Kazakh Authorities Arrest Journalist for Money Laundering; Critics Say it’s Political

Kazakh authorities arrested a newspaper editor as part of an investigation into a multi-billion dollar banking scam, but the former head of BTA Bank — which is at the center of the scandal — took to Facebook Monday calling the charges against Zhanbolat Mamay "absurd" and claiming that he never even met the journalist.


Mukhtar.AblyazovMukhtar Ablyazov (Photo: PeterLe1980, CC BY-SA 4.0)"Mamay is being persecuted for political reasons. And it has nothing to do with the BTA," said Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is wanted in Kazakhstan for allegedly embezzling billions of dollars from BTA Bank during his time as chairman.

The Kazakh National Anti-Corruption Bureau said in a statement that it established Mamay as a "new accomplice" of Ablyazov and accused him of laundering part of the money stolen by BTA Bank "under the guise of legitimate financial transactions through the newspaper."

The outspoken government critic and editor of Sayasi kalam/Tribuna was detained on February 10 in Almaty. The following day, the Medeu Regional Court in Almaty authorized Mamay's arrest for two months as the investigation continues, local media reported.

In a statement he made before his arrest, which was published by human rights advocacy group Adil Soz, Mamay denied the charges against him, calling the persecution an "attempt to close the newspaper," which is one of the last remaining independent papers in the country.

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday called on Kazakh authorities to "immediately release" the editor and "cease harassing him for his work."

"Kazakhstan’s authorities have systemically cleansed the country’s news media of dissenting voices, and the arrest of Zhanbolat Mamay is one more step in that direction," said Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator.

Mamay, who has reported on official corruption, took to Facebook last month to tell his followers that he was "blatantly" being followed, and that he suspected authorities were "either preparing some kind of provocation or arrest."

"I would like to state that my arrest would be purely political in nature," his statement said, adding that he is being persecuted because of his reporting. "Already, there are strong pressures on Tribuna and we can barely stay afloat."

Ablyazov also denies the charges against him and says the accusations are driven by his political rivalry with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.