A former prime minister of Kazakhstan has been placed under house arrest on corruption charges. The rare move against such a high-ranking member of the political establishment is sure to set tongues wagging about the presidential succession.
Serik Akhmetov – who was premier until this April and defense minister until last month – has been charged with graft under an ongoing investigation that has seen high-profile arrests in Karaganda Region, the former PM’s political fiefdom, Tengri News reported, citing Kazakhstan’s anti-corruption agency.
Baurzhan Abdishev, a former regional governor and ex-mayor of the city of Karaganda, and Meyram Smagulov, another former mayor, were arrested this fall on corruption charges relating in part to the lucrative metallurgy industry based in the central region.
Akhmetov – who forged his career in the Karaganda metallurgy industry and the Soviet Communist Party in the 1970s and 1980s – was governor of Karaganda Region from 2009 to 2012, at a time when Abdishev was city mayor. This implies that the two are political allies, and commentators in Kazakhstan had already been linking the Karaganda corruption case with a likely move against Akhmetov.
He was appointed prime minister in 2012 and dismissed this April, amid hints that President Nursultan Nazarbayev was disappointed by his lackluster performance.
Yet Akhmetov was still appointed defense minister in that reshuffle, a post from which Nazarbayev abruptly fired him in October after just six months in the job.
This year’s round of government reshuffles has sparked fresh speculation about the succession to the ageing Nazarbayev. The arrest of Akhmetov (the first former prime minister to face criminal charges in over a decade) will only feed the rumor mill.
He had been tipped as a possible presidential successor, largely by virtue of occupying the powerful post of prime minister rather than through his political prowess. But the corruption charges appear to remove him from the field once and for all.
High-profile corruption cases in the provinces have previously been seen by commentators as tools to eliminate political rivals. A massive graft case in Atyrau Region in oil-rich western Kazakhstan, launched in 2012, was widely seen as a sally against the once powerful Aslan Musin, Nazarbayev’s former chief-of-staff, now languishing in the political wilderness.
Such precedents fuel the impression that the latest graft case involving Akhmetov is all part of a wider high-stakes battle to succeed Nazarbayev, waged by the country’s bickering clans.