Crime figures on Kazakhstan are not available, but organized narcotics smuggling and human trafficking have prospered in recent years because of Kazakhstan’s location between source countries and Russia and the ineffectiveness of border controls. Seizures of smuggled narcotics from Afghanistan increased substantially in 2006. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

According to the OSAC: “The reported numbers of incidents in all categories of crime (violent/petty) are statistically on par or lower than any average city in the U.S. Crime does not impede the operations of American private businesses. Petty theft, while not common, continues to be the most likely crime perpetrated against American citizens. Pickpockets tend to frequent tourist sites, open air markets, and heavily-traveled public transportation, especially buses. [Source: “Kazakhstan 2016 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State ]

Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted. Reports of ATM skimmers are more prevalent, but such fraud does not appear to be a widespread problem. The U.S. Consulate has received reports about vehicle break-ins known as smash-and-grabs. These have occurred in well-populated and well-illuminated areas day and night. The perpetrators smash in windows to steal items in plain view.

Drunken/disorderly behavior is common, particularly in bars and nightclubs. Incidents involving assaults, petty theft, robberies, driving mishaps, and violent verbal exchanges can often be traced to alcohol. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate are aware of several incidents where foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been drugged, robbed, and physically assaulted at popular bars and nightclubs in Almaty and Astana.

Travelers should avoid riding overly crowded buses, microbuses, and trolleys whenever possible. Many foreigners follow the local custom of hailing private vehicles (so called 'gypsy cabs') on the street and negotiating a fee with the driver on the spot. Use of such cabs is strongly discouraged. Visitors should never get into a cab if there is already a passenger in the vehicle and should attempt to get out if the driver stops to pick up another passenger. People have been drugged, robbed, beaten, and left at out-of-the-way locations.

All five republics of Central Asia have suffered increasing rates of crime in the liberalized atmosphere of the postindependence years. Drug trafficking, official corruption, and white-collar crime have increased most noticeably. All republics lack the resources to equip and train qualified police and specialized forces, and their judicial systems are not sufficiently removed from their Soviet antecedents to deal equitably with new generations of criminals. Evaluation and quantification of crime in post-Soviet Central Asia have been hampered by changes in responsible agencies, by irregularities in reporting procedures, and by lack of control and responsiveness in law enforcement agencies, particularly in Tajikistan. Statistics for the years 1990 and 1994 from Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan show dramatic increases in every type of crime, although those from the other three republics, where record keeping is known to be substantially less comprehensive, show considerable drops in many categories. In 1995 and 1996, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan set up new, specialized police units to deal with economic and organized crime. [Source: Glenn E. Curtis, Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Crime in Kazakhstan in the 1990s

In the early and mid-1990s, crime was increasing at an alarming rate. The police were badly understaffed, overworked, and underfinanced. In 1995 police in Almaty received no pay for three months. A significant drain of personnel has occurred since independence, as investigators and police officers either move to other republics or enter other lines of work offering higher pay. Even before independence, militia authorities complained that staffing was more than 2,000 below full force. In numerous instances, police officers themselves have been involved in crime, especially in such potentially lucrative branches of law enforcement as highway patrol and customs inspection. Under these circumstances, public respect for the police declined seriously. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Since independence Kazakhstan has suffered an enormous increase in crime of almost all types. One indication of this explosion has been a series of measures ordered by President Nazarbayev in September 1995, aimed primarily at ending corruption in the police force. The incidence of reported crimes has grown by about 25 percent in every year since independence, although in the first months of 1995 the growth rate slowed to about 16 percent. The average crime rate for the republic is about 50 crimes per 10,000 population, but the rate is significantly higher in Qaraghandy, North Kazakhstan, East Kazakhstan, Aqmola, Pavlodar, and Almaty. Crime-solving rates have fallen to under 60 percent across the republic and to as low as 30 percent in cities such as Qaraghandy and Temirtau. *

Particular increases have been noted in violent crimes and in crimes committed by teenagers and young men. Contract murders and armed clashes between criminal groups increased noticeably in 1995 and were cited by Nazarbayev as a reason for tightening police procedures. Although Soviet crime statistics were not especially reliable, it is still revealing that in 1988 only 5 percent of the republic's convicts were under thirty years of age, but by 1992 that figure had risen to 58 percent. In addition, there has been an enormous increase in official malfeasance and corruption, with bribe taking reported to be nearly ubiquitous. *

