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Kazakhstan: A Falling Presidential Confidant And A Rising Presidential Daughter*


Is Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Darigha, jockeying for position in preparation for a future without her father?

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed an order recently relieving his longtime head of the presidential administration, Adilbek Jaksybekov, of his post and sending him into retirement.

Jaksybekov is 64 years old, and pension age starts at 63. But Jaksybekov has been with Nazarbaev for decades, and just 14 months ago the president extended Jaksybekov's term of state service by an additional five years.

There have been no reports suggesting that Jaksybekov is in poor health, so his abrupt exit from Kazakhstan's political scene after some 22 years is notable -- one of those situations where much more appears to be going on than meets the eye, and it might have something to with President Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha.

Jaksybekov has been one of Nazarbaev's closest confidants for those two decades; but more, Jaksybekov was a movable piece in Nazarbaev's government. Elected to the Senate in 1995 before being named first deputy governor of Aqmola Province in 1996, Jaksybekov was the mayor of Astana twice, in 1997-2003 and 2014-16; he twice headed the presidential administration, for less than a year in 2008 (when he was also vice chairman of the ruling Nur-Otan Party) and in 2016-18; he was defense minister in 2009-14; he was industry and trade minister in 2003-04; and served as Kazakhstan's ambassador to Russia in 2008-09.

'Top Manager'

In comments to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq, former lawmaker Zauresh Battalova described Jaksybekov as less a politician than a "top manager" -- which might explain why Jaksybekov was shuffled around so often, a trusted aide brought in to bring things back into line. His first term as mayor of Astana, for example, came just as Kazakhstan's capital was being moved from Almaty to Astana.

How does a figure like that, a righthand man of Kazakhstan's president, suddenly get rushed out, not only of office but of any government post?

Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha, is widely thought to be among Jaksybekov's powerful political opponents.

Some of that speculation stems from a purported phone call between Jaksybekov and Kazakh businessman Bulat Utemuratov in which Jaksybekov allegedly refers to blocking Darigha’s career. Darigha had recently divorced Rakhat Aliev, who held a number of official posts while he was married to Darigha, including deputy head of the country’s security service (KNB). Shortly after their 2007 divorce, Aliev faced serious criminal charges. He was in Austria, where he had been serving as Kazakhstan’s ambassador, at the time the divorce. Aliev released recordings of purported phone calls that he claimed he obtained from the KNB of his former father-in-law and other officials discussing large bribes and physical retaliation against political opponents. In one of those recordings, a voice purportedly belonging to Jaksybekov tells a voice allegedly belonging to Utemuratov of the need to prevent Darigha from rising any higher in politics.

Darigha has never publicly moved against Jaksybekov. But her youngest son, Aisultan (born 1990), posted a long commentary on his Facebook account in January 2017 in which he wrote, “Most of the people in the president’s team, the majority, are professionals," but he added, "[T]here are some people… who are far from the interests of the country, of the people, who have isolated themselves in their mercenary and mercantile interests.” Shortly afterward Aisultan Aliev wrote, “It’s interesting to me personally whether the chairman of the National Bank [Daniyar] Akishev and chairman of the presidential apparatus Jaksybekov keep their seats. After all, their direct subordinates are suspected of committing grave corruption and state crimes."

Azattyq contacted a half dozen people who know Jaksybekov personally, some of whom are government officials who spoke to Azattyq on condition of anonymity. They helped paint a picture of how this long-serving official was toppled, at least for now.

Adilbek Jaksybekov (file photo)
Adilbek Jaksybekov (file photo)

Akhmetzhan Yesimov is also a longtime friend and confidant of Nazarbaev. His loyalty to the president seems beyond question, and he is said to harbor no personal political ambitions. Yesimov was the first governor of Almaty Province after Kazakhstan became independent in 1991 and served in that post until 1994. Since then, he has held the posts of deputy prime minister, state secretary, head of the presidential apparatus, chairman of the state investment committee, and agriculture minister, among other positions. Since December, Yesimov has been head of the sovereign wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna.

