The political persecution of Barlyk Mendygaziyev is yet another example of how the Nazarbayev regime is taking hostages to fight political opponents. Barlyk Mendygaziyev is a businessman, philanthropist and human rights activist from Aksai, West-Kazakhstan Region living in the United States.
The reason for the persecution of Barlyk Mendygaziyev is his opposition and human rights activities. He provides financial and humanitarian assistance to the families of Kazakhstani political prisoners and promotes personal sanctions against Nursultan Nazarbayev and his entourage in the United States. At the moment, Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee is fabricating documents for an extradition request in relation to Barlyk Mendygaziyev and to freeze his accounts in the US.
In this way, the Kazakhstani regime wants to paralyse Mendygaziyev’s public activities, make it impossible for him to support civil society and stop an international campaign in support of imposing personal sanctions for corruption and gross human rights violations in Kazakhstan.
In a struggle with political opponent Barlyk Mendygaziyev, the Kazakhstani authorities for a long time paralysed KSS – the company he founded. This company supplies refined oil to Western markets and is a contractor to US firms, with major investors such as Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell as clients. It is another case that signals the insecurity of business and investment in Kazakhstan.
Political persecution: retaliation by the NSC for human rights and opposition activities
In March 2020, Barlyk Mendygaziyev founded the Freedom Kazakhstan Foundation in the US to combat systemic human rights abuses in authoritarian Kazakhstan. He helps Kazakhstani victims of political repression pay for politically motivated fines and lawyers. Mendygaziyev calls for personal sanctions against oligarch Timur Kulibayev (for large-scale corruption), as well as against dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev and NSC head Karim Massimov (for political murder, torture, political repression).
Karim Massimov is the head of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (NSC), the right-hand man of Nursultan Nazarbayev. The NSC is Kazakhstan’s most powerful state body, which protects the regime and prosecutes political opponents.
In December 2020, through an intermediary, Karim Massimov passed a demand to Mendygaziyev to stop supporting opposition activists. Otherwise, Massimov threatened, Mendygaziyev’s family and colleagues would be thrown in jail and his business would be destroyed. Mendygaziyev refused to comply with Massimov’s terms. As a result, the NSC took control of the Barlyk Mendygaziyev case, as the facts indicate.
The NSC and the Department of Economic Investigation (DEI) opened a politically motivated criminal case and took members of Mendygaziyev’s family and employees of his company, Karachaganak Support Services (KSS), hostage.
Barlyk Mendygaziyev founded KSS in 1998. The company specialises in processing tank oil sludge. Mendygaziyev stresses that KSS is the only company in Kazakhstan to apply the most advanced technologies for oil sludge processing without any damage to the environment. KSS supplies treated oil to the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. In 2016, Barlyk Mendygaziyev distributed 100% of KSS ownership to the company’s 120 employees (the market value was about USD 40 million). Since then, Mendygaziyev has been an investor in KSS and a consultant to the company. He is based in the US, where he and his wife, a US citizen, do business.
Kazakhstani authorities have now charged Barlyk Mendygaziyev with “tax evasion” (Article 245 Part 3 of the Criminal Code) and “management of an organised criminal group” (Article 262 Part 1 of the Criminal Code). He faces up to 12 years in prison. According to the NSC and the Department of Economic Investigations, Barlyk Mendygaziyev “organised a criminal group” that “included” his brothers and KSS employees (they also became defendants in the Barlyk case – they were taken hostage).
In addition to that, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and NSC have charged Barlyk Mendygaziyev with Article 258 of the Criminal Code (“financing of terrorist or extremist activities”) for providing humanitarian aid to activists from the opposition movements DCK and Koshe Partiyasy. The criminal case involves at least 16 people, including Kazakhstani human rights defenders, former political prisoners and their relatives.
Barlyk Mendygaziyev’s brothers and KSS employees taken hostage: fabrication of charges, arrest, ill-treatment
Bekizhan Mendygaziyev, Barlyk’s brother, was thrown into the pre-trial detention facility where he has been held since 3 June 2021. Bekizhan, 55 years old, has severe chronic diseases and detention in the pre-trial detention facility may have critical consequences for his health. Bekizhan Mendygaziyev, at Barlyk’s request, has been making money transfers to support Kazakhstani activists and political prisoners, in particular in paying fines and services of lawyers.
In November–December 2020, the NSC and police attempted to fabricate a case against Bekizhan on “drug possession”, which was allegedly “found” (probably planted) during a search of KSS offices. In June 2021, Bekizhan faced new charges of involvement in the “criminal group of Barlyk Mendygaziyev”, “money laundering” and “tax evasion”. However, Bekizhan has no employment relationship with KSS or authority to file tax reports.
The notification of suspicion states that “the relationship between Barlyk Mendygaziyev and his brother Bekizhan Mendygaziyev paved the way for systematic and continuous tax evasion on the part of the organisation and money laundering”.
Barlyk’s nephew, Arman Mendygaziyev, is also being prosecuted on these charges.
In December 2020, police and the NSC searched the houses of two more Barlyk brothers, Kalyk Mendygaziyev and Erik Mendygaziyev. An investigation into the “theft of 10 horses” was initiated against them.
Kalyk Mendygaziyev, brother of Barlyk, is additionally accused of “stealing 300 metres of electrical cable”, although he is in a wheelchair and is practically blind. In June 2021, police questioned him directly at the hospital after surgery to amputate his leg.