Civil Unrest in Kazakhstan

The government has successfully discouraged civil unrest except for demonstrations on specific issues such as pension arrears. According to the OSAC: “ Civil unrest and protests are rare. There have been a few clashes between foreign construction workers and their Kazakhstani counterparts in a few cities. In these cases, Kazakhstani construction workers publicly complained that their wages were less than those paid to the foreign workers. In December 2011, there were riots in the Mangistau Region in the west, where there was rampant destruction, and protestors were shot and killed by authorities. [Source: “Kazakhstan 2016 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]

In order to hold a demonstration, organizers must file a petition with the city and receive a permit. In general, most demonstrations involve usually less than 20 participants. Occasionally, groups organize demonstrations without permits; police generally disperse the participants quickly and peacefully. The best practice is to avoid demonstrations. If you see a demonstration, go in the opposite direction and report it up your chain-of-command so other people can avoid it. If the demonstrations turn into riots, stay inside and away from windows until the violence has died down.

Occasional clashes have erupted among ethnic Kazakhs, Chechens, and Uighurs in rural villages outside of Almaty, resulting from tensions over local issues and corruption.In 2011, Kazakhstan experienced a spike in terrorist-related activity during a six-month period, with the government as the primary target.

Drug Related Crime in Kazakhstan

According to the United Nations: “Since 1996, Kazakhstan has reported the highest number and rate of drug related crimes per 100,000 people of any Central Asian country. At 68 drug related crimes per 100,000 people in 2006, Kazakhstan witnesses substantially more crime (66 percent more) than the regional average (41 per 100,000). [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

Drug Related Crimes in Kazakhstan: 1990-2006: 4,165 in 1990; 4,984 in 1991; 5,935 in 1992; 7,607 in 1993; 9,584 in 1994; 13,246 in 1995; 17,077 in 1996; 14,817 in 1997; 18,636 in 1998; 21,088 in 1999; 23,340 in 2000; 17,388 in 2001; 13,313 in 2002; 12,039 in 2003; 9,748 in 2004; 9,741 in 2005; 10,423 in 2006.

Drug Related Crime Offenders in Kazakhstan: 2,656 in 1990; 3,087 in 1991; 3,722 in 1992; 4,695 in 1993; 5,890 in 1994; 8,302 in 1995; 9,573 in 1996; 10, 914 in 1997; 10,456 in 1998; 17,005 in 1999; 19,883 in 2000; 13,951 in 2001; 10,241 in 2002; 10,020 in 2003; 7,987 in 2004; 7,425 in 2005; 7,322 in 2006.

“Of 10,423 criminal cases initiated in 2006, 9,191 cases were considered before the court and 7,322 persons were convicted. Most of these involved the intent to sell (4,678) rather than smuggling charges (437). 12 percent of people convicted are women. Sub-nationally, the highest number of drug related crimes in 2006 took place in Almaty city (1,446), Karaganda (1,279), and Eastern Kazakhstan (887). These oblasts also have the first, second and fourth largest populations of registered drug users. Surprisingly, Zhambyl, which registers the highest volume of seizures, has a relatively low level of drug related crime. |~|

Main Drug Related Crimes Registered in Kazakhstan: A) Smuggling: 410 in 2005; 437 in 2006; B) Storage: 1642 in 2005; C) Distribution: 4330 in 2005; 4678 in 2006; D) Cultivation: 276 in 2005; 272 in 2006; E) Brothel Maintenance: 70 in 2005; 72 in 2006.

“Kazakhstan most clearly demonstrates the regional inverted-U trend of increasing annual drug related crime registered between 1990 and 2000 followed by decreasing annual drug related crime registered through 2005. In 1990, 4,165 drug related crimes were reported. This increased by an average of 20 percent per annum between 1991 and 2000 (peaking at 23,340 incidences), followed by a period of decline, averaging 16 percent per annum until 2005. 2006 has shown a modest 7 percent increase in drug related crime (10,423 incidences). It is difficult to know if this trend is the result of fluctuations in the amount of drugs moving through the region or if it reflects the level of prioritization assigned to drug related crime by the Kazakh government. |~|

Rape and Domestic Violence in Kazakhstan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The law criminalizes rape. The punishment for rape, including spousal rape, ranges from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Under the law a procurator cannot initiate a rape case absent aggravating circumstances, such as gang rape, unless the victim files a complaint. Once a complaint is filed, the criminal investigation cannot be dismissed if the rape victim recants or refuses to cooperate further with the investigation. This provision was intended to protect victims from coercion. There were anecdotal reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Violence against women, including domestic violence, was a problem. Legislation identifies various types of domestic violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and economic, and outlines the responsibilities of the local and national governments and NGOs in providing support to domestic violence victims. The law also outlines mechanisms for the issuance of restraining orders and provides for the 24-hour administrative detention of abusers. The criminal procedure code sets the maximum sentence for spousal assault and battery at 10 years in prison, which is the same as for any assault. *\

