ALMATY, Kazakhstan — How does public land out of the blue develop into personal?
For years that query has vexed Kazakh residents who’ve watched stretches of inexperienced belonging to state establishments get wolfed as much as make means for brand new housing, workplaces, and purchasing malls.
The reply, they are saying, lies in elite connections, and for a lot of Kazakhstan’s greater than 30 years of independence there was arguably no businessman higher related than Timur Kulibaev, the son-in-law of the nation’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Kulibaev co-owns the nation’s largest financial institution, Halyk, along with his spouse — Nazarbaev’s second daughter, Dinara Kulibaeva — and was for greater than a decade chairman of the Atameken Nationwide Chamber of Entrepreneurs. The pair have a mixed wealth of slightly below $8 billion, in response to Forbes Kazakhstan.
The identical web site ranks Kulibaev as Kazakhstan’s second-richest businessman behind metals king Vladimir Kim, an oligarch who’s seen as tightly linked to Nazarbaev.
However there was a reconfiguration of the elite after the unprecedented bloody unrest that rocked Kazakhstan in January 2022 and triggered at the very least 238 deaths.
Nazarbaev shed his remaining authorities positions and a constitutionally enshrined function as Chief of the Nation, stressing that each one powers now lay with the person that he handpicked as president in 2019, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev.
The strongman’s family members adopted swimsuit, shedding authorities positions and roles answerable for state companies. Kulibaev stepped down from his function at Atameken.
However in contrast to different relations, he has remained in view, attending a enterprise discussion board the place Toqaev spoke in January and attending the brand new president’s inauguration, the place Nazarbaev was additionally current, following a snap presidential election in November.
And, as a brand new investigation by RFE/RL exhibits, Kulibaev nonetheless has plans for main developments on among the most fascinating land in Kazakhstan’s largest metropolis, Almaty. Property that was privatized in circumstances nonetheless not totally identified.
Whether or not or not the magnate can hold the land amid the shifting political tides in Kazakhstan will likely be fascinating to see.
Army Hospital To Resort?
When protesters descended on Almaty by the 1000’s in early January final 12 months their demand for Nazarbaev’s exit from politics, “Shal ket” (Outdated Man Out), was loud and clear.
Issues turned violent on January 5, as town’s presidential residence turned the middle of a bloody battle between protesters and authorities troops.
Mendacity throughout the road from the location of the residence that was badly burned and later demolished by authorities is a 3.8-hectare plot of land that has been derelict since 2014.
Earlier than then it was the location of a constructing used as a army hospital by the Protection Ministry. The choice to raze the hospital and rebuild it on the outskirts of Almaty in 2010 generated opposition from retired army veterans whereas elevating suspicions of insider offers.
“Sure folks and constructions have had their eyes on this land for a while. Solely buildings of public significance ought to be on the central sq. of Almaty,” fumed Seitqazy Mataev, a former presidential press secretary and influential media proprietor.
Mataev wasn’t fallacious about that.
RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service found that the corporate that constructed the brand new hospital at a reported value of $23 million — and the corporate that owns the plot throughout the road from the presidential residence — are one and the identical, Dostyk Stroi (Friendship Building).
On the time, the centrally positioned plot was reported to be price practically twice as a lot because the hospital value to rebuild. The worth of the land has grown significantly since then.
Dostyk Stroi is owned by two firms, Joint Applied sciences and Kipros, each of which record Kulibaev as their final beneficiary.
However how was the land privatized?
Through the interval during which Kulibaev’s firm acquired the land, Almaty’s Metropolis Corridor was headed by Akhmetzhan Esimov, whereas the protection minister was Adilbek Zhaqsybekov.
Amongst Nazarbaev’s quite a few allies, these two had been thought to be significantly loyal to the primary household.
Esimov is typically cited by media as a blood relative of Nazarbaev.
Responding to a request by RFE/RL, the Protection Ministry mentioned Esimov’s municipal authorities initially took management of the land earlier than it was privatized.
The switch of the land was signed by then-Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov on November 8, 2013.
Information on the federal government’s land registry web site exhibits that the plot the place the army hospital as soon as stood is slated for a lodge, though the timeline for development stays unclear and the land has stood idle for practically a decade.