The Mendygaziyev brothers continue to be persecuted for “participation in a criminal group” in the KSS case, despite the fact that on 17 May 2021, Court No. 2 of Atyrau acquitted the three defendants in the KSS case – Natalia Dauletiyarova, Baurzhan Jussupov and Rinat Batkayev – of these charges. Thus, the court of first instance recognises the absence of a “criminal group” in the KSS case, while the NSC and the DEI continue to prosecute the Mendygaziyev brothers on this charge. This fact was widely publicised. However, soon, on 26 July 2021, the Court of Appeal fully sided with the investigation, recognising the defendants in the KSS case as “members of a criminal group”. Consequently, they were sentenced to long prison terms (Dauletiyarova – 7 years in prison, Jussupov – 5.5 years in prison, Batkayev – 5 years in prison).
The facts indicate that this court decision was adopted in order to facilitate further fabrication of the case against Bekizhan Mendygaziyev. By doing so, the investigation is trying to strengthen its position claiming that human rights defender Barlyk Mendygaziyev and his relatives “formed a criminal group”.
Representatives of the NSC intimidated KSS officers into giving false testimony against themselves and Barlyk Mendygaziyev and warned that if they refused, their families would face criminal prosecution or physical danger.
During lengthy interrogations, Natalia Dauletiyarova, the defendant in the KSS case, was threatened in order to persuade her to provide information on whom Barlyk Mendygaziyev was in contact with and to give false testimony against him. Dauletiyarova had had an operation and needed constant medical observation. In spite of this, she was subjected to long interrogations during which she lost consciousness and was denied medical assistance in the detention facility. Such acts, which can be qualified as torture, were detrimental to her health. She is still receiving medical treatment.
Notably, the NSC and the DEI tied the current case against Barlyk Mendygaziyev to a previous prosecution he faced back in 2013. Back then, in a struggle to preserve the environment, he had opposed senior officials in the West-Kazakhstan region and also clashed with the corrupt interests of Kazakhstani oligarch Timur Kulibayev, son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev. As a result, Barlyk was then thrown into pre-trial detention facility, convicted of “tax evasion”, and part of his business was raided. Oligarch Kulibayev was behind all of this, Mendygaziyev said. Now the investigation indicates in the indictments that after his conviction in 2013 Barlyk Mendygaziyev “did not draw the proper conclusions for himself” and “deliberately chose to continue his criminal activity”.
Persecution in Kazakhstan is the basis for the fabrication of extradition documents and a request to block funds
The fabrication of the case against Barlyk Mendygaziyev in Kazakhstan and the subsequent court decisions against his brothers will form the basis of an extradition request and international legal assistance. Since November 2020, Barlyk Mendygaziyev has been placed on the international wanted list by Kazakhstan.
Using methods of threats, extorting necessary testimony and taking Mendygaziyev’s relatives hostage, the Kazakhstani prosecutor’s office, the NSC and the DEI are gathering “evidence” to prepare extradition documents in the case of Barlyk Mendygaziyev.
In addition, the Kazakhstani regime will seek to block Mendygaziyev’s accounts in the United States in order to paralyse his human rights and opposition activities. This becomes clear from the indictments, in which the investigation states that Bekizhan and Barlyk Mendygaziyev “systematically” transferred “criminally obtained money” to the US.
An urgent European Parliament resolution of 11 February 2021 demanded that the Kazakhstani authorities drop all politically motivated charges against Barlyk Mendygaziyev, and cease the political persecution of his family members and KSS staff. The resolution also noted how mechanisms of international cooperation on criminal affairs have been abused by the Kazakhstani authorities to persecute opponents of the regime abroad.
Hostage-taking is a regular method by which the Kazakhstani regime deals with opponents
Meanwhile, in order to reach political opponents outside Kazakhstan, the NSC uses the already common method of taking hostages.
In such cases, the NSC fabricates criminal cases, takes relatives of political opponents into custody, and then beats the “necessary” testimony out of them.
In 2013, Alma Shalabayeva and six-year-old Alua Ablyazova, the wife and daughter of opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov, were kidnapped from Italy and brought to Kazakhstan. Shalabayeva and her daughter were taken hostage to obtain evidence against opposition politician Ablyazov. The case of the kidnapping of the family provoked an international scandal , . On 14 October 2020 an Italian court sentenced to prison six Italian law-enforcement officers for helping the Kazakhstani authorities abduct Alma Shalabayeva and their six-year-old daughter from Italy. The Court condemns the “collusion” between Italy and Kazakhstan and, in particular, the servility shown by the Italian authorities and their “total subordination to the interests of Kazakhstan”. “Between 29 and 31 May 2013,” the Court states, “certain representatives of the Italian Republic, having betrayed their oath of allegiance to the Constitution, de facto served the interests of another State, namely the Kazakh dictatorship,” with serious consequences for three days by “narrowing and limiting our national sovereignty”. Six Italian law-enforcement officers were sentenced to prison on abduction charges and one justice of the peace for forgery.
In 2017, the NSC arrested Kazakhstani businessman Iskander Yerimbetov, brother of human rights activist and lawyer Botagoz Jardemalie. He too was held hostage. The NSC demanded that he convince his sister to stop her human rights activities and return to Kazakhstan. Yerimbetov was brutally tortured and spent over two years in prison.
The Shalabayev and Yerimbetov families were freed thanks to the international community, and they were granted refugee status in Europe. They still remain at risk of persecution by the Kazakhstani regime.