In February 2014, the president signed a law aimed at preventing and combating domestic violence and helping victims of domestic abuse. The law raises punishment for offenders, who can now be banned from living with the victim if the perpetrator has somewhere else to live; allows victims of domestic violence to receive appropriate care regardless of the place of residence; replaces financial penalties with administrative arrest because paying fines hurt victims as well as perpetrators. *\

NGOs maintained the domestic violence law does not have an effective mechanism for implementation. According to NGOs, domestic violence remained a serious problem. Although official statistics were scarce, activists estimated one in four families suffered from some form of domestic violence. Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life threatening. According to NGO estimates, police investigated approximately 10 percent of such cases. *\

NGOs conducted training for police officers on how to handle victims of domestic violence. During the year the OSCE Center worked with the Interior Ministry to conduct five training seminars to increase the capacity of police inspectors of the ministry’s division in charge of women’s protection against violence. Another training goal was to enhance the knowledge and improve the skills of police to investigate and counter domestic violence. *\

NGOs reported women often withdrew their complaints because of economic insecurity. When victims pressed charges for domestic violence or spousal rape, police occasionally tried to persuade them not to pursue a case. When domestic violence cases came to trial, the charge was most often light battery, for which judges sentenced domestic abusers to incarceration at a minimum-security labor colony and 120 to 180 hours of work. Sentences for more serious cases of battery, including spousal battery, ranged from three months to three years of imprisonment; the maximum sentence for aggravated battery is 10 years’ imprisonment. *\

In 2013 the government stated 29 crisis centers assisted women and two centers assisted men, although NGOs reported the number of active centers was 20. All the crisis centers received funding through government and international grants to NGOs. A number of smaller NGOs assisted victims, and six of the crisis centers provided shelter for victims of violence. *\

Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan

According to U.S. Department of State: Kazakhstan is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. There is also a large domestic trafficking problem. Kazakhstani women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking in the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Uzbekistan, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Sweden, and Turkey. Women and girls from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and rural areas in Kazakhstan, as well as Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine, are subjected to sex trafficking in Kazakhstan. The relative economic prosperity in the government capital Astana, the financial capital Almaty, and the western oil cities Aktau and Atyrau, has attracted large numbers of Kazakhstanis from rural villages, some of whom become victims of labor trafficking as construction workers and domestic servants, or victims of sexual exploitation in brothels. Sex trafficking occurs in small hotels in big cities and resort areas, and in rented apartments and multi-business establishments (such as a single facility that operates as a restaurant, hotel, and gas station). [Source: “2015 Trafficking in Persons Report: Kazakhstan,” Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons,U.S. Department of State /*]

In most cases of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation, traffickers targeted young girls and women aged 15 to 35, primarily from rural areas, luring them with comparatively lucrative employment as waitresses, models, or nannies in large cities. Kazakhstani men, women, and children are subjected to conditions of forced labor in Russia and South Korea. Kazakhstani men, women, and children as well as men and children from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and the Philippines are subjected to conditions of forced labor in domestic service, construction, agriculture, private households, and small businesses in Kazakhstan, reportedly being subjected to physical violence, resulting in injuries such as broken limbs. Investigations revealed children of migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan work up to 75 hours per week in cotton fields in the Almaty province. Some children are forced to beg and others may be coerced into criminal behavior or pornography. Small organized criminal groups, in some cases led by former convicts, facilitated trafficking in Kazakhstan. Traffickers included women formerly in prostitution, career criminals, independent business people, taxi drivers, sauna owners or administrators, and farm owners. Many victims indicated that they were lured through fraud and deceit, sometimes by friends or acquaintances. /*\

The Government of Kazakhstan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated its commitment to combating trafficking in persons by improving its anti-trafficking legislation and increasing training for law enforcement officials. The government increased its law enforcement efforts against human trafficking and funding of awareness campaigns and continued to protect identified victims. Government officials’ complicity in trafficking remained a serious but unaddressed problem. The government identified an increased number of victims, but struggled to identify victims proactively, despite substantial law enforcement training. The government did not use a victim-centered approach when investigating and prosecuting potential crimes, and longer-term shelter and assistance to victims remained insufficient. /*\

