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Making a Fortune. How to Make Profits from Corruption in Kazakhstan

“Is it possible to make a fortune fast?” I asked my interlocutor. I travelled 400 km to him to find out how he managed to succeed so fast – at the age of 45 – and to have everything: successful business, real property in elite districts of the capital, car fleet, a chain of stores, a recreation site at the lakeside.


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His monthly minimum income is 35 million tenge (91.87 thousand dollars). He didn’t inherit anything, his parents used to be white collars, and he was an ordinary police officer. He asked not to be identified instead of an open talk about his career and growth in prosperity.

After graduation from a law college, he applied to the extension department of a university. However, he didn’t have time to start studying because he joined the army. After he served in the army, he thought it was advantageous to work in the ministry of interior affairs when he was looking for a job with his dual education in law. Working there would give him the uniform, power, money.

He tried to get a job in the regional department of interior affairs at his place of residence, but his legal attempts to do it failed. Although his education was appropriate for non-commissioned personnel, he was healthy, with weight and height according to the requirements, he was not employed despite the available vacancies.

In six months, he was told that all medical examination results were outdated and he was asked to have a medical examination again. It happened repeatedly.

Then he decided to look for an easier way. He found intermediaries who promised to get him employed to a good position. They asked to pay them 2,000 dollars at the current rate for their service. He and his family were looking for this amount and in a week, he was working with experienced traffic police officers. However, he had to pay 10 per cent of his salary to the troop commander.

Otherwise, he wouldn’t protect his staff in case of any problems. Problems happened frequently – being late, complaints from citizens, improper uniform, i.e. a crooked tie, unadjusted belt, etc. Moreover, there were some other contributions, so there was not much left from the salary for a living. When I asked them “how am I supposed to live?”, they said it clearly, “you have the police uniform, the baton, the car – you should use them wisely!”

At first, it was very difficult, but then his hardships made him adapt to the situation. Then he had managed to earn money. He decided not to waste his money but to save it.

He paid money for his ranks and positions. Every new promotion increased the amount of money he received. He became the head of the personnel department, and this post was the most “profitable”, according to him.

“Every vacancy costs a lot of money. A candidate who wants to join the police is like a ‘walking dollar’,” he laughed.

So, he has made a fortune on that. He had to share his earnings with the superior officers, but he was running his own business concurrently, and then he retired. Now he lives a secure life.

However, not everyone can manage to build such a successful career. Many people live paycheck to paycheck. For example, ordinary police officers currently earn 50-60 thousand tenge or about 150 dollars in average. They get only half of that as all secret payments are still applicable.  Given that one kilogramme of meat costs about 2,000 tenge (5.25 dollars) on the market, an average officer of the ministry of interior affairs can buy about 30 kilogrammes of meat with his salary less such payments.

Those who were making money on this service tried to make the service lose its authority.

Former police officer Azat Zhanbyrbaev worked in police about 25 years and knows the seamy side of this service.

“No one respects police officers, they have very bad reputation. Those who were making money on this service tried to make the service lose its authority. I thought I would devote all my life to law enforcement, but when I learned the seamy side of it, I felt some disgust. Those who have a kind of protection have no problems. Those who are like me are treated in another way. They perform their duties in the most difficult precinct, they collect the money, and they are the ones who are put at risk,” Zhanbyrbaev said.

He told that he was sent to a three-month training to another town after he was employed.

I saw there how they make money and how they put the young officers at risk. One guy asked for a two-day leave for serious reasons. The commander promised to get his back for 10 thousand tenge (26.25 dollars), but he didn’t keep the promise.  When the guy got back, his documents were filed for dismissal for absenteeism. And the troop commander said he was not aware of the absence of the officer.

As a result, they made much money on him. He was told he would be disqualified and would never have a chance to serve in law-enforcement bodies. And if he would pay a thousand dollars, he would be let to resign voluntarily.

The Ministry of Interior Affairs do not deny such facts and say they improve the system as part of anti-corruption agency programme for ensuring the rule of law, preventing any signs of corruption.

