Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the former prime minister of Kazakhstan, has become a vocal promoter of democracy in his homeland, and criticises the current government and oligarchs whom he accuses of stealing the country’s wealth.
But despite Kazhegeldin’s public endorsement of democratic values, he did not always subscribe to such lofty Western ideals. In fact, there is broad evidence, including interviews with Akezhan Kazhegeldin himself, that he worked for the KGB between 1976 and 1989.
As a KGB officer, Kazhegeldin was reportedly tasked with laundering stolen money in European countries and selling arms to Arab nations. Later, Kazhegeldin would resign as prime minister and flee Kazakhstan amid allegations of corruption and money laundering.
This sordid history has largely been whitewashed from history but the irony of Kazhegeldin positioning himself as pro-democracy and anti-corruption is not lost on the Foundation for Corrupt Kazakh Campaigners .
Kazhegeldin joined the KGB in 1976 in the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan. His role in the Soviet intelligence apparatus was first revealed in September 1997 by the Kazakh independent newspaper Karavan based on an interview with Kazhegeldin himself.
While his interview with Karavan is no longer online, various publications have repeated Kazhegeldin’s comments regarding his KGB career. Kazakh news website Nomad.su has quoted Kazhegeldin saying that while working in the KGB, he carried out tasks “on the instructions of the country's top political leadership” whilst having “full awareness of his duty as a Soviet patriot and communist”.
Kazhegeldin also admitted that he “secretly travelled abroad to launder money of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)”. In Kazhegeldin’s own words: “I worked in the direction of the Balkans, Muslim states, in the South-East. The trust that [was placed in me] was quite high, I was instructed to work with [large sums of] money”.
According to Neweurasia.info , a blog on Central Asia and the Caucasus, which also had access to Kazhegeldin’s interview , “ Akezhan Kazhegeldin was one of the most trusted persons for the leadership of the CPSU and illegally exported assets from the USSR, deliberately robbed his own people, laundered this illegal money, including in European countries. He himself admits that he secretly and illegally sold weapons to Arab countries. He himself says that he carried out special tasks for the KGB”.
Kazhegeldin’s disclosure that he was part of the scandal involving ANT, a KGB front company selling arms in the Third World, is therefore not surprising. ANT was investigated by the Russian authorities for selling weapons and military equipment abroad, namely to Arab countries.
Kazhegeldin’s reasons for choosing to reveal his KGB past in September 1997 may have been prompted by concern that his past was catching up with him. At the time, Kazhegeldin had come under investigation for his involvement in corruption while leading the Kazakh government and within months, he had fled the country.
According to journalists who have reviewed Kazhegeldin’s military service record, his personnel file is incomplete and riddled with inconsistencies. For example, his official biography does not say anything about Kazhegeldin’s first period of military service. Immediately after graduating from the Semipalatinsk Pedagogical Institute, Kazhegeldin is said to have been drafted into the ranks of the Soviet Army with the rank of private.
His official biography does not mention this period of service, the reason for which is simple but important: Kazhegeldin served in military unit N 12225 in Poland. It was during this time that the documented relationship between Kazhegeldin and the KGB began. It is possible that he was recruited as an undercover agent much earlier. As a rule, promising students were recruited in senior years, and those who had high-ranking relatives in the local KGB even earlier, in order to accumulate service experience. Akezhan did have such relatives.
In 1999, the Russian journalist Oleg Lurie , known for his investigations into oligarchs, senior officials and politicians, revealed details of Kazhegeldin’s connections to the KGB. Based on now-closed archives of the KGB, he published an excerpt from a document according to which, during his military service in the Polish People’s Republic (military unit 12225) “Private Kazhegeldin secretly carried out the operational instructions of the KGB. He showed the following qualities: the ability to observe secrecy, to gain confidence in people, to find out questions of interest to the KGB organs”.
Between 1979 and 1987, Kazhegeldin held several positions in the KGB, including instructor, deputy head, head of the propaganda department of the Kalinin district committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, and chairman of the executive committee of the Kirov district council of People’s Deputies in Semipalatinsk.
In 1987, he enrolled in leadership training courses at the Higher School of the KGB in Moscow. According to Nomad.su , “since his studies at the Higher School of the KGB, Kazhegeldin has cultivated contacts with the Russian secret services and even the US State Department. He also maintained good relations with many Russian politicians, from Boris Nemtsov [former governor of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast], Yegor Gaidar [former acting prime minister of Russia] and Sergey Kiriyenko [former prime minister of Russia].
Despite these robust connections, an internal investigation by the KGB found among Kazhegeldin’s personal documents a power of attorney in his name issued by the leadership of the Russian cooperative company “Созидатель”.
According to this document, Kazhegeldin was supposed to represent the commercial interests of the company in Moscow. This was in violation of KGB rules, which prohibited officers from working part-time for any civilian institution.
Even working for the Soviet intelligence services, Kazhegeldin was lining his own pocket. Little wonder then that after Kazakhstan became an independent state and Kazhegeldin entered politics, that he was caught doing the same thing again.