Mass Murders Along Kazakhstan’s Borders

In August 2012, Kazakh police launched a murder investigation after finding 11 bodies in a national park in south-east Kazakhstan. The BBC reported: “The bodies, with multiple stab wounds, were discovered in the mountainous Ile-Alatau national park, near Almaty. According to the interior ministry, the dead included a local park ranger, his partner and other park employees. The killings are the second case of mass murder in Kazakhstan within the last two months. [Source: BBC, August 14, 2012 -]

“The interior ministry said a motive for the killings had not yet been established. The ranger's home, which had a safe with a substantial amount of money inside, had not been disturbed, the ministry said. It added that six of the bodies had been found in or near his house. Five more bodies were found in the charred remains of the home of another park ranger, 16 miles (25km) away which was also set on fire. Ile-Alatau national park lies on the northern slopes of the Tien Shan mountains on the border with Kyrgyzstan. It was created in the 1990s in an attempt to promote tourism in Kazakhstan. -

“In June the bodies of 14 Kazakh border guards and a civilian were found at a burnt-out border post on the Kazakh-China frontier. A soldier who was serving there was later found and arrested. He is currently on trial where he has withdrawn an initial confession, saying he had been forced to sign an admission of guilt.” -

Kazakh Billionaire Politician Charged with Embezzling $6 Billion

In March 2015, a French court ordered Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former billionaire and Kazakh minister, to be extradited to Russia or Ukraine, where he faced charges related to the alleged embezzlement of $6 billion from the Kazakhstan bank BTA. Ablyazov was arrested in a dramatic raid by French special forces. He fled Britain in 2012 after being sentenced to prison for contempt of court [Source: Jim Armitage, The Independent, March 4, 2015 ^^^]

Jim Armitage wrote in The Independent: “Ablyazov, who fled what was the biggest ever fraud case to be heard in the UK, has been ordered by a French court to be extradited. After going on the run for over a year, he was eventually tracked down by private investigators who tailed a friend to a villa in which he was hiding near Cannes in the South of France. The investigators tipped off the police and Mr Ablyazov was arrested in a dramatic raid by special forces. Since then, with the help of a high-profile campaign by his photogenic wife and daughter, he has been fighting extradition to Russia and Ukraine. ^^^

“Mr Ablyazov is accused of having embezzled up to $6 billion from the Kazakhstan bank BTA, where he was chairman and a majority shareholder. The former Kazakh government minister denies the claims, saying he is being hounded for political reasons due to his opposition to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. His wife Alma claims he will be sent to Kazakhstan and be killed if he is extradited. ^^^

“France’s Cour de Cassation rejected an appeal by Mr Ablyazov and upheld a ruling by a lower court that approved the extradition. France does not have an extradition treaty with Kazakhstan, which wants to put Mr Ablyazov on trial, but it does have such deals with Russia and Ukraine. “I am extremely disappointed because I think there is a real problem if Mr Ablyazov is sent back to Russia or Ukraine,” Mr Ablyazov’s lawyer Claire Waquet said. ^^^

“Multi-billion-dollar black holes were found in BTA’s accounts in 2009 and the bank was nationalised with huge losses for lenders around the world including Britain’s RBS, Barclays, Standard Chartered and HSBC. BTA’s receivers pursued his assets in the London High Court, seizing among others, his Carlton House mansion in London’s billionaire’s row of The Bishop’s Avenue. In a bizarre twist to the case, his wife Alma herself was controversially deported from Italy two years ago with her daughter Alua after police hunting Mr Ablayazov found them travelling on fake Central African Republic passports. Alma and Madina claim that was a kidnapping, not a deportation, and say the CAR passports were genuine.” ^^^

Organized Crime in Kazakhstan

Commenting on the organized crime situation in Kazakhstan in the early 1990s, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Procurator at the time stressed that “organized crime is literally shattering the state,” underlining specifically the “extent to which the police and security agencies were being suborned by crime syndicates.” [Source:Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies. Saltanat Berdikeeva is a Senior Research Analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, Washington DC, and a contributing security Analyst for Exclusive Analysis, London +++]

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in the China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Although Kazakhstan has achieved an impressive economic growth, it remains riddled with corruption and crime. In its 2002 report, the U.S. State Department warned about 200 organized crime groups in Kazakhstan with alleged links to analogous groups in the U.S. and Europe. They “have targeted banks, casinos and businesses engaged in food processing, distilling and export trade… Kazakhstan’s officials estimate that $10 billion in illegal raw material export have occurred through illegal joint ventures, although this figure may be exaggerated.” +++

