Kazakhstan’s Tuleshov 2.0: Another Businessman Accused of Heading Criminal Gang

Murathan Tokmadi

Officials with the security services and Interior Ministry in Kazakhstan this week detained a major industrialist that they say headed a criminal racketeering gang that terrorized business owners.

KTK television station reported in a sensational bulletin on June 12 that Murathan Tokmadi, who runs a major glass-making factory called KazStroySteklo, had been under surveillance for several years before being detained. Tokmadi was intercepted at his home while masked men searched the KazStroySteklo plant, KTK reported.

The authorities have reportedly identified Tokmadi, 50, as the head of an organized crime group known as Deputatsky Korpus, which they say spread fear through the business community.

The entrepreneur’s public image could not be more upstanding. He has sought to project himself as a patriotic, sports-loving, managerial type and the loving father to five children. As a successful industrialist, Tokmadi also had the ear of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. During a December 2014 conference devoted to celebrating Kazakhstan’s industrial achievements, Nazarbayev commended Tokmadi for making high-quality windows that “do not let the heat out into the street.”

RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, noted that Tokmadi has been involved in construction work on prominent items of infrastructure such as the Republic Palace and the ski jumping complex in Almaty. Tokmadi’s company also did some work on the EXPO conference village, which opened to the public a few days ago.

Murathan Tokmadi

Murathan Tokmadi

Tokmadi’s rise and fall shares some curious parallels with another well-known businessman who fell foul of the law. Tohtar Tuleshov, a prominent brewery tycoon in the southern city of Shymkent, is serving a 21-year jail sentence, handed down in 2016, on coup-plotting charges and for purportedly seeking to provoke turmoil by financing a wave of anti-government protests, as well as financing a transnational criminal group. He too enjoyed considerable political patronage and sought in various ways to burnish his credentials as a devoted patriot.

Some political observers suggested at the time of Tuleshov’s conviction that although some of the accusations against the businessman — if far from all — were likely justified, others were less plausible. Although many of his crime were real, they argued, his downfall was likely the result of him falling victim to regional elite in-fighting.

Whether Tokmadi’s is a similar story or if his arrest will prove to be part of a genuine broader effort to uproot criminality in Kazakhstan’s business world may one day become clear, but not if the government has anything to do with it.

A previous version of this article incorrectly named the businessman jailed last year in Kazakhstan in its headline. Apologies for any confusion caused.

by Aktan Rysaliev, EurasiaNet.org