Kazakh ex-nuke chief denied access to lawyers

Wednesday, June 10. AP. ALMATY


Authorities are preventing defense lawyers from meeting with the former head of Kazakhstan’s nuclear energy company, who was jailed last month on charges of large-scale theft, his relatives and lawyers said Tuesday.

Mukhtar Dzhakishev was the latest businessman detained in what some have called a crackdown on executives with ties to opponents of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Dzhakishev was arrested in May, just days after being fired as head of Kazatomprom, and was charged with stealing more than half the country’s uranium holdings.

Authorities have given few details of their investigation, and will only allow lawyers with special permits access to Dzhakishev, citing state secrecy laws, defense lawyer Daniyar Kanafin said. But he said one lawyer who has the required permit has yet to be allowed into the jail in the capital of Astana.

“My husband has been left without any adequate legal representation,” Dzhakishev’s wife, Zhamilya, told reporters Tuesday.

Kazakh security services could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, state-owned TV aired a 40-minute documentary last week that described Dzhakishev’s alleged efforts to steal billions of dollars worth of uranium deposits. It showed interviews with Kazatomprom employees that the security services claim have been placed under a witness protection program.

Dzhakisheva said the program as an attempt to sully her husband’s name.

“This is in breach of the principle that a defendant is innocent before being found guilty,” she said.

The arrest follows a string of widely publicized corruption cases and arrests in Kazakhstan, which is firmly controlled by Nazarbayev, his family and his allies.

Earlier this year, a military court sentenced the former head of the state oil and gas company to six years in prison for corruption. Last year, the national railway chief was imprisoned for three years on bribery charges. Prosecutors currently are seeking the arrest of the former head of the country’s largest lender, BTA Bank.

Kazakhstan is the wealthiest country in former Soviet Central Asia, its economy buoyed by vast oil and gas reserves and increasingly uranium.

The country is expected to become the world’s largest uranium producer this year or next.