“In view of the rising menace of organized crime, the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed the law “On the ratification of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime” on June 5, 2008. More recently, the Kazakh Interior Minister, Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov, remarked that “unlike in some CIS countries, there are no obvious gangland bosses in Kazakhstan, who could really influence the crime situation in the country.” +++

“The Kazakh press has alluded at various times to an alleged “mafia” presence in Almaty. According to the latest reports, due to its attractiveness for business development, Almaty began to draw mobsters trying to launder criminal money. More recently, it was reported that Kazakhstan’s criminal underworld actively attracts youth, even in secondary schools. As the global banking crisis continues to exacerbate the social and economic conditions in the country, the unemployed youth from across the country come to Almaty, where the failure to find jobs often results in them joining organized criminal groups or creating new ones.” +++

Organized Crime Activities in Kazakhstan

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in the China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: The criminal underworld in Almaty manages the activities of criminal groups in different parts of the country linked with “drug business, weapons trade, racketeering and attacks on businessmen, kidnappings and hostage taking for ransom, control of the casino business and the prostitution market.” [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies +++]

“The latest trend in the organized crime activity is involvement in economic crimes such as “creation of front companies to obtain credit, smuggling of goods, tax evasion, money laundering and an active penetration to the legal economy by way of investing in commercial structures and banks.” In line with the argument made earlier, the criminal mentality and criminal practices are prevalent in Kazakhstan as well as other neighboring countries. “Criminal mentality began controlling the commercial sector […] penetrating the legal and illegal businesses alike.” There is a concern that organized crime will establish presence in the state structures... In terms of money laundering, Kazakhstan is possibly the only Central Asian country that could face serious problems, mostly because Kazakhstan’s comparatively well-developed financial system in the region, which “combined with a significant organized crime presence, puts it at risk for money laundering.” +++

“According to Makhambet Abisatov, A group of criminals comprised of former athletes and employees of law enforcement agencies have transformed to a qualitatively new form – organized criminal groups. [They] were able to take under their control a certain part of entrepreneurs by using criminal terror, and similarly, they were able to obtain protection from state officials and law enforcement personnel relying on corruption. These tendencies were largely prevalent at the end of the 80s – beginning of the 90s. From the mid to the end of 90s, ties between businessmen, state officials and criminals gradually became less confrontational and grew into more partner-like relations, that is, into the very “Triple Alliance,” embodying the existing organized crime. +++

“Organized crime groups in Kazakhstan, as in other neighboring states, tap the country’s geographical proximity to trade drugs, as it is a key transit country for narcotics. Drug trafficking remains the number one problem for the region and a barrier to development. Since 1999, the Kazakh National Security Committee uncovered “125 organized drug business groups” in Central Asia, “30 of which were involved in the transit of narcotics.”“ +++

A source of another potential concern is an abuse and profiteering from Kazakhstan’s promising energy industry. Its booming oil industry, which has attracted large international companies, created not only domestic problems linked with corruption, but also grew to big international scandals involving millions of dollars, illustrated by the corruption and fraud scandal involving the American businessman James Giffen and Kazakh state officials. Giffen, who served as a consultant to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was accused of “funneling up to $84 million in illicit payments to Nazarbayev and former Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbaev in exchange for lucrative concessions to Western oil companies.” The case is yet to be settled. In the future, “oil laundering” could become a profitable criminal business. Oil taken to refineries and marketed from far flung oil fields as part of the oil swap allows remote countries such as Kazakhstan to export oil. Such an arrangement might make the energy sector susceptible “to bribery and money laundering.”“ +++

Ethnic Make Up of Organized Crime in Kazakhstan

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in the China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: “The ethnic composition of drug businessmen in Kazakhstan, as in other countries of the former Soviet Union, is quite eclectic. Chechens in Kazakhstan are allegedly “responsible for smuggling heroin across borders in the north and west. The Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz criminal groups smuggle heroin through the southern borders. The Gypsies and Azerbaijani groups sell drugs in Kazakhstan.”28 As Almaty is one of the main routes for the illegal smuggling of opium and heroin from Southwest and Southeast Asia to Russia and Europe, both the drug trade and consumption increasingly present acute challenges to Almaty. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies +++]

