Shotgun wedding and divorce on the Silk Route: the mysterious death of Yerzhan Tatishev revisited as killer confesses

Shotgun wedding and divorce on the Silk Route: the mysterious death of Yerzhan Tatishev revisited as killer confesses

In the classical type of murder mysteries, the motive often leads to the perpetrator. In the case of Yerzhan Tatishev, whose death in December 2004 keeps subject to vivid speculation, the supposedly unwitting perpetrator seems to have had a motive nonetheless. Why Kazakhstan’s star banker went on a hunting trip in a company at least one of which (i.e. the one who pulled the trigger) belonged to widely known criminal circles downtown Almaty, is only one questions on a long list. Reportedly, Tatishev went hunting for wolves. In fact, the wolves seem to have been with him in his car. The alleged werewolves behind the incident seem to have been all too well aware of the incident – on forehand, that is, given that the motive-behind-the-motives must have consisted of a master-scheme to drain Kazakhstan of its financial resources is something today friend and foe tend to agree upon.

by Charles van der Leeuw, writer, news analyst

Shotgun wedding and divorce on the Silk Route: the mysterious death of Yerzhan Tatishev revisited as killer confesses

Wassily Kandinsky – Black Spot
1912. Oil on canvas. 100 x 130 cm. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

“Involuntary manslaughter”

“Kazakh state prosecutors said on Wednesday they will re-investigate the 2004 death of a prominent banker after the man convicted of accidentally killing him said he had in fact been hired to do so by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former oligarch turned opponent of President Nursultan Nazarbayev,” a Reuters report [] posted the following day was to read. “The Central Asian nation’s government has accused Ablyazov, who has been living in France, of embezzling billions of dollars from a local bank he used to run. A French court last year ruled against extraditing him, however, and set him free. The new probe may lead to a fresh extradition request from the former Soviet republic, setting the stage for another prolonged legal battle in European courts. […] On Tuesday, a businessman now in prison for an unrelated crime claimed in a television documentary that he had murdered Ablyazov’s former associate in 2004 in a “hit job” ordered by the oligarch. At the time, the death was ruled involuntary manslaughter as the killer said he had accidentally shot banker Yerzhan Tatishev during a hunting trip. Tatishev was the chief executive of BTA; shortly after his death Ablyazov became the bank’s chairman. The Prosecutor General’s office said on Wednesday it was reopening the case and reclassifying it as murder. Although the prosecutors’ statement did not mention Ablyazov, the latter accused the government in a Facebook post on Wednesday of forcing the alleged killer to falsely testify against him.” The “businessman” in question is no one less than Muratkhan (“Murka”) Tokhmadiyev, alias Tokmady, a glass factory owner in Almaty but also the alleged leader of one of Kazakhstan’s most feared crime syndicates.

The question has often been asked what made Bank TuranAlem an open target to corporate racketeers such as Mukhtar Ablyazov, and how did people like Yerzhan Tatishev, who had founded the bank and now owned it in partnership with Ablyazov, end up caught in the middle? This was the crucial question that kept haunting the relatives of the victim of what had been done away with as an accident but regarding which motives for a worse scenario were amply available.

A murky world of grey-zone business

Yerzhan Tatishev was born on April 22, 1967, in a traditionally large family in a hamlet called Turbat in the deep south of Kazakhstan. His father started as a village doctor but made his career to director of a local hospital in the nearby provincial town of Kentau. His mother was teaching physics at a provincial college – in all: a mid-class family which enjoyed the good life which had been laboriously built up by suffering generations under Stalin and consolidated under Nikita Khrushchev: a country house in the village, a plot of land to grow crops and breed cattle in the country, an automatic guarantee of pension provisions, free health care, free education – in all, the good Soviet life many an elderly in Kazakhstan years back for these days.

Nepotism was not as rampant as it is today, and young Yerzhan, along with his two brothers, only had to study hard to make it up to the higher academic echelons. As for Yerzhan, he graduated at the Moscow State University as an engineer in biotechnology in 1991 – while following a course as an economist at the Almaty State Administration Institute by correspondence.

The combination could be seen as a convenience in late Soviet times, but after the break-up of the USSR as state corporations started to crumble and maverick private enterprises to mushroom, it was a sheer necessity for anyone who wanted to survive amidst the turmoil. State organisations did not even bother to sack staff but simply stopped paying their salaries. People kept their “official” jobs for the sake of prestige and kept themselves busy in the backroom of society by joining private enterprise.

So did Yerzhan Tatishev – thereby engaging in a murky world of grey-zone business that would initially make his fortune and eventually trigger his premature end. On his return to Kazakhstan over the summer of 1991 – months before Kazakhstan realised that there was no more Soviet Union and reluctantly declared itself independent which occurred on December 16 that year – he joined a newly established private company called Astana Holding under the man whose name now stands for white-collar crime in Kazakhstan: Mukhtar Ablyazov. Subsequent fortune and eventual fate were thus determined.

The “accidental” death by what military cynically dub “friendly fire” of Bank TuranAlem’s head Yerzhan Tatishev back in 2004 has been shedding some light on a topic frequently raised in Italy but rarely in the former Soviet Union: the links between the banking sector and organised crime. Yet, there must be a pattern behind the rare symptoms so far exposed. True: the identity of Tatishev’s hunting mate, with clear links to the underworld, who fired the deadly shot, suggests more than it reveals. Recent developments in criminal circles in Almaty and other urban centres of Kazakhstan, as well with the supposed regionalisation of organised crime in Central Asia, demonstrate the need to thoroughly reconsider various “incidents” in eventual relation to the sources of some Kazakh bankers’ ill-gotten gains.

