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Jailed Kazakh Businessman Back Behind Bars After Brief Escape

Muratkhan Toqmadi (right)

ASTANA -- A Kazakh businessman jailed in a politically charged case escaped from custody for a few hours but is back behind bars, authorities say.

Muratkhan Toqmadi escaped from a hospital where he was being treated in the southern city of Taraz on March 8 but was recaptured hours later, the National Security Committee (UQK) said on March 9.

Toqmadi has been serving a three-year prison term on an extortion and illegal firearms possession conviction since June.

In a separate new trial, he has pleaded guilty to murdering a banker on a hunting trip in 2004 and told the court he did so at the behest of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive tycoon and vocal critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Erzhan Tatishev, the chief of TuranAlem Bank, was killed by a single shot to the head during a hunting outing with Toqmadi.

After Tatishev's death, which was ruled an accident at the time, Ablyazov became the bank's chief.

Wanted by Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine on suspicion of embezzling some $5 billion, Ablyazov has been living abroad since 2009.

He denies the embezzlement charges and has called allegations that he ordered Toqmadi's killing a "lie."

Opponents and rights groups say that Nazarbaev, who has held power in the Central Asian nation since before the 1991 Soviet breakup, has taken systematic steps to suppress dissent and sideline potential opponents.

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