“Recognizing the challenges posed by drug trafficking, the Kazakh Parliament adopted in June 2008 a law to strengthen “criminal responsibility for committing drug-related crimes.” The ethnic composition of organized crime in Kazakhstan increasingly features Chinese and Georgian nationals. As the number of Chinese workers and businessmen in the Central Asian countries are on the rise, including Kazakhstan, they either become objects of criminal assaults or participants of organized crime activities. +++

“A more serious challenge recently, however, is presented by mobsters from Georgia, who began wielding their influence in Kazakhstan. Faced with the domestic onslaught on criminals, Georgian crime figures sought a new “home” and Kazakhstan’s improving economy served as a right target. With the improvement of living standards of many Kazakhs, Georgian criminals were implicated in burglaries of well-to-do residential areas in Almaty and Astana. As statistics show, more Georgians were involved in crimes in Kazakhstan in 2008 compared to 2007. According to one of the apprehended Georgian mafia bosses, nicknamed Mero, who later died of a heart attack in detention, he sought to …establish criminal control over infrastructural facilities of the oil and gas complex of western Kazakhstan and metallurgic enterprises of Karaganda region [and] his objective was to unify the criminal structures in Central Asia – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. This way, his bosses planned to organize deliveries of weapons to Central Asia in return for large amounts of Afghan heroin. +++

Organized Crime and Terrorism in Kazakhstan

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in the China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: “At this juncture, Kazakhstan does not appear to face the problem of religious extremism to the extent its neighbors - namely Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - do. But the Kazakh authorities remain vigilant about the threat of religious extremism and in the last few years, they banned numerous international extremist organizations. Alik Shpekbayev, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Interior Minister, argued that the reasons for the growth of extremism in the country “are poverty and unemployment, especially in the countryside.” [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies +++]

“An additional source of concern for Kazakhstan is the illegal migration of illegal armed and terrorist groups under the guise of immigrants and refugees from the North Caucasus who had fought against Russia and currently on the international wanted list. Such individuals engage in arms and drug trade, currency counterfeiting, and violent crimes. +++

“Smuggling of radioactive materials from Kazakhstan by transnational criminal and extremist groups remains a potential serious concern both for the Kazakh leadership and the international community. Although Kazakhstan has successfully eliminated all of its Soviet-era nuclear, weapons-grade nuclear material is still present in the country, and subject of several smuggling attempts. The danger of the acquisition of nuclear materials by terrorist groups from countries such as Kazakhstan is high, where the security of radioactive materials remains inadequate.” +++

Combating Organized Crime in Kazakhstan

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in the China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: The growth and robustness of organized criminal groups in many countries of the former Soviet Union have contributed to establishing cross-border cooperation. In terms of Kazakhstan, such cooperation reportedly brings together the Kazakh criminal world “with various terrorist and extremist groups.” It appears, however, that often the concern of the Central Asian governments over the threat of religious extremism are inflated and exaggerated, because it sometimes serves as a convenient excuse to crack down on dissent. Although Kazakhstan, as other Central Asian states, buys into the idea that of “links between religious extremism, firearms smuggling, terrorism, and drug trafficking in the region,” the country seems to have relied less on such harsh measures as compared to some of its neighbors. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies +++]

The head of the directorate for fighting organized crime of the Almaty Internal Affairs, Valeriy Kozla, recently stated that “currently there are no criminal communities that have been entangled with state structures.” As in the neighboring countries, often, low-level criminals are apprehended, while more important figures with ties to the government remain at large. As the number of organized criminal groups in Kazakhstan grows, Kazakh crime experts believe that this will “entail a need to obtain political support of their economic interests, which explains their desire to control the authorities, a threat of politicization of criminality and its penetration to the sphere of politics.”

“Kazakhstan has espoused its first anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism law in 2006.” As for nuclear counter-proliferation efforts, “Kazakhstan extended its bilateral cooperative agreement with the U.S. on December 14, 2007, to “control and neutralize scrap materials and equipment that may be used as weapons of mass destruction.”“ +++

“Even though Kazakhstan’s police forces are in a relatively better shape than those in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, there have been reported cases of their collusion with drug traffickers.” And: “Although money laundering for narcotics and other serious crimes are punishable in Kazakhstan, A UN report noted that, Inadequate financial controls make detection of money laundering difficult. Bank examiners are not trained to look for evidence of money laundering, but rather focus on traditional safety and soundness concerns. Banking laws require tax police and investigators to go through local prosecutors in order to obtain bank records. Records may be released only if the prosecutor deems an investigation is warranted.” +++

Police in Kazakhstan

The national police (still called the militia) numbered 20,000 in 2005. The police and prisons are supervised by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which traditionally has been run by a military official. The first civilian minister of interior was appointed in 2003, placing all of Kazakhstan’s security forces under civilian control.