The sources for the report were the documents in the case of KSS and the Mendygaziyev brothers, which Barlyk Mendygaziyev provided to the Open Dialogue Foundation. In addition, Barlyk Mendygaziyev gave us his testimony. The report is also based on the testimonies of those prosecuted in the KSS case and Barlyk Mendygaziyev’s own comments, which have been published on the Facebook group #ActivistsNotExtremists, a coalition of ten NGOs from Kazakhstan, the EU and the US. The group, which has over 4,600 members from different regions of Kazakhstan, was founded to gather information “from the field” about political persecution and human rights violations in Kazakhstan. Publications in the group are available in Russian and English.
Structure of the report
- Section 2 discloses details of the events of 2013, when Barlyk Mendygaziyev was first subjected to political persecution and his company to a corporate raid. These events are now being referred to by the investigation as an “aggravating circumstance”. This section also describes the influence of Timur Kulibayev on the oil and gas industry in Kazakhstan, with whom Barlyk Mendygaziyev came into conflict nine years ago.
- Section 3 describes what caused the new wave of political persecution of Mendygaziyev in 2020, namely his political and opposition activities and the promotion of personal sanctions against representatives of the Nazarbayev regime in the US.
- Section 4 focuses on how and through whom Karim Massimov, the head of the NSC, conveyed his threat to Barlyk Mendygaziyev. The structure and broad powers of the NSC, which allow it to control the police, prosecutors and even judges in political cases, are also noted here. This section provides a list of the investigators and prosecutors, who under the NSC’s supervision are investigating the cases of Mendygaziyev and the KSS.
- Section 5 outlines the chronology of the prosecution of the case, in particular how the NSC and DEI put pressure on KSS employees to testify against Barlyk Mendygaziyev (section 5.1), and how Barlyk’s brothers were held hostage, subjected to fabricated charges and ill-treated (section 5.2). Here the contradictory, absurd and clearly politically motivated accusations against Barlyk and his brothers are analysed.
The section also provides an example of the additional pressure exerted on Barlyk Mendygaziyev, namely the lawsuit brought by a Kazakhstani pro-government organisation against Barlyk for “insulting the honour and dignity of Yelbasy (‘Leader of the Nation’ – title) Nazarbayev”. Section 5.3 notes the protests by KSS staff against the political persecution of Mendygaziyev and the reaction of Kazakhstani human rights defenders and the European Parliament to the case.
2. ECO-ACTIVISM AND CONFLICT WITH OLIGARCH KULIBAYEV: THE FIRST RAID IN 2013
Eight years ago, Barlyk Mendygaziyev was first subjected to political persecution in connection with his public activities.
The Kazakhstani investigation now refers to the events of 2013 in the indictments and stresses that since then Barlyk “has not drawn the proper conclusions for himself”.
In July 2012, Barlyk Mendygaziyev publicly opposed the construction of an oil waste landfill in the West-Kazakhstan region’s environmental protection zone. He stated that the construction was carried out under the supervision of regional akim Nurlan Nogayev (since 19 December 2019 – the Minister of Energy of Kazakhstan), and reported on the facts of corruption in the course of implementation of the project. As Mendygaziyev testifies, he thereby tread on the toes of “ZhaikMunai” and “OralOilGas”, companies owned by the powerful Kazakhstani oligarch Timur Kulibayev, Nazarbayev’s son-in-law and chairman of the “Kazenergy” association of oil, gas and energy sector organisations. Kulibayev headed the “Samruk-Kazyna” state fund, which brings together national companies with a total budget of about $80 billion.
Oligarch Kulibayev is the most influential person in Kazakhstan’s oil and gas industry, a crucial one for the country’s economy. An investigation published by the Financial Times in December 2020 reveals that Kulibayev used his influence to make super profits during the construction of a gas pipeline from Central Asia to China. He acted as a supervisor of several state-owned companies that were involved in the construction of the pipeline.
The results of the FT investigation were brought to the attention of the US Congress. On 7 May 2021, Congressman Bennie G. Thompson cited the Kulibayev case as an example of corruption and kleptocracy in the implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects in Central Asia. According to the congressman, because of corruption in Kazakhstan, Western companies cannot compete fairly with Chinese companies, which hurts US strategic interests in the region. Bennie G. Thompson called for the Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy (CROOK) Act, which aims to help civil activists in authoritarian states.
Barlyk Mendygaziyev emphasises that in 2012–13, akim Nurlan Nogayev helped realise the interests of oligarch Kulibayev in the oil and gas sector of West-Kazakhstan Region. Mendygaziyev came into conflict with their interests by raising the issue of large-scale environmental pollution in the region. Following this, Mendygaziyev faced persecution, for which, he says, Kulibayev and Nogayev are responsible. The financial police, tax inspectorate, prosecutor’s office, sanitary and fire services came to inspect KSS. According to Mendygaziyev, then Sports Department chief Muslim Undaganov came to threaten him on behalf of akim Nogayev.
Mendygaziyev was accused of “tax evasion”, and the period from 22 July 2013 to 17 September 2013 he spent in pre-trial detention facility. The case received publicity, after which a Kazakh court sentenced Mendygaziyev to a fine and a ban on business activities for one year.
As Mendygaziyev notes, in 2014, Ablai Myrzakhmetov, head of the board of the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan “Atameken”, demanded that Barlyk stop engaging in eco-activism and sell him the company KSS building LLP (which belonged to KSS group), to which he refused. After that, in 2015, KSS building LLP was driven into bankruptcy. Timur Kulibayev is the chairman of the Presidium of “Atameken”. Thus, stresses Mendygaziyev, the oligarch Kulibayev destroyed part of his business.