A ring of rogues and racketeers

Muratkhan Shakerkhanovich Tokhmadiyev, nicknamed Murka, was born in 1966 in Semipalatinsk – right at the time that the area, known as the heart of the atomic military power of the Soviet Union, started licking its wounds from numerous up-ground nuclear tests and following underground tests without much protection for the civil population to speak of. As “Murka” grew up, the socio-psychological climate in the Soviet Union improved from famine to feast as the national economy consolidated. But during the 1980s, as Gorbachov’s perestroika impressed the world and improved the USSR’s prestige even among its staunchest enemies, the domestic climate deteriorated once more. For perestroika went along with glasnost, thereby enabling people to gather insight in what was wrong at the bottom of it all.

It was this widespread feeling among middle and upper layers of the population that ripened teenagers like Murka to aim for a Chicago style of life: grab what you can on the ruins of an illusion. Semipalatinsk was hardly the place to get far in this direction. But the sweet south, or the Soviet Belly as it was sometimes dubbed, had all the conditions to reap and rip and enjoy the dolce vita that went along with it.

Here, Murka soon found himself in the company of young people of his age, bearing names such as Batyrzhan Kabyshev, Yergali Zhakishchev, Adazh Batyrbekovich and Talgat Atabayev, all of whom, according to recent reports from the electronic news reels and, were at the heart of a ring of rogues and racketeers due to terrorise Almaty’s fledgling private entrepreneurship including clubs, shopping centres, wholesale companies and – of course – banks. By the time Kazakhstan started recovering from its initial post-Soviet crisis, they had most of what post-socialist delicacies had in store firmly in their grip. Racketeering would lead to joining arms and drugs smuggling rings, with Afghanistan as a welcome source of trade almost next door.

Organisatskiye pristuplenyie gruppiy or OPG

Into the new millennium, “Nurka” Tokhmadiyev together with a comrade-in-crime by the name of Marat Bolatovich Turlykhanov found himself at the helm of a gang known as Deputatskiy Korpus. Important rings (organisatskiye pristuplenyie gruppiy or OPG in Russian) included a gang named Red Diamond, which featured a female mobster named Aygul Saulebayeva known under the nicknames Hippopotamus and Ike. Closely linked to Deputatskiy Korpus were (and as assumed still are) Talgat Atabayev’s organisation Ataba, which specialises in arms trade and Aday Charbayev’s group, known as Aday, which apart from coal and fuel smuggling routes controlled transport and trade lines between Almaty and Moscow. Finally, there was, and still is, a powerful network known as the Four Brothers, at the time controlled by a certain Serik Zhantegulovich Matyshev with strong links to other criminal organisations operating in the south of Kyrgyzstan – in turn linked with first Prime Minister and later President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and family…

The most astonishing thing is that only in June this year special police forces raided the Kazstroysteklo glass factory in Almaty, the property of Tokhmadiyev, who has renamed himself Tokmady ever since he popped up in the guise of a perfectly decent businessman, family man and sportsman – he won several thriathlon contests in Kazakhstan – and last but not least chairman of the board of the national association of energy saving and energy efficient technologies. In a following raid on his luxury apartment in the city filmed by KTK TV and later broadcasted and reported in various local media [] he was finally arrested on charges with facts that had been widely known for well over a decade…

Protecting a murderer

It was supposed to have been Tokhmadiyev who “accidentally” fired the bullet that killed Tatishev on that fateful day of December 19, 2004, as police reports were to confirm. But many remain convinced that the man who had the best motives to get it done somewhat less than accidentally was Mukhtar Ablyazov. As described earlier, Ablyazov had laid his hands on Temir Bank first and Bank TuranAlem later through a consortium of investors back in 1997 through a privatisation auction. As Ablyazov and consorts got into trouble following a political shake-up in 2002, Tatishev, Ablyazov’s partner in TuranAlem, agreed to serve as a temporary holder of Ablyazov’s stake in TuranAlem and affiliated companies. According to one of the most plausible theories regarding what was to follow, Ablyazov not only wanted his stake back in 2004 after he had been pardoned for earlier aberrations, but he wanted Tatishev to take part in what looks like a master scheme by Kazakhstan’s financial oligarchs to strip the country from the bulk of its financial resources altogether.

Charles van der Leeuw. FUGITIVE LONG-FINGERED GENTRY FROM THE PLAINSNEW eBOOK on sale exclusively by KazWorld
Charles van der Leeuw
The story of Mukhtar Ablyazov, one-time major shareholder and chief executive of Kazakhstan’s BTA bank, tells how well over 10 billion US dollar is supposed to have been reaped through his network of close to 800 fake companies.

The theory Kazakh prosecutors now seem to follow is that this could indeed have been the motive leading to the identity of the murderer – a lead appearing in thousands of detective novels as well as in real police work. This would mean that the government of France has been, and still is, protecting a murderer. It reminds of the case against that other criminal, Kazakhstan’s “prodigal presidential son-in-law” Rakhat Aliyev, who hanged himself in a Viennese prison after Austrian prosecutors had opened a case against him – for murder committed in Kazakhstan. Following this lead, France could be driven to do the same. At least, this is what Kazakh prosecutors seem to hope for. Thereby, the story about Tatishev’s fate may be old, but it is far from finished. Elementary…