According to the U.S. Department of State: “ The national police force, which has primary responsibility for internal security, including investigation and prevention of crimes and administrative offenses, and maintenance of public order and security. The Agency of Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption has administrative and criminal investigative powers. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

The Office of the Procurator General, formerly charged with investigation and prosecution of unlawful acts, was removed from its investigative capacity by the 1995 constitution. Investigation of crimes shifted to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which also is responsible for fire protection, automotive inspection, and routine preservation of order. As of 1992, Kazakhstan became a member of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), and Kazakhstani authorities have worked particularly closely with the law enforcement agencies of Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Internal Security in Kazakhstan

The internal security system is largely unchanged from Soviet period. National Security Committee (NSC), successor to Committee for State Security (KGB), performs intelligence and counter-intelligence operations. Ministry of Justice runs police (militia) and prison systems. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Kazakhstan's police, court, and prison systems are based, largely unchanged, on Soviet-era practices, as is the bulk of the republic's criminal code. Formal responsibility for observation of the republic's laws and for protection of the state's interests is divided among the National Security Committee (successor to the Kazakh branch of the KGB), the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Office of the Procurator General. Intelligence and counterintelligence are the responsibility of the National Security Committee. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The Agency of Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption has administrative and criminal investigative powers. The Committee for National Security (KNB) plays a role in border security, internal security, antiterrorism efforts, and the investigation and interdiction of illegal or unregistered groups, such as extremist groups, military groups, political parties, religious groups, and trade unions. The KNB, Syrbar (a separate foreign intelligence service), and Agency of Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption report directly to the president. Many government ministers maintained personal blogs where citizens could register complaints. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Role of the Police in Kazakhstan

The government has used police to harass and incarcerate opposition journalists, political figures, and demonstrators. Human rights organizations have reported frequent incidents of police brutality. The secret police have been effective in discouraging opposition organizations, but the regular police, who are poorly paid, are ineffective and often corrupt. In 2005 the Ministry of Interior reported more than 2,000 complaints of police corruption. In the early 2000s, the government has taken some measures to improve police practices. An independent Financial Police Agency, responsible to the prime minister, investigates money laundering and other financial crimes. Although the government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, impunity existed. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

According to the OSAC: “ The overall police presence is significant, and regular law enforcement personnel are augmented by Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) conscripts on compulsory military service. The size and professional caliber of police in smaller regional cities is substantially less than that of their metropolitan counterparts. Many officers outside of Almaty, Astana, Aktau, and Atyrau are not experienced in dealing with foreigners and seldom speak English. [Source: “Kazakhstan 2016 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State ]

“The level of competency and professionalism of law enforcement entities may vary but does not pose a significant obstacle to American private businesses. Police response varies depending upon location and the type of incident. Investigators are often forced to follow procedures that seem to have little relation to the crime that was committed. Police officers have been very diligent in their efforts to solve some of the more severe forms of crimes committed against Americans.

“Police continue to implement reforms to create a more professional service and curb corruption. One example of improvements made in Almaty was the introduction of police traffic stops to be conducted only by police patrol vehicles and not by static police posts randomly pulling over vehicles. Despite such reforms, extortion from traffic police continues to be a problem.”

Kazak Man Himslef on Fire to Protest Alleged Injustices

In October, 2015, a young man in southern Kazakhstan committed suicide by setting himself on fire to draw attention to what he said was the injustice he has suffered at the hands of the police. Joanna Lillis wrote on “Yerlan Bektibayev, 20, set himself on fire on October 24 in front of the local headquarters of the ruling Nur Otan party in Taraz. “I have come here because I hope Nur Otan will help me,” Bektibayev said in a video later posted on YouTube. The footage then shows Bektibayev setting himself on fire before running while screaming with pain into the Nur Otan building. [Source: Joanna Lillis,, October 26, 2015 ^|^]

“In the video, Bektibayev explained that he was going to commit suicide because of injustices he believed he had suffered at the hands of the police and judicial system. He had spent time in jail for a murder he did not commit and the police once planted marijuana on him, Bektibayev said. “That is the reason I am going to kill myself,” Bektibayev said. “I am sick of life. I don’t want to live anymore.” ^|^

