30 september 2020

Central Asia news

Kazakhstan: A. Sarsenbvayev's murder: assassins convicted, relatives object

02.09.2006 12:10 msk

Alexander Sidorov, Vladimir Soloviov


On August 31, the Alma-Ata Regional Court passed sentence on the murderers of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, his driver, and bodyguard. Rustam Ibragimov formerly of Kazakh secret services was sentenced to death as the assassin. His accomplices including ex-head of the senatorial apparat Yerjan Utembayev drew years behind the bars.

Sarsenbayev's family condemned the trial as "a farce arranged to conceal the true criminals." Observers attribute the haste with which the assassination was solved to President Nursultan Nazarbayev's forthcoming visit to the United States.

When the judge passed the sentence, defendant Ibragimov's mother and sister began cursing the judge and the prosecutor. Ibragimov himself took the sentence in stride, apparently placated by the thought of moratorium on capital punishment in Kazakhstan. The defense was really something. Not one of Ibragimov's lawyers turned up, every one of them had called in sick that day. Their colleague representing another defendant turned up drunk. Other defendants' lawyers did not say a single word in the courtroom.

Victims' relatives in the meantime refused to be present in the courtroom when the sentence was passed. Branding the whole trial as a farce from the very beginning, they accuse the authorities of prosecuting the wrong men. Their suspicions were aroused by the authorities' behavior because the latter went to great pains to solve the crime as soon as possible. The opposition leader was murdered in early February and Kazakh law enforcement agencies reported the crime solved in March. By Utembayev's confession, he arranged the assassination because Sarsenbayev had insulted him once. (Utembayev made this confession in a letter to Nazarbayev himself.) Suspects and their accomplices from the National Security Committee were promptly arrested.

Even the trial was swift. The first meeting took place on June 16 and Judge Merekenov ordered presentation of cases two weeks after that. Lawyers of the victims were annoyed because they had been clamoring for examination of videos and confrontation with the defendants.

As a result, the panel considered only 10% of all available materials in the 2.5 months of the proceedings. Bulat Abilov of Genuine Ak-Jol (the political party Sarsenbayev had been leader of) is convinced that the investigation ignored vital evidence that could lead it to the true motives of the assassination. According to Abilov, the two Russians also involved were never summoned or questioned. A source in the National Security Committee confirmed external forces' involvement in the crime. He said that the authorities did their best to keep everything under the lid because clues were pointing to some forces abroad. "Sarsenbayev's assassination could be ordered by certain neighbor states Kazakhstan does not want to be at odds with right now," the source said.

Nazarbayev's visit to the United States is scheduled for September, and some observers view it as the true reason behind the haste with which the trial ended. Washington has been keeping an eye on the investigation. It even offered Kazakh law enforcement agencies its help. Now that the case is officially closed, Nazarbayev's interlocutors in Washington are unlikely to bother him with questions concerning the death of the influential opposition leader.

Kommersant, September 1, 2006, p. 6