Kazakhstan: Film Director’s Standoff With Minister Ends in Arrest

Kazakhstan: Film Director’s Standoff With Minister Ends in Arrest

A standoff between a filmmaker and a minister in Kazakhstan has culminated with the former ending up behind bars.

News website KazInfo reported on October 27 that movie director Talgat Zhanybekov had been detained by officers from the state anticorruption agency on charges of embezzling Culture Ministry funds. Zhanybekov’s lawyer told reporters that the investigation is linked to a failed film project, but that is only part of the story.

The trouble all began when filming on Zhanybekov’s government-funded sci-fi movie “Phoenix” was suspended over the summer, supposedly after funds dried up. Zhanybekov claims Culture Minister Arystanbek Mukhamediyuly pulled financing after demanding, but not receiving, a kickback.

Mukhamediyuly responded to the accusations by filing a libel suit in an Astana court. The court ruled that Zhanybekov had failed to provide evidence for his claims and fined him 1 million tenge ($3,200).

Which is when the story took a strange turn.

In the first half of October, a former student of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Arts (KazNAI), posted a YouTube video alleging that Mukhamediyuly, who was previously rector of her academy, had made sexual advances. Mukhamediyuly adamantly rejected the allegations and suggested that Zhanybekov had engineered the story as part of a smear campaign.

All this background makes the sudden discovery that Zhanybekov might have been stealing state money all along most convenient. The executive producer of Phoenix, Nataliya Yudina, has reportedly also been arrested.

One of the first outlets to report on Zhanybekov’s arrest was news portal Nur.kz. The news item on the portal cited Zhanybekov’s assistant, Zhanara Ahmet, as saying the charges were ludicrous. Ahmet also told reporters that the entire senior management of state film studio Kazakhfilm had been summoned for questioning without their lawyers present. After a few hours, the news item disappeared from website to be replaced by a 404 error notice.

An odd story that is promising to grow odder.