According to Igor Vranchev, Barlyk Mendygaziyev’s lawyer, the criminal record obtained by Barlyk in 2013 was expunged after three years. However, eight years later the Kazakhstani authorities are using this criminal record as an aggravating circumstance in a new political prosecution. In January 2021, the Kazakhstani Prosecutor’s Office stated in an indictment that in 2013 Barlyk Mendygaziyev was convicted of “tax evasion” and, “having failed to draw proper conclusions for himself, consciously decided to continue his criminal activity”.
3. THE HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPOSITION ACTIVITIES OF MENDYGAZIYEV
In March 2020 Barlyk Mendygaziyev established the Freedom Kazakhstan Foundation, which was officially registered in the United States on 1 September 2020. The organisation aims to provide financial and legal aid to victims of political repression in Kazakhstan, as well as to promote the inclusion of senior Kazakhstani officials and family members of Nursultan Nazarbayev on the sanctions list under the Magnitsky Act. Mendygaziyev pays for the services of lawyers for politically prosecuted individuals and fines for detained participants of peaceful assemblies, and also provides financial support to the families of political prisoners.
In addition, Barlyk Mendygaziyev reports human rights abuses, large-scale corruption and business raids in Kazakhstan during meetings and events with members of the EU states, MEPs and representatives of international human rights organisations , , , .
Mendygaziyev has publicly expressed support for the opposition movements Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) and Koshe Partiyasy (Street Party). The Kazakhstani authorities called these movements “extremist”, accusing them of “inciting social discord”, “forming a negative image of the authorities” and “provoking protest sentiments”. The above-mentioned decisions were adopted by a Kazakhstani court in secret, without the right of defence or appeal. A European Parliament resolution on Kazakhstan dated 11 February 2021 recognised the peaceful nature of the activities of the DCK and Koshe Partiyasy and condemned the political persecution of activists of these movements.
Over the past three years, the Kazakhstani authorities have forcibly and arbitrarily detained over 8,500 participants of peaceful rallies called for by the DCK and Koshe Partiyasy. As of 14 July 2021, there are at least 21 political prisoners and at least 86 individuals subject to political criminal prosecution in Kazakhstan (of which 56 are prosecuted for “extremism”, i.e. for supporting the DCK and Koshe Partiyasy).
Since March 2018, more than 70 activists have already been sentenced to restrictions of liberty for supporting the opposition views of the DCK or Koshe Partiyasy (of which 27 activists have been convicted in January-July 2021 alone). Their court sentences prohibit them from going to rallies or writing comments critical of the authorities on social media. The NSC has used this method extensively to block the activists’ public activities.
The humanitarian assistance provided by Barlyk Mendygaziyev to activists and politically prosecuted persons is considered by the authorities as “financing the activities of radical supporters of the extremist movements DCK and Koshe Partiyasy”. In this regard, a criminal case under Article 258 (“financing of terrorist or extremist activity”) was opened secretly on 26 December 2020.
Barlyk Mendygaziyev, as well as at least 15 other individuals, are being prosecuted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the NSC in this case: Kazakhstani human rights defenders Raigul Sadyrbayeva (Elimay), Dana Zhanai (Qaharman), Anna Shukeyeva (405 movement) and her husband Baurzhan Atuzbayev, Bibigul Imangaliyeva (Article 14); former political prisoners Gulzipa Dzhaukerova, Zhazira Demeuova, her brother Sadvakas Demeuov and daughter Asem Shaikhazimova; relatives of political prisoners Share Oralbayeva, Nazira Nurmaganbetova, Zhanar Sarykulova; and activists Nurbol Onerkhan, Rakila Beknazarova, Zhasaral Kuanyshalin. The authorities thus qualify human rights activities as “aiding and abetting extremism”.
Barlyk Mendygaziyev’s human rights and opposition activities triggered a raid on KSS, as well as new political persecution of Barlyk and his family on charges of “tax evasion” and “participation in a criminal group”. The National Security Committee (NSC) is behind these actions.
4. NSC TAKES UP THE CASE: THREATS FROM MASSIMOV DEMANDING HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVITIES BE STOPPED
Since 2020, Barlyk Mendygaziyev has been involved in international campaigns for the Global Magnitsky Act against the Nazarbayev family, in particular his son-in-law Timur Kulibayev (for large-scale corruption in the oil and gas and financial sectors), and against Karim Massimov, head of the NSC (for gross human rights violations – political killing, torture).
Karim Massimov, who has been head of the NSC since 2016, is a right-hand man of Nursultan Nazarbayev. The irreplaceable dictator Nazarbayev heads Kazakhstan’s Security Council for life and continues to concentrate all power in the country in his hands.
The NSC is the most powerful state body ensuring the preservation of the Nazarbayev regime. It engages in persecution, torture and political killings of regime opponents, and expropriates business from business owners who tread on the toes of the Nazarbayev regime.
Legislation ,  gives the NSC broad powers to interfere in all spheres of society and the state. De facto, the NSC controls the work of the police, prosecutors and even judges in political matters. The work of the NSC is defined by a strict hierarchy and centralised decision-making. This allows Massimov to give direct orders for politically motivated persecution and to have direct control over all state perpetrators of human rights violations in politically motivated cases.
After Barlyk Mendygaziyev began actively supporting opposition activists in Kazakhstan, he received a threat from Massimov. The threat was transmitted through an intermediary, businessman Bergey Ryskaliyev. Mendygaziyev informed, that in December 2020, Zhanbolat Mamai (leader of the Democratic Party, which positions itself as an opposition movement) asked him to meet with Bergey Ryskaliyev in London.
