Multiple arrests made in suspected laundering of more than $50 million

ASTANA – The interdepartmental investigative and operational group of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the National Security Committee apprehended Nov. 13 in Almaty Iskander Yerimbetov, Vasilina Sokolenko, Dmitriy Pestov and Mikhail Zorov on suspicion of embezzlement and money laundering.

The Anti-Corruption Bureau reports that pre-trial investigations were requested by BTA Bank officials about the involvement of these individuals and the companies they controlled in laundering and legalising more than $50 million previously stolen from the bank by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the bank’s former chairman who is convicted of embezzling more than 7 billion dollars from the lender.

According to the bureau, Yerimbetov is also suspected of embezzling about 1 billion tenge (US$3 million) of budget funds through SKY SERVISE LLP, which he controls. In addition, Yerimbetov and his accomplices acted jointly and in the financial interests of the people hiding from Kazakh justice abroad.

One of them is Yerimbetov’s sister Botagoz Jardemali, Ablyazov’s accomplice and consultant, the bureau said. Jardemali was personally involved in the illegal issuance of loans by BTA Bank worth about $500 million that she had known wouldn’t be repaid, it claims. In 2013, she was declared an international wanted person on charges of misappropriation or embezzlement of entrusted property of others committed on a large scale as part of an organised criminal group.

Yerimbetov, Pestov, Sokolenko and Zorov were placed in the remand prison of the Almaty Department of Internal Affairs. The court authorised their detention and seizure of property.

The investigative authorities have noted that the rights of the detained regarding qualified protection and conditions of detention are being observed. No complaints have been received about violations of procedural norms from the suspects and their lawyers and the suspects are cooperating with the investigation.

Thus, according to the bureau, “the efforts of the fugitive suspects Ablyazov and Jardemali to politicise and deliberately distort the course of this investigation through the use of relatives, suspects and controlled persons are another attempt to avoid responsibility”.

Chairman of Kazakhstan’s Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption Kairat Kozhamzharov spoke on the issue during an international anti-corruption conference in Astana on Dec. 8. [Kozhamzharov was appointed the country’s Prosecutor General by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Dec. 11 following the consent from the Senate.]

“Over the past 10 years, out of 205 corrupt officials hiding outside Kazakhstan, 152 have been brought back. However, former ministers and akims (governors) who have stolen more than $8 billion from the country continue to hide abroad. First of all, those are the leaders of an organised criminal group – Ablyazov and the Khrapunovs. We are confident that, despite the politicisation of their status, they will not escape responsibility. Thanks to our partnership with our foreign colleagues, every runaway corrupt official will bear a fair punishment imposed by the court. The states should unite efforts in excluding double standards when extraditing criminals and returning assets,” he said.

Kozhamzharov highlighted that the UN Convention against Corruption is the international legal cooperation platform in this sphere. According to him, Kazakhstan has concluded agreements on extradition and return of assets with more than 40 states, including Spain, Turkey, Poland, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Lithuania.