23 november 2017

Central Asia news

Kazakhstan sentences opposition journalist and release him from arrest

07.09.2017 16:10 msk

Fergana


Zhanbolat Mamay. Photo by RFE/RL
On 7 September, Almaty city judge Dauren Maukeyev recognised the editor-in-chief of the opposition "Tribuna. Sayasi Kalam" newspaper Zhanbolat Mamay fully guilty (excluding membership in the organised crime and reading out the irrelevant provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and pronounced the verdict.

Mamay will serve three years of restriction of freedom having his property confiscated and spend 120 hours of "compulsory labour" per year. Three years ban on engaging in journalistic activities is effective. The court seized his laptop into the state income and released him from custody in the courtroom.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau accused Zhanbolat Mamay of "laundering" the funds of the exiled politician and former banker Mukhtar Ablyazov. According to the investigators, Ablyazov transferred a total of 110 thousand US dollars to him through his man. Thus, allegedly Zhanbolat Mamay helped the "organised criminal group" led by Ablyazov to legalise these funds. The charge is under Article 193 of the old Criminal Code ("Legalisation (laundering) of money and (or) other property obtained by criminal means").

It turned out that Mukhtar Ablyazov transferred these funds to the development of the newspaper, and all of them went to issue the edition and pay fees to journalists. The verdict states that Mamay "committed a crime in the sphere of economic activity," having received money allegedly illegally withdrawn from BTA Bank. The transfer of money was carried out through third parties: the former first deputy governor of the bank, Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov, at the order of Ablyazov transferred money to his sister, and she handed them to the editor through her husband.

At the trial, Zharimbetov, acting as a prosecution witness, explained that Zhanbolat Mamay received the money on his behalf, the editor "had not interested [in their origin] and engaged in professional activities."

Nevertheless, the investigation considered this a "money laundering." Earlier this year in June, the Almaty court convicted Mukhtar Ablyazov in absentia for 20 years of imprisonment considering the transfer of money, until this time, as sponsorship. According to international norms, the legalisation of funds obtained by criminal means, in any case, provide their return to the owner. Officially, the Kazakh authorities believe that Mukhtar Ablyazov withdrew $ 7.5 billion from his bank at that time, so that the "legalising" 110 thousand dollars would not have done anything significant.

On 4 September, the prosecution demanded four years of imprisonment for Zhanbolat Mamay with confiscation of property and deprivation of the right to engage in journalism for up to three years. The Prosecutor's Office explained such a “mild punishment” for Kazakhstan by extenuating circumstances: "Considering that previously Mamay has not a criminal record, given that he is the breadwinner in the family, that in case of punishment in the form of deprivation of liberty, this would negatively affect the children and elderly parents."

"In 2012 we launched this project ["Tribuna. Sayasi Kalam" newspaper]. I am not a rich man, I do not have my own money, and Tolegen Zhukeev [an opposition Kazakhstani politician] helped me in this, he helped me with advice, assisted with councils, helped me organizationally. And Mr Zharimbetov also helped since 2013; I already said this. I never wanted to go into business. If I wanted to become a rich man or launder money, I probably would not be engaged in journalism, then I would go into business, would be on the other way absolutely," Zhanbolat Mamay said in his last speech.

Arrested on 10 February this year, the investigators accused the journalist of “legalising money, or other property obtained illegally;” fearing up to seven years in prison. According to the version of the anti-corruption bureau that carried out the investigation, Zhanbolat Mamay helped the Kazakhstani banker and opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov “launder” about one hundred thousand dollars. At the same time, the investigation agreed that all the money was spent on the needs of the editorial staff - printing the newspaper and paying salaries to employees, that is, Ablyazov did not receive his money back.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, a banker and politician, who is in exile and considered a political opponent of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's number 1.

Recently, the newspaper's editorial office occupied the modest flat of Zhanbolat Mamay and his wife, Inga Imanbay, journalist and acting editor of the same publication, in the residential area of Alma-Ata. The newspaper worked on a royalty-free basis, its authors, in addition to Zhanbolat and Inga themselves, were public figures, human rights activists and ordinary citizens, talking about the problems of their regions. During the existence of the edition lawsuits by Kazakh officials repeatedly interrupted its activity.

Only one issue of one of the last independent newspapers of Kazakhstan saw its publication after the arrest of Zhanbolat Mamay.

Fergana News Agency