Friday, 03 May 2013

Plane Crashes Reveal Massive Corruption In Kazakhstan's Army

Published in Field Reports

by Georgiy Voloshin (05/01/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On April 23, Kazakhstani media reported that a Russian-built Mig-31 military aircraft owned by Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Defense had crashed during a training flight near a small village in Karaganda province in the country’s center. Although both pilots took urgent measures to be catapulted out of the cockpit, the aircraft’s captain did not survive his wounds after an unsuccessful landing. While the prosecutor’s office opened an official investigation, the preliminary assessments of the incident showed that the onboard navigation system had malfunctioned. The Ministry of Defense quickly reacted to the news stating that the aircraft had undergone capital repairs in December 2012 at a Russian assembly plant in Rzhevsk and was under maintenance warranty at the moment of its crash. Two days later, Askar Buldeshev, the Deputy Commander in Chief of Kazakhstan’s Air Defense Forces, was arrested by the country’s law enforcement agents on charges of corruption related to the purchase of military equipment from third parties.


Earlier, in January 2013, the Kazakhstani Defense Ministry was rocked by the arrest of another high-ranking official, Major-General Almaz Assenov, who headed Kazakhstan’s Chief Armaments Directorate directly responsible for the supply of military equipment for the needs of the local army. While Assenov was indicted for fraud amounting to at least US$ 200,000 presumably obtained as a result of the most recent supply contract, the National Security Committee also detained two officials of Ukraine’s defense export agency, UkrSpetsExport. According to subsequent media reports based on the materials of the official inquiry, Assenov’s business relations with his Ukrainian counterparts were primarily focused on the purchase and maintenance of An-72 military planes widely used in the former Soviet Union for military and rescue operations.

On the same day as Assenov’s arrest, Major General Talgat Yessetov, who was the director of Kazakhstan’s Border Service Academy, committed suicide in his workplace. Despite the fact that neither official, nor independent investigations established any grounds for concern within Yessetov’s administrative purview, the case quickly became associated with an earlier tragedy. On December 25, 2012, an An-72 military aircraft operated by the Kazakhstani Border Service crashed near the Shymkent airport in Southern Kazakhstan. The plane carried seven crew members and 20 other passengers representing the top brass of Kazakhstan’s border guards, including the head of the Border Service, Turganbek Stambekov. Interestingly, Stambekov was still an acting director after he had been appointed to this high-level position following a series of incidents on the Kazakhstani-Chinese border in May-June 2012. At that time, a 19-year border guard was accused of ruthlessly murdering his colleagues and destroying state property.

The wave of corruption cases that has swept across the Defense Ministry and the National Security Committee’s Border Service comes directly after President Nazarbayev’s strong commitment to tackle this issue, according to his “Kazakhstan-2050” speech delivered in late December 2012. While corruption remains a serious concern not only for Kazakhstan, but also to varying degrees for other post-Soviet republics, the Defense Ministry has traditionally been inaccessible to public scrutiny. The ongoing investigation of fraudulent supply contracts concluded by Kazakhstani military officials also coincides with a similar anticorruption campaign in neighboring Russia where former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov is struggling to defend his controversial legacy among repeated arrests of his one-time associates and colleagues.

The latest corruption scandal erupted in Kazakhstan in mid-2009, leading then Defense Minister Danial Akhmetov to resign. His deputy Kazhimurat Mayermanov was arrested that April after his involvement in the purchase of deficient military equipment from Israel’s IMI and Soltam Systems had been revealed in the course of a comprehensive audit. Mayermanov was subsequently convicted to 11 years in prison, whereas Akhmetov’s political career was severely compromised, although he subsequently succeeded in securing a ministerial position within the newly established Eurasian Economic Commission staffed by Russian, Kazakhstani and Belarusian government representatives. However, this was not the most controversial corruption case in the history of post-1991 Kazakhstan. In March 1999, Azerbaijani authorities inspected a Russian transport plane carrying aboard several disassembled Mig-21 fighters bound for Bratislava. The investigation made clear that this cargo was headed for North Korea to which a group of Kazakhstani generals had already sold over 30 such aircraft in spite of the international sanctions adopted against Pyongyang’s burgeoning nuclear program.

While the current anticorruption program implemented by Kazakhstani authorities may help bring to light numerous deficiencies in the system of public procurement and remove the least honest officials from their positions, it remains to be seen whether it can be efficient in the long term. The fight against corruption in military deals can only be tackled on a multilateral basis, given the vast proliferation of such practices in the defense agencies of other former Soviet states.

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