Over the years, when Kazakhstan faced economic crises, Samruk-Kazyna has been used to bail out key enterprises. For example, when the oil and gas pipelines leading from Kazakhstan's offshore Kashagan field ruptured shortly after launch in September 2013 and the consortium operating the project was looking at some $3 billion in pipeline replacement costs plus some $737 million in fines for flaring sour gas at Kashagan processing plants during the time the brief time operations were under way, state oil and gas monopoly KazMunaiGaz (KMG) protected itself by quickly shedding its 16.81 percent stake in the consortium, handing over half to its subsidiary KMG Kashagan BV and the other half to Samruk-Kazyna.

The deal reportedly allows KMG to buy back the shares at exactly the amount Samruk-Kazyna and KMG Kashagan BV paid for them.

Recent Disagreement?

More recently, Samruk-Kazyna has been used to help prop up Kazakhstan's ailing banks -- some of them, at least. Those include Kazakhstan's second-largest lender, Tsesnabank, part of Tsesna Corporation, which until very recently was run by Jaksybekov's son, Dauren, and "through which his [Jaksybekov's] family owns stakes in Tsesnabank and other businesses," according to Reuters.

Yesimov and Jaksybekov seem to have fallen into disagreement lately. The cause is not clear, but in April Yesimov ordered Samruk-Kazyna to pull its assets out of Tsesnabank.

On September 20, the Kazakh National Bank announced it would buy $1.25 billion of Tsesnabank's agriculture loans to shore up the bank.

It turns out that might not have been the first time the Kazakh National Bank has helped Tsesnabank. There was a recent loan of some $400 million -- possibly arranged by Jaksybekov, possibly without Nazarbaev's knowledge; Nazarbaev found out, or some suspect he was told.

After Jaksybekov was dismissed as head of the presidential administration, he was made chairman of Tsesna Corporation, replacing his son. This is far from what could be considered punishment, and it could be that Nazarbaev is trusting Jaksybekov to once more set things in order in an ailing sector.

But then there is the chairman of KazTransGaz, Kairat Sharipbaev, a businessman who purportedly has indirect financial interests in small lenders Eximbank Kazakhstan and Qazaq Banki. The National Bank decided not to provide assistance to those two banks, and there have been reports suggesting that was at Jaksybekov's urging. In fact, the National Bank revoked the banking licenses of both those smaller banks at the end of August, reportedly over repeated violations of regulations.

Many people are unfamiliar with the name Sharipbaev; he is not a well-known figure, at least not yet. But according to the Kz.expert information website, Sharipbaev is Darigha Nazarbaeva's new husband.

Dinmuhamet Idrisov reportedly held a 9.92 percent stake in Qazaq Banki. Idrisov is a close business associate of Sharipbaev and Darigha. Idrisov is also the chairman of Ordabasy Group, which is involved in energy, chemical, and construction projects. One report says the “main owner of the Ordabasy Group” is Kairat Satybaldy, who is President Nazarbaev’s nephew.

Several government officials have told Azattyq that Idrisov provided financial support to Aset Isekeshev, the man named to replace Jaksybekov as head of the presidential administration.

It is the second time Isekeshev has succeeded Jaksybekov in a post. Isekeshev was named Astana's mayor after Jaksybekov left that position to head the presidential administration.

Isekeshev is said by multiple sources within the government to be close to Darigha. An official from one of Kazakhstan's ministries went so far as to say this was the first time Darigha was able to get "her person" appointed as head of the presidential administration.

The person who is officially number two in the government is Senate Chairman Kasymzhomart Tokaev, and he, too, is said to be close to Darigha.

Jaksybekov has not been cast out. Few believe that, after all these years, Nazarbaev would want Jaksybekov to stray far away; he knows too much about how the government works and has worked in the past. But Jaksybekov is no longer a government official.

Nazarbaev recently marked his 78th birthday (the same age at which Uzbek President Islam Karimov died), and a change of leadership in Kazakhstan could come at any time.

Against that backdrop, Darigha Nazarbaeva appears to be strengthening her position, possibly in anticipation of that day.

*THIS PIECE HAS BEEN AMENDED SINCE ITS ORIGINAL PUBLICATION.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.
The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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