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Kazakhstan's 'Golden Boy' Ex-Economy Minister Sentenced To 10 Years


Quandyq Bishimbaev (left) in court in Astana in January
Quandyq Bishimbaev (left) in court in Astana in January

ASTANA -- A court in Astana has sentenced former Kazakh Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev to 10 years in prison after convicting him on charges of bribery and embezzlement.

At a hearing on March 14, judge Adilkhan Shaikhislamov also barred Bishimbaev from serving in public office for life and ordered all his property confiscated.

And he urged President Nursultan Nazarbaev to strip the U.S.-educated Bishimbaev, once a rising star in the energy-rich Central Asian country's government, of a state medal called Qurmet (Honor).

Bishimbaev's cousin Sultan Nurlybek, one of 22 other defendants at the trial, was sentenced to seven years in prison. The rest received prison terms ranging from two to four years, were fined, or were released with no penalty under an amnesty enacted in 2017.

Bishimbaev's wife and parents were in the courtroom, and his mother prayed quietly as the judge read out the long verdicts and sentences against the 23 defendants. Her son was the last on the list.

Bishimbaev’s wife, Nazym Bishimbaeva, said the sentence will be appealed.

Bishimbaev, 37, was arrested by Kazakhstan’s Anticorruption Service in January 2017, weeks after Nazarbaev fired him. He was accused of accepting bribes when he was head of Bayterek, a state-controlled holding company.

The product of an elite presidential educational program called Bolashaq (Future), Bishimbaev graduated from George Washington University in the U.S. capital in 2001 with a degree in economics.

Before his arrest, he had risen quickly through the ranks in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, serving as deputy industry and trade minister and deputy chairman of Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund before becoming economy minister in May 2016.

Bishimbaev pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing in October, while several of his co-defendants pleaded guilty and concluded deals with prosecutors.

Authorities say he exercised his right to remain silent and did not speak to investigators after he and the other suspects were arrested.

On January 8, in his first remarks to the court since his trial began in November, Bishimbaev apologized to Nazarbaev and the country but maintained he had done nothing illegal.

Several former officials have faced prosecution on suspicion of graft in energy-rich Kazakhstan 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.

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