Ryskaliyev is the former akim (mayor) of Atyrau (2006–12). He is believed to have been a protégé of Aslan Musin, the head of Kazakhstan’s presidential administration. In 2012, when Musin fell into disgrace, Ryskaliyev lost his influence and left the country. Ryskaliyev and his relatives were charged with embezzlement of budgetary funds and creation of an organised criminal group. In January 2019, a Kazakhstani court sentenced Bergey Ryskaliyev to 17 years in absentia and his brother Amanzhan to 16 years in prison. The court also confiscated the Ryskaliyevs’ assets worth billions of tenge.
In October 2019, information began to circulate in the media that Bergey Ryskaliyev had important dirt on Nursultan Nazarbayev. After this, in May 2020, the General Prosecutor of Kazakhstan, Gizat Nurdauletov, asked the Supreme Court to return most of the confiscated property to Ryskaliyev, namely that which had been acquired before the start of criminal activity (before 2008) , . The Prosecutor’s Office listed, on five pages, the property and assets to be returned. The Supreme Court upheld the complaint of the Prosecutor’s Office. Such a case is unprecedented for Kazakhstan. Despite the conviction in Kazakhstan, the authorities are not hunting Ryskaliyev and are not demanding his extradition.
In December 2020, Bergey Ryskaliyev met with Barlyk Mendygaziyev, mediating threats from the head of the NSC.
At the meeting, Ryskaliyev reported the position of KSS head Massimov: if Mendygaziyev gave up his social and patronage activities and publicly read out a “repentance” text on video, then all criminal cases against him and his relatives would be dropped, and he would be able to do business safely. Otherwise, Ryskaliyev said, KSS will be destroyed, Barlyk’s employees and relatives will be imprisoned, and he will be extradited from the United States.
During the meeting, Ryskaliyev also suggested that in order to avoid problems, Mendygaziyev join the team of Akezhan Kazhegeldin, a former Kazakhstani Prime Minister who is abroad and is positioning himself as an opposition figure. Kazhegeldin himself said he met several times with Nazarbayev and asked why he didn’t keep Kazhegeldin by his side. Kazhegeldin said that Nazarbayev asked for his forgiveness. According to Barlyk Mendygaziyev, he has formed the opinion that Ryskaliyev finances quasi-opposition projects that collaborate with the Kazakhstani regime.
As Mendygaziyev stressed, he categorically refused to go along with Massimov’s terms.
As a result, Massimov realised his threats: criminal proceedings against Mendygaziyev intensified, and his relatives and employees of the KSS company he founded were taken hostage.
Under the supervision of the NSC, the case against Mendygaziyev and KSS is handled by the Department of Economic Investigation (DEI) for West-Kazakhstan region and the DEI for Atyrau region, as well as the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office. In particular, the prosecution of Mendygaziyev, his brothers and KSS officers is carried out by such officials:
- Aziz Kadraliyev, an investigator from the DEI in Atyrau region, is in charge of the case;
- the head of the investigation team is investigator A.E. Tursynov;
- the prosecutor’s supervision is carried out by Shyngys Nesipkaliyev, the prosecutor of Atyrau region, Khalidulla Daueshov and his deputy Abzal Gilim, the prosecutor of the Atyrau Regional Prosecutor’s Office L. Samatova.
5. THE NSC TAKES HOSTAGES AND FORCES THEM TO GIVE FALSE TESTIMONY AGAINST MENDYGAZIYEV
On 6 November 2020, armed persons in unmarked masks, presumably officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Security Committee, broke into the premises of KSS in Aksai. In the absence of lawyers, searches were conducted and computers, stamps and documentation were seized.
After this, it became known that the Department of Economic Investigation (DEI) had charged Barlyk Mendygaziyev with “tax evasion” (Article 245 Part 3 of the Criminal Code) and “management of an organised criminal group” (Article 262 Part 1 of the Criminal Code). He faces up to 12 years in prison. According to investigators, Barlyk Mendygaziyev “organised a criminal group” that “included” his brothers and some KSS employees. At the same time, investigators refer to Barlyk Mendygaziyev as “the de facto leader of KSS”. Mendygaziyev stressed that he had no business in Kazakhstan: he had transferred all property rights to KSS employees and was himself only an investor and manager.
As it turned out, on 26 October 2020, a Kazakhstani court arrested Barlyk Mendygaziyev in absentia, and on 7 November 2020 the Kazakhstani authorities put him on the international wanted list.
5.1. Pressure, threats and ill-treatment against KSS staff and contractors
Between November 2020 and May 2021, investigators and NSC representatives, without identifying themselves, questioned KSS employees without lawyers and referred to them as “members of a criminal group”. KSS employees were forced to give false testimony against themselves and Barlyk Mendygaziyev, and were intimidated that their families would face criminal prosecution or physical danger if they refused.
- Charges were filed against Natalia Dauletiyarova, who provided accounting services to KSS, back in August 2019. According to the charges, Mendygaziyev “under circumstances unspecified by the investigation allegedly in January 2017” met Dauletyarova “to put into effect a criminal intent aimed at tax evasion”.
Dauletiyarova noted that during interrogations she was shouted at and threatened with imprisonment, demanding the contact details of those with whom Barlyk Mendygaziyev was in contact. She was subjected to prolonged interrogation despite the fact that she voiced her complaint about not feeling well and health problems. Natalia reported instances where interrogations continued until she was unconscious. She was denied medical assistance in the Atyrau detention facility. The administration of the detention facility would not give her the medication her husband brought her.
At the time of her arrest in November 2019, Natalia Dauletiyarova was after surgery and needed constant medical observation. Investigators threatened Natalia that her parents and three children would be in danger if she refused to give the necessary evidence against Barlyk Mendygaziyev.
