Nazarbaev of hindering democratic reform.

The court disagreed, ruling that Abliyazov was more interested in improving his own financial standing at the expense of the country. Abliyazov was found guilty of inflicting damage worth 557 million tenge ($3.6 million) on the state through abuse of power when he headed the country's power grid, KEGOC, and the Energy Ministry in 1997-99.

Western governments and international human-rights organizations have expressed concern over the trials of both Abliyazov and Zhaqiyanov.

Zhaqiyanov's trial is expected to finish this month, although he stands a better chance of receiving a lighter sentence or no sentence at all. Following Abliyazov's arrest in March, Zhaqiyanov fled to the French embassy in Almaty, seeking asylum. He left the embassy only after the Kazakh government gave promises he would not be moved from Almaty and would serve no jail time.

But it's not entirely clear the Kazakh authorities will honor that pledge. Although Zhaqiyanov was to have been held under house arrest, Kazakh special police in April removed him from his house and transferred him to a detention facility in the Pavlodar region.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh Service's Merkhat Sharipzhanov contributed to this report.)