‘Excessive High quality Plots’ The place Area Is Restricted
On its web site, developer Atlas Growth describes Deniz Park, an workplace and residential complicated presently beneath development, as “the selection of those that search to stay and work in prime quality areas.”
Deniz Park will embrace “a spacious foyer, terraces with lush greenery, and areas for casual conferences. The picturesque territory of the complicated will organically and harmoniously match it into the encircling panorama.”
However the territory the place Deniz Park is being constructed used to belong to the state-owned Al-Farabi Kazakh Nationwide College.
Two years in the past it turned identified that two firms owned by Kulibaev, Omirex and Atlas Growth, had been beneficiaries of a deal to lease 0.8 hectares of the college’s land for the workplace and residential growth that’s near the high-end Esentai Mall and the Ritz Carlton lodge.
RFE/RL has since discovered that an adjoining plot of 1.8 hectares is totally owned by the Kulibaev-controlled firm, Kipros.
This plot was first privatized in 2007 when Imangali Tasmagambetov was the mayor of Almaty. Al-Farabi Kazakh Nationwide College instructed RFE/RL final 12 months that the deal was agreed to by Metropolis Corridor, the Training Ministry, and an organization referred to as Esentai Growth.
The day earlier than the settlement was signed, Zhanseit Tuymebaev was appointed training minister instead of Birganym Aitimova. In a curious coincidence, Tuymebaev is now the rector of the college.
RFE/RL was unable to seek out Esentai Growth in a authorities database of registered firms. However previously, an organization with the identical title was related to Serzhan Zhumashov, who shares possession of Esentai Mall with Qairat Boranbaev, a Nazarbaev in-law who’s presently jailed on embezzlement expenses.
It’s not identified when and by what means the land previously owned by the college fell beneath the possession of Kulibaev’s firm.
Additionally it is unclear how involved authorities are about checking the legality of the privatization.
In October, the state Committee for the Administration of Land Assets in Almaty instructed RFE/RL that it could start an investigation of the land switch, beginning with a go to to Metropolis Corridor.
Two months later, an official from the committee instructed RFE/RL that investigative actions haven’t but begun.
Metropolis Corridor instructed RFE/RL in January 2023 that the quantity of land transferred from the college was initially bigger, some 6.6 hectares. The vast majority of the land was returned to the college, town mentioned, leaving solely the 1.8-hectare plot privatized.
The destiny of the 0.8 hectares of land leased to Atlas Growth and Omirex, then again, is within the steadiness. In August 2022, the Committee for the Administration of Land Assets in Almaty challenged the legality of the association in court docket.
In October, the court docket returned the territory to the college. Atlas Growth is interesting that call.
Earlier investigations by RFE/RL have discovered that members of the Nazarbaev household personal dozens of lavish properties on huge tracts of land in Almaty and different elements of the nation.
Naturally, they personal loads of eye-popping mansions in overseas jurisdictions, too, notably palatial properties in Switzerland and Germany.
One member of the Nazarbaev household who appears to have been pressured to surrender his land belongings is Bolat Nazarbaev, the previous president’s brother.
On February 2, the ruling Amanat social gathering mentioned that greater than 300,000 hectares of land owned by Bolat Nazarbaev within the southern Zhambyl area and the oil-rich western Mangystau area had been confiscated by the federal government on account of illegalities within the offers, with land owned by his firms in Almaty additionally beneath investigation.
The Amanat social gathering was previously referred to as Nur Otan and was arrange by Nursultan Nazarbaev. It’s presently getting ready for the March 19 parliamentary elections.
Kulibaev and his spouse, within the meantime, are getting ready to promote a minority stake in Halyk Financial institution, in response to some media experiences.
Eurasianet wrote that the couple’s obvious consideration of a sale “sparked chatter about whether or not it is a response to Astana’s efforts to curb the sway that Nazarbaev’s family members have over Kazakhstan’s financial system” because the January 2022 rebellion was crushed.
The Kulibaevs had — through their holding firm ALMEX — supplied to promote Halyk shares in 2019, the 12 months Toqaev turned president.
On the time, ALMEX cited “a number of appeals by the worldwide funding neighborhood” as justification for the choice.