- KSS employee Vladimir Goliusov said that his accounts were seized in favour of compensation for a debt that had been accrued in 2015, when KSS building LLP was the victim of the first raider takeover and was driven into bankruptcy (at that point the company’s bankruptcy administrator was state-appointed Marat Kurmanov, a former prosecutor). Goliusov stressed that in November–December 2020, during interrogations, he was threatened with the confiscation of his house if he refused to “cooperate”.
- In November 2020, representatives of the NSC, who did not identify themselves, repeatedly tried to recruit KSS employee Venera Bialiyeva, demanding that she provide information about Barlyk Mendygaziyev and his brother Bekizhan.
- Following the search of KSS offices in November 2020, Sergey Smolyak, Bakhtyly Dzhanteleyeva, Kamilla Bazarbayeva as well as KSS director Baurzhan Jussupov were also questioned and pressured to testify against Mendygaziyev.
As of 14 July 2021, law enforcement authorities still have not returned the company’s seized computers and equipment. For more than five months, KSS’s accounts have been frozen: the company has been unable to pay contractors, transfer taxes or pay salaries. KSS employees and Barlyk Mendygaziyev stressed that by exercising political persecution, the authorities had completely paralysed the company’s work. KSS employees in Atyrau continue to be interrogated.
As of 14 July 2021, KSS employees, after numerous protests and video appeals, managed to unblock the company’s accounts and resume work. However, as new KSS director Salavat Tashtemirov points out, pressure is now being exerted on KSS clients. There is reason to believe that the NSC and DEI are trying to force other companies to refuse to cooperate with KSS.
On 17 May 2021 in Aksai, dozens of KSS employees came out to a rally demanding to stop the fabricated political persecution of the company’s director, Baurzhan Jussupov. The protesters stressed that Jussupov was being persecuted because of the human rights activities of the company founder Barlyk Mendygaziyev.
On 17 May 2021, Atyrau Court No. 2 sentenced Natalia Dauletiyarova and Baurzhan Jussupov to five years of restriction of liberty, and Dauletiyarova’s assistant Rinat Batkayev to three years and six months of restriction of liberty. They were found guilty of “tax evasion” and/or “issuing false invoices”.
On 26 July 2021, the Atyrau Regional Court of Appeal agreed with the position of the Prosecutor’s Office and charged Dauletiyarova, Batkayev and Jussupov with Article 262 of the Criminal Code (“establishment and participation in an organised criminal group”). Consequently, the restrictions of liberty were replaced by real prison terms: Dauletiyarova was sentenced to 7 years of imprisonment, Jussupov to 5.5 years of imprisonment, and Batkayev to 5 years of imprisonment. They were taken into custody in the courtroom. Judges Tatti Ualiyeva, Sandugash Suleimenova and Dina Tukhfatova made the ruling; the position of the prosecution was represented by L. Samatova, prosecutor of the Atyrau Regional Prosecutor’s Office.
Thus already four political prisoners (the arrested Bekizhan Mendygaziev and the three convicted persons in the KSS case) have been thrown behind bars in order to put pressure on Barlyk Mendygaziev, force him to stop his human rights activities and fabricate an extradition request against him.
Notably, the court of first instance acquitted Dauletiyarova, Jussupov and Batkayev under another article of the Criminal Code, Article 262 (“establishment and participation in an organised criminal group”). However, despite this, the Mendygaziyev brothers continue to be prosecuted under a case concerning the “criminal group KSS”.
5.2. The Mendygaziyev brothers are taken hostage: criminal persecution, searches, arrests
- Persecution of Bekizhan Mendygaziyev, brother of Barlyk Mendygaziyev
Bekizhan Mendygaziyev is one of Barlyk’s older brothers. He is 55 years old and the father of two children. Bekizhan provided supply services for KSS, including food deliveries. Bekizhan Mendygaziyev carried out money transfers at Barlyk’s request, paying politically motivated fines for participation in peaceful assemblies and supporting the families of political prisoners. During interrogations, Bekizhan was asked about these transfers.
In November 2020, during a search in the temporary accommodation room at KSS, police “found” a bag of marijuana in one of his work jackets. Investigators stated that it was “Bekizhan Mendygaziyev’s jacket” (Bekizhan denies this). No one was in the room during the search except police and NSC officers. Bekizhan stated that the police planted the drug in order to fabricate a case against him, thus putting pressure on his brother for his human rights activities. It is noteworthy that a team of six investigators from Atyrau, Uralsk and Nur-Sultan was formed to investigate the drug case, which is atypical for such cases and confirms the political motivation. Another brother of Barlyk, Abai Mendygaziyev, was interrogated in the case.
Since then, investigators have not reported any “results” in the drug case. However, in June 2021, Bekizhan Mendygaziyev faced new charges of “participation in an organised criminal group” (Article 262 Part 2 of the Criminal Code), “tax evasion” (Article 245 Part 3) and “money laundering” (Article 218 Part 3).
The defence stresses that there is no reason to consider Bekizhan Mendygaziyev within the KSS case at all, as he has no employment relationship with the company. Moreover, Bekizhan has no tax reporting powers.
The suspicion notification dated 3 June 2021 states that Bekizhan Mendygaziev, “being the brother of Barlyk Mendygaziyev, was involved by him along with KSS director Baurzhan Jussupov in an organised criminal group”. Even from a formal point of view, this accusation is absurd, since on 17 May 2021 Atyrau Court No. 2 acquitted Baurzhan Jussupov and other defendants in the KSS case under the “criminal group” article. However, shortly afterwards, on 26 July 2021, the Court of Appeal recognised the “existence of a criminal group” in the KSS case and sentenced the prosecuted Jussupov, Batkayev and Dauletiyarova to prison terms. This court decision may be used as a basis for further fabrication of the case against the arrested Bekizhan Mendygaziyev, as well as to strengthen the investigators’ position on the “formation of a criminal group” consisting of Barlyk Mendygaziyev and his brothers.
