ASTANA -- Former Kazakh Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev, who is being tried on charges of bribery and embezzlement, is protesting his innocence and pointing the finger at subordinates he said had "failed" him.
In his first remarks to the court since his trial began in November, Bishimbaev apologized to President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the country on January 8 but contended that he himself had done nothing illegal.
"I feel ashamed for the situation I am in now. I failed the president when I created my team," Bishimbaev said as the trial resumed after a holiday break.
"I picked up wrong people, who used me and my trust. I apologize to the president and to the nation for that," he said, adding that he will always be "deeply loyal to the president and the interests of our country and people."
Bishimbaev, 37, was arrested by Kazakhstan’s Anticorruption Service in January 2017, weeks after Nazarbaev fired him.
A product of an elite educational program supported by Nazarbaev, Bishimbaev had risen through the ranks quickly -- serving as deputy industry and trade minister and deputy chairman of Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund before becoming economy minister.
He is accused of accepting bribes when he was head of Bayterek, a state-controlled holding company.
He pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing in October, while several of his co-defendants pleaded guilty and concluded deals with prosecutors.
Authorities say Bishimbaev used his right to remain silent and did not speak to investigators after he and 22 co-defendants were arrested.
Several former officials have faced prosecution on suspicion of graft in the tightly controlled Central Asian country in recent years, with some sentenced to long prison terms.
During their trials, many of them have apologized to Nazarbaev, who holds near-absolute power and has been president since before Kazakhstan gained independence in the 1991 Soviet collapse.