In his brilliant 2017 piece for FT Tom Burgis dived in the depth of Mukhtar Ablyazov case. In fact, the article serves as the best explanation of what happened between the UK and fugitive Kazakh oligarch. Initial embraces proved to be very short-lived well before McMafia legislation came into fashion. The story of oligarch’s complex relations with United Kingdom is about to repeat in France. It is extremely unlikely that Mukhtar will loose his asylum status in the EU, but the change of the country that gave it is almost inevitable.
Mukhtar Ablyazov was really different from the most of Kazakhstan oligarchy and that is part of his appeal to the general public. At least his initial wealth was accumulated by actual trade. It makes the difference to the other extremely wealthy people in the country: they got their wealth by being close to the power, grabbing what’s left of the Soviet industry.
In totalitarian societies, however, you can’t be just a businessman as you hit a certain ceiling. The process is both mandatory and voluntary. By joining the ranks the person gets more power and entire new ways to gain the wealth. The state elite ensures that nobody will actually gain too much reserves to change the system. By joining the ruling elite Mukhtar Ablyazov accepted the rules. He has done it in 1998. This year he was appointed as minister of energy and privatized state Turan Alem bank for just 72 million USD. It sounds strange but back in the 90’s statesmen were allowed to own the companies – without any extra formalities.
Ministry of energy in Kazakhstan is one of the most important – and profitable – positions. As Kazakhstan is the exporter of oil the minister of energy is vital. Lucrative contracts and money streams are split and regulated right at the minister’s desk. No company will get permit and quotas without minister’s visa. The fact that Ablyazov got the chair without any previous state experience said much about the contract he signed personally.
He ruled the ministry for one and a half year. It’s more than enough to get extra rich – and extra integrated in the elite. In October 1999 the entire cabinet resigned. It is not a rare thing in Kazakhstan. Ablyazov states that his own disagreement with the president played a role. But it does not explain why all the cabinet has gone.
Confusing power struggle with democracy
Mukhtar Ablyzov tends to explain that back than he had political ambitions. Indeed he had, but to fulfil them he used quite a covert ways by trying to accumulate more power, bribing and funding the opposition groups with the sole purpose to get a rise in ranks.
“When I came in, he immediately started ranting at me,” Ablyazov tells his story of his meeting with president Nursultan Nazarbaev. He says that, he criticised the president for laying the foundations of a “clan-o-cracy” and “declined to rejoin the government”.
The very foundation of the “clan-o-cracy” wasn’t laid by Nursultan Nazarbaev. It is a characteristic for the nomad tribes that have formed what is known now as Kazakh people. It is a natural form of the society. Even communists were unable to do something about it.
The ill-fated ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’ party really wasn’t an opposition to the regime. It was an attempt to gain more within the regime itself. It wasn’t the reason Mukhtar Ablyazov served a year in prison. He got the jail term exclusively for corruption.
It’s true, that by persecuting Mukhtar Ablyazov the regime resorted to selective justice. Hadn’t it be selective justice nearly all statesmen should have gone to jail, beginning with the president Nazarbaev. But it doesn’t mean that Mukhtar Ablyazov was innocent. Was it a result of his political views? Nope, it had nothing in common with cartoon-style hero and villain confrontation. It was a punishment for breaching the rules. A very mild one, as Mukhtar Ablyzov served only one year and was pardoned by president.
To be continued…