The fact that Bekizhan is Barlyk’s brother is actually, for the NSC and the Department of Economic Investigation, “proof of links within the criminal group”.
“The kinship between Barlyk Mendygaziyev and his sibling Bekizhan Mendygaziyev has paved the way for a systematic and longstanding pattern of tax evasion from the organisation and the legalisation of criminal funds by transferring them to the United States,” the suspicion notification states.
The investigation alleges that between 2017 and 2020 Bekizhan and Barlyk Mendygaziyev “systematically transferred” to the United States “criminally derived funds” in the amount of $5,937,603. In the future, citing the “results of the investigation”, which have all the hallmarks of fabrication, Kazakhstani authorities may request that Barlyk Mendygaziyev’s accounts in the United States be frozen.
On 3 June 2021 Bakizhan was arrested, and on 5 June 2021 a preventive measure (arrest in a pre-trial detention facility) was selected for him. The arrest was requested by a motion of the Deputy Prosecutor of the Atyrau Province, Abzal Gilim, and the decision on his arrest was passed by the judge of the Specialised Investigative Court of Atyrau, Dina Trumova. On 17 June 2021, the court of appeal (Atyrau Regional Court) upheld the decision on arrest.
The grounds for the arrest were that Bekizhan may “abscond” and “obstruct the investigation”. At the same time, he does not travel abroad and even rarely leaves the West-Kazakhstan region, living in a village with his family.
Bekizhan Mendygaziyev suffers from chronic hepatitis C, renal failure and chronic colitis and also has an intervertebral hernia. Since November 2020, due to numerous interrogations and pressure from the NSC and the DEI, his health has further deteriorated and he has been hospitalised twice. Bekizhan is being held in the Atyrau pre-trial detention facility.
The conditions in the pre-trial detention facility could be a severe blow to Bekizhan’s frail health, which requires constant medical supervision. There is reason to believe that this is how the NSC is trying to crack Bekizhan and his brother Barlyk.
Persecution of Arman Mendygaziyev, nephew of Barlyk Mendygaziyev, as well as Bulat Dushanov, nephew of Barlyk’s wife
Arman Mendygaziyev coordinated material support for KSS shift workers. The DEI stated that he was “involved in criminal acts” “committed by Barlyk Mendygaziyev and Bekizhan Mendygaziyev”. However, the suspicion notification against Barlyk and Bekizhan do not mention Arman Mendygaziyev’s name. Arman is being investigated on the same charges: “participation in an organised criminal group” (Article 262 Part 2 of the Criminal Code), “tax evasion” (Article 245 Part 3 of the Criminal Code) and “money laundering” (Article 218 Part 3 of the Criminal Code).
On 3 June 2021, Arman’s house and car were searched without a court authorisation. He said that investigators seized his phone on 3 June 2021, but did not obtain a court sanction for these actions until 7 June 2021. However, investigators tried to formalise the seizure of the phone with a later date, when they already had a court order.
Bulat Dushanov, nephew of Barlyk Mendygaziyev’s wife, is in charge of the logistics of KSS. On 24 June 2021, DEI officers questioned Bulat Dushanov, demanding false testimony against Bekizhan Mendygaziyev that Bulat had allegedly transported illegal cash for Bekizhan in 2019.
- Persecution of Kalyk and Erik Mendygazievs, Bekizhan’s brothers
On 21 December 2020, police officers and armed members of special police units conducted searches in the houses and flats of farmers Kalyk and Erik Mendygaziyev.
The formal grounds for the searches were a criminal case of “the theft of ten horses”, with the police refusing to inspect the household premises, but rather searching rooms in the house, looking in wardrobes and under beds.
Kalyk is also charged with “stealing 300 metres of electrical cable”; Kalyk has had his legs amputated, moves around in a wheelchair, and is nearly blind. Police officers Ilyas Mukanov, Kairat Maratov and Olzhas Shoinashilov searched Kalyk’s home while he was in hospital.
According to Kalyk Mendygaziyev, police officers brought witnesses who refused to participate in the search. After the search, the witnesses told Kalyk that the police deceived them and said that they would take them to a place where they had already “found 300 metres of stolen cable”.
On 14 June 2021 and 15 June 2021, police officers visited Kalyk Mendygaziyev in the hospital where he was recovering from a leg amputation operation. The police officers, without identifying themselves or providing their identification, questioned Kalyk directly in the hospital, which could be construed as ill-treatment.
Erik was likely being followed by the NSC as on the day of the search he was visited at is country house, where he rarely stays and is not registered. Erik Mendygaziyev said that during interrogation at the police station, the police ironically said that “the entire Department of Internal Affairs of Uralsk” was involved in the Mendygaziyev family case.
Another of Baryk’s brothers, Rasim Almukhanov, is also involved in the “theft of ten horses” case.
