Former EXPO Chief Talgat Ermegiyaev Gets 14 Years in Jail
A court in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, has sentenced a key figure in a corruption case involving the upcoming EXPO-2017 fair to 14 years in jail.
The court on June 9 convicted Talgat Ermegiyaev, former head of fair organizer Astana EXPO-2017 company, after finding him guilty of embezzling 10.2 billion tenge ($30 million).
The conviction casts an unfortunate shadow over an event that was intended to showcase Kazakhstan as an innovative and modern economic powerhouse.
As part of his punishment, Ermegiyaev will also be stripped of six cars, shareholdings in companies that he owned and funds in three separate bank accounts.
Another 22 people were also on trial over the corruption probe. Twelve had fully admitted their guilt and assisted the investigation.
Among those who turned state witness were 61-year old Kazhymurat Usenov, former head of the construction department at Astana EXPO-2017.
This was not Usenov’s first brush with notoriety. In 2013, his son, Maksat, while drunk plowed his car into six people waiting at a bus stop, killing one of them. Maksat Usenov got off with just a fine, 45 days of house arrest and the loss of his driving license in a verdict that sparked widespread outrage. All the same, he was subsequently seen driving a car and again got into an accident in 2014. The scandal forced his father’s resignation.
Ermegiyaev is insistent he is innocent and claims he has been made a scapegoat.
“I am on trial because certain people needed me to end up behind bars. I was given a choice — either remain true to my principles or to pursue a false and disgraceful reality that is being created by the anticorruption office,” he said. “There is a lot I could say in my defense, but I will make no reference to documents that I have or mention any payments that took place and that I can prove took place. This could harm my country and an exhibition into which I have put my heart and soul.”
As supporting evidence, he pointed to his bank accounts, which he said contain modest amounts, far short of the amount he is accused of embezzling. Once account with Halyk Bank contained only 680,000 tenge. Another with ATF Bank contained around $60,000 in various denominations, he said. Ermegiyaev denied having any offshore bank accounts.
These arguments helped him little. And his relaxed demeanor and occasional laughing in court earned him no favors with the judge either.
On the same day of Ermegiyaev’s sentencing, EXPO-2017 organizers announced tickets to the event would be available for sale from June 10 and cost around $20-22.