“Bektibayev was rushed to hospital, but later died of his burns. Nur Otan staff “provided rapid assistance to the victim in extinguishing the fire” and called an ambulance, Zhasulan Abdihalyk, a Taraz-based spokesman for Nur Otan, later wrote on his Facebook page. Bektibayev had not sought any assistance from Nur Otan, which is led by Nazarbayev, prior to running into the building, Abdihalyk said. He also said that the young man had previously been convicted of “serious crimes” and possession of narcotics. ^|^

“Disturbing acts of self-harm has long been a last-resort form of protest in Kazakhstan, where avenues for legal recourse often remain closed to those that feel they have suffered an injustice. In 2011, a group of inmates at a prison in central Kazakhstan collectively slashed their abdomens in demand for improved living conditions. ^|^

Prisons in Kazakhstan

In the late Soviet period, eighty-nine labor camps, ten prisons, and three psychiatric hospitals (under the administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) were known to be operating in the republic. At least two of the prisons, at Öskemen and Semey, date from tsarist days. There also were at least four special prisons for women and children, at Pavlodar, Zhambyl, and Chamalghan. The total prison population in 1996 was 76,000. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

According to the U.S. Department of State: At the end of 2014 there were 42,114 prisoners in detention facilities...Alternatives for sentencing nonviolent offenders were used more frequently during the year. The Procurator General’s Office reported 14,250 prisoners received alternative punishments. Imprisonment was imposed in 36.7 percent of court decisions. Authorities released on bail approximately 3,700 individuals. The new criminal code introduces alternative sentences including fines and public service. Recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate. Although individual prison ombudsmen were not available to accept prisoners’ complaints, the national human rights ombudsman received and responded to complaints from prisoners. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

According to observers, prisoners and detainees generally had reasonable access to visitors. The 2011 Law on Religious Activity eliminated prayer rooms and religious facilities in prisons, and they reported that prison administrators interfered with prisoners’ religious observance. According to the Law on Religion, a prisoner in need of “religious rituals” or his relatives may ask to invite a representative of a registered religious organization, provided the carrying out of religious rites, ceremonies, and/or meetings does not obstruct the activity of the prison or violate the rights and legal interests of other individuals. *\

“There were no international independent monitors, including from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The newly created NPM’s monitoring groups, included significant participation by representatives of prominent human rights NGOs. Due to the relative newness of the NPM, its effectiveness in monitoring prison conditions could not be fully assessed.” *\

Poor Conditions at Kazakhstan’s Prisons

The Kazakhstani prison system has come under attack from human rights organizations. The facilities remaining from the Soviet period are badly overcrowded and understaffed. According to a 1996 report from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, government funding of prisons is less than half the amount required, and corruption and theft are common throughout the prison system. About 1,300 died of tuberculosis in 1995. Health conditions are extremely poor. Overcrowding has been exacerbated by an explosion of crime among the country's youth and by President Nazarbayev's ongoing policy of harsh sentences for convicted criminals. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “ Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life-threatening, and facilities did not meet international health standards. Health problems among prisoners went untreated in many cases or were exacerbated by prison conditions, such as a widespread lack of heating and proper ventilation. There was an overall scarcity of medical care. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Abuse occurred in police cells, pretrial detention facilities, and prisons. Observers cited severe overcrowding, poor treatment of inmates and detainees, and the lack of professional training programs for administrators as the primary problems. The Interior Ministry reported a 50 percent shortage of medical personnel in prison facilities. Tuberculosis mortality, however, declined 68 percent. During prison admissions, medical personnel noted 447 HIV cases, 400 cases of tuberculosis, and 1,400 other diagnoses. In 2012 Aigul Katrenova, head of the Committee of the State Sanitary-Epidemiology Inspectorate of the Ministry of Health, identified the following persistent problems: insufficient access to medical care, lack of monitoring of antiretroviral treatment of HIV-infected prisoners, shortage of medical personnel, lack of infectious disease doctors, and shortages in medication. PRI reported there was a widespread lack of heating and adequate ventilation within the prison system. Prisoners had access to potable water. *\

There is a lot of drug abuse in Kazakhstan prisons. Some people with AIDS say they got the disease by sharing needles with their cellmates. “The government reported 39 deaths in pretrial detention centers and police cells in 2012, and PRI reported 220 deaths in prisons as a result of illness and 59 due to other reasons, including suicide. PRI also reported 37 deaths as a result of tuberculosis during the first eight months of 2013. The government reported 14 suicides in pretrial detention facilities and police cells in 2011. There were no figures for subsequent years. In 2012 (the latest available statistics) there were 340 cases of reported self-mutilation protesting harsh prison conditions and abuse.” *\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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