According to Aigerim Urazalieva, acting director of the Department of Interior and Foreign Communications of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Kazakhstan, selection of candidates to the Karaganda Academy of Ministry of Interior Affairs has become more transparent. Last year, officers of the central office of ministry, representatives of state bodies, public organisations and media were monitoring the admission board, and the whole process was broadcast live.

Also, the Ministry of Interior Affairs analyses corruption risks in interior affairs departments. For example, registration and examination departments were closed, functions of vehicle registration and driving license issue were transferred to the state corporation “Government for citizens”.

“‘Rubezh’ fixed control stations were closed. Manual and mobile radiolocators were prohibited from use within towns (vehicles can be stopped only by road patrol service). One of the new methods of staff training are demonstration, field and open court sessions at the previous place of work of officers who committed crimes,” Urazalieva said.

Making money on children

The similar system is organised in other spheres. In education, money solve all the problems. It has become more difficult to place a child into a kindergarten – there is a shortage of kindergartens and money help solve this problem.

Husband and I gave the money and in one week our son was placed into the kindergarten.

The resident of one of the towns in Kazakhstan, Zhanetta Kasymova, has chosen the corruption method to solve her problem.

“There is a good public kindergarten next to our house. They said they had no places and we cannot take our child to the other end of town. My husband leaves early for work and I cannot leave other children alone for a long time. Then I have decided to find intermediaries to place my kid into the kindergarten that is near to our house. I have found people who promised to solve my issue for 300 dollars. Husband and I gave the money and in one week our son was placed into the kindergarten,” Kasymova said.

It is not always possible to catch such intermediaries red-handed. People do not complain about them to anti-corruption agencies because they are the most needed people for solving problems, according to parents.

Sholpan Karinova. Photo: dailynews.kz

According to Sholpan Karinova, vice minister of education and science of Kazakhstan, the number of preschool organisations has increased more than 10 times in 19 years. Now the country has 10.5 thousand of such organisations. However, this number is not enough as it covers only 77.1 per cent of pre-schoolers.

Also, Kazakhstan has an automated waiting list system for kindergartens and other organisations in place. Only a parent or a legal representative of a child may register for the waiting list as they need to enter their personal data into the information system. The system is protected by block-chained encryption from any intervention.

“Also, the ministry together with local executive bodies continues to cover more pre-schoolers, improves the standards of this service in order to eliminate any loopholes for “intermediaries” and “helpers”, considers the opinions, suggestions from parents and public organisations,” Karinova said.

Tenders, corruptionists and defenders

These actions compared to “shady” business practised in regional akimats are no big deal. Large bribes are a common thing during tenders, especially construction of large objects for public funds. The head of construction department of Taldykorgan, and then deputy of akim of town, Aset Shayakhmetov, was making money on such tenders.

He was detained in October 2018 on suspicion of taking a bribe in an especially large amount, and then he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Aset Shayakhmetov received large bribes from construction companies. According to the investigation, he received 90 million tenge (236,23 thousand dollars) from construction companies. Reportedly, 11 developers rewarded the official so generously for winning construction tenders.

No one in Kazakhstan wonders at large corruption actions. Not only ordinary officials, but also representatives of high-level branches of power sell their services. Prosecutors of General Prosecutor’s Office protect corruptionists for “green notes”.

Deputy akim of Almaty region Bagdat Manzorov was reportedly detained on September 27, 2019. He was taking this post for two months. He was charged with fraud, and then he was discharged on parole.

Marat Bashimov. Photo: dailynews.kz

Three days later, on September 30, the Kazakhstan media outlet ‘Registr TV’, published material with details on how the case was swept under the carpet, how many bribes were paid to prosecutors, where it happened, how much an intermediary received, and how much the victims received.

Expert Marat Bashimov noted that the topic of social justice and social protection is very relevant in Kazakhstan. Moreover, in the age of social media everything becomes publicly known, which increases protest moods of people.

“Last decades have brought up the generation that does not rely on ideology, but on pragmatism.  As there are many temptations, they feel it difficult to resist them. Therefore, we need the general ideology, with no double standards, to counter corruption. If they see impunity of corruption crimes on YouTube, it’s hard to convince them otherwise,” Bashimov said.

Main photo: India Today


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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