An additional pressure factor: a lawsuit against Barlyk Mendygaziyev for “insulting the honour and dignity of Yelbasy (Leader of the nation) Nazarbayev”
In addition to criminal prosecution, in April 2021 a lawsuit was initiated against Barlyk Mendygaziyev for “insulting the honour and dignity of Yelbasy Nazarbayev”. Kazakhstan’s “Ar-Bedel” Foundation filed a civil suit against several civil activists, including Barlyk Mendygaziyev, for reposting on Facebook the phrase: “Kazakhstan is a big zone – NurLag! The Ringleader of the zone is Nazarbayev!”. “Ar-Bedel” Foundation believes that by doing so, Mendygaziyev and other activists allowed a “negative assessment of the situation in the Republic of Kazakhstan”, “insulting the honour and dignity” of Yelbasy Nazarbayev, and formed a “negative image of the Republic of Kazakhstan”. According to the plaintiff, this could lead to such negative consequences as “the introduction of sanctions by international organisations against the Republic of Kazakhstan”, “interference of foreign states in the internal affairs of Kazakhstan, including military intervention”.
Thus, all indications are that the plaintiff, the “Ar-Bedel” Foundation, is a pro-government organisation and one example of the so-called “government-organised non-governmental organisations” (GONGO) and is being used as an additional tool of political persecution of Mendygaziyev and other activists.
5.3. Public disclosure of the case against KSS and Barlyk Mendygaziyev
In May and June 2021, dozens of KSS employees protested by organising mass online challenges and making video appeals to the EU bodies, the US and other democratic states calling on them to demand that the Kazakhstani authorities stop politically persecuting the Mendygaziyev family , , ,.
The Kazakhstani human rights movements “Qaharman”, “405” “Bostandyq Kz”, “Veritas”, “Femina Virtute”, “Article 14” and “Elimay” spoke in support of the politically persecuted Mendygaziyev brothers. “Veritas” human rights activists said: “The Lukashenko and Putin regimes and the Nazarbayev regime have the practice of taking relatives and close relatives of the opposition hostage.”
The urgent European Parliament resolution on Kazakhstan of 11 February 2021 called on the Kazakhstani authorities “to lift all politically motivated charges against philanthropist Barlyk Mendygaziyev and to put an end to the politically motivated persecution of his family members and former colleagues”.
On 29 June 2021 five members of the European Parliament (from Renew Europe Group, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, S&D, The Left, EPP) sent a letter to the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the NSC, Security Council as well as the head of the EU delegation to Kazakhstan regarding the case of Barlyk and Bekizhan Mendygaziyev. The MEPs called the charges against Barlyk and Bekizhan trumped up and called on the Kazakhstani authorities to release political prisoner Bekizhan Mendygaziyev, as well as to stop persecuting Barlyk’s other relatives, Erik, Kalyk, Abai and Arman Mendygaziyev. “We underline the inadmissible practice of taking Mr Barlyk Mendygaziyev’s colleagues and relatives as hostages, with the aim to force him to cease his human rights and charitable activities,” the letter from MEPs noted.
The case of Barlyk Mendygaziyev and the KSS company he founded is yet another warning to international investors that Kazakhstan is not a safe country in which to do business. Any business can be ruined if its representative falls into out of grace with the authorities or takes the path of fighting against an authoritarian regime.
The US report “2020 Investment Climate Statements: Kazakhstan” notes that doing business in Kazakhstan is fraught with many risks and obstacles. “Despite institutional and legal reforms, concerns remain about corruption, bureaucracy, arbitrary law enforcement […] Foreign investors have complained about the irregular application of laws and regulations and interpret such behavior as efforts to extract bribes. Some investors report harassment by the tax authorities via unannounced audits, inspections, and other methods. The authorities have used criminal charges in civil disputes as a pressure tactic,” stated the report.
Kazakhstan has an “Ombudsman for the Protection of Rights of Entrepreneurs” (Business Ombudsperson). Nominally, the Business Ombudsperson has broad powers, but in practice the position is more of a “facade” and cannot protect businesses from government attacks.
The US State Department has noted that it is difficult for investors to defend their interests in Kazakhstan’s courts: “Inconsistent implementation of national legislation and regulations at all levels of the government, combined with a tendency for courts to favor the government, have been reported to create significant obstacles to business in Kazakhstan.” Cases were also documented in which “owners of developed businesses had to sell their businesses to companies affiliated with high-ranking and powerful individuals”.
The National Security Committee, which is handling the Barlyk Mendygaziyev case, is the key body dealing with political repression in Kazakhstan. The US report ‘’Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kazakhstan for 2020’’ noted: “The Committee for National Security […] reports directly to the president, and its chairman sits on the Security Council, chaired by former president Nazarbayev. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces have committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killing by or on behalf of the government; torture by and on behalf of the government; political prisoners; problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; trafficking in persons; and restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.”
The NSC is trying to block the human rights and opposition activities of philanthropist Barlyk Mendygaziyev, to force him to stop supporting civil society in Kazakhstan and to stop the promotion of personal sanctions.
By doing so, the Kazakhstani regime is sending a clear message to other entrepreneurs who dare to support civil society.
The NSC is fabricating criminal cases and trying to get the necessary testimony from regime hostages in order to use it to generate extradition and legal aid requests against Barlyk Mendygaziyev and to block his accounts in the United States.
We call on the US and EU governments:
- Not to allow the politically persecuted Barlyk Mendygaziyev to be extradited. If extradited, he will be deprived of his right to a fair trial and is likely to be subjected to torture.
- To reject potential requests by the Kazakhstani authorities for international legal assistance in this case or possible attempts by Kazakhstan to have Mendygaziyev’s accounts blocked in the United States.
- To demand that the Kazakhstani authorities cease the political persecution of Barlyk Mendygaziyev and his relatives, release his brother Bekizhan from custody, and stop pressuring and threatening KSS staff and members of the Mendygaziyev family.