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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kazakhstan Is Russia Writ Large

Kazakhstan's chief bribetaker has been found. The Kazakh Supreme Court has sentenced in absentia Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the former Kazakh prime minister, to 10 years in prison and confiscation of property, for embezzlement of public funds.

Kazakhstan and Russia have much in common -- only the scale is different. In Russia, for example, Beghjet Pacolli received contracts to restore the Kremlin; in Kazakhstan, the same man built the whole capital of Astana for President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

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The Russian authorities always denied that Boris Yeltsin's family had foreign bank accounts. However, when the Swiss prosecutor's office froze $140 million in accounts held at Credit Agricole Indosuez -- which reportedly provided the Kazakh president with a network of offshore bank accounts -- the president made an official request that the accounts be unfrozen. He explained that they were presidential monies that enjoy legal immunity and were earmarked for various good causes.

Generally, in Kazakhstan everything is as it would have been in Russia had the putschists won in 1991 or Alexander Korzhakov in 1996.

It seems that burning the former prime minister's effigy in absentia is the first round in the battle of Nazarbayev's succession.

Kazhegeldin continues to be politically active and his Evrazia web site exhibits an unusually intimate knowledge of internal presidential family squabbles. Apparently, the conflicting clans are quite happy to leak information to Kazhegeldin, and while undermining their enemies, they unwittingly increase the outcast's authority.

Thus, the oddities in Kazhegeldin's sentence. For example, among the property listed for confiscation is the castle of Lelois in Belgium, which officially belongs to the Dutch firm Lostona. Perhaps Kazhegeldin does own a castle or two, but this one -- as a Dutch court established on Aug. 27 -- belongs not to the disgraced former prime minister but to the powerful Shodiyev group that controls a major chunk of the Kazakh metals industry. It appears that someone in Kazakhstan who knew the castle's real owner full well decided to play a dirty trick on them.

There are currently at least four serious candidates for succession: Akhmetzhan Yesimov, Kairat Satybaldy, Rakhat Aliyev and Timur Kulibayev.

They are quite a diverse bunch. Rakhat Aliyev is head of the national security committee and an adherent of forceful methods for collecting his tribute. One Kazakh businessman described Aliyev's methods to me as follows: "First they come to you and say, 'Pay 30 percent, and don't bother to pay your taxes.' Then they come and demand 60 percent and then 90 percent."

Timur Kulibayev is more of a strategic thinker. His power base is Kazkommertsbank, one of the country's largest banks. Suffice it to say that Nelson Gold, a company close to Kulibayev, is developing a number of Kazakh oil fields. This is not even an offshore company, but a respectable company listed on the Canadian stock exchange.

Kairat Satybaldy is head of the Federation of Equestrian Sports and, according to insiders, knows about little else except horses. Akhmetzhan Yesimov was the Kazakh ambassador to Belgium not long ago.

All these people have one thing in common: They are relatives of Nazarbayev. Yesimov and Satybaldy are nephews, and Aliyev and Kulibayev are his sons-in-law.

Even for Russia such forms of rule would be considered unusual. After all, Yeltsin did not have personal offshore accounts to which Western companies that wanted to work in the country had to make a mandatory transfer. And he never went as far as to appoint Tatyana Dyachenko's husband as his successor.

It's nice to know that in the former Soviet republics they lord it over their country even more than they do in Russia.

Yulia Latynina is a journalist with ORT.