Home Globe Apple and Amway are in the middle of a corruption scandal in Kazakhstan

Apple and Amway are in the middle of a corruption scandal in Kazakhstan

by editor

Headlines in the Kazakh media report on the impending revenge of the ex-president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. Surprisingly, the preparations for his comeback to power are financed, among other things, by Western companies, which can be covertly exploited by local lobbyists.

Both companies, Apple and Amway, are clients of the consulting company Markets Mentor, created by former top managers of the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC).

The AIFC is, in essence, an internal offshore that makes it easier for foreign companies to do business in Kazakhstan and provides them with a number of significant preferences, including taxes. Until January 2023, the AIFC was headed by Kairat Kelimbetov, whose interests stand behind Markets Mentor. Earlier, Kelimbetov headed the administration of Nursultan Nazarbayev, managed the Central Bank of the republic and worked in high positions in the government under ex-president.

Nazarbayev, whose policy was aimed at rapprochement in Russia, stepped down from power in 2019, giving way to his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who provided a pro-Western course. Over time, Tokayev began to gain his own power, reducing his dependence on his former patron. In January 2022, mass protests and pogroms in Kazakhstan almost led to a coup d’etat, which could have been backed by Nazarbayev’s entourage. A number of people close to him then found themselves under investigation and imprisoned, including the ex-president’s own nephew; many others lost high positions.

One of these people, a year after the coup attempt, turned out to be Kairat Kelimbetov, who began to build a network of shadow lobbying structures whose job was to help businesses associated with Nazarbayev’s entourage. In particular, Kelimbetov maintained a close connection with the entourage of Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga, who owns a number of large finance and industrial assets and media in Kazakhstan. He also maintains relations with oligarch Timur Turlov, who is called the “wallet” of the Nazarbayev family. Kelimbetov now officially works as an adviser in the company Freedom Horizons, owned by Turlov. AIFC’s top managers who founded Market Mentors are employed in Freedom Horizons as well.

Created in the summer of 2023, Market Mentors has entered into contracts for GR services with Apple, Amway, as well as Yandex, fintech company which has the Russian roots. All these contracts were concluded contrary to the compliance policies of international companies, which prohibit working with dubious reputation firms and a missing portfolio. According to media reports, the conclusion of the agreements was facilitated by a certain Natalia Malyarchuk, the former head of the Board of Trustees of Transparency International in Kazakhstan. Malyarchuk, who is also a member of the Public Chamber under the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament) of Kazakhstan, was previously caught lobbying the interests of Apple, Amway and Yandex by amending the bills essential to companies. It is about important laws in the field of taxation, public procurement, e-commerce and mass media. Natalia Malyarchuk’s status as a member of the Public Chamber and proximity to members of parliament helped her provide such kind of services.

Lobbying activities in favor of foreign companies were not the main area of ​​Natalia Malyarchuk’s efforts. Her main client are businesses associated with the Nazarbayev family. In particular, Natalia Malyarchuk, as well as her colleague in the Public Chamber, the famous Kazakh political scientist Marat Shibutov, were part of the so-called “bookmakers’ headquarters,” whose task was to block the adoption of a law banning widespread advertising of gambling bets in Kazakhstan. Gambling addiction is one of the most acute social problems in this Central Asia republic, which affects hundreds of thousands of citizens of this large but sparsely populated country (population 20 million people only).

The headquarters worked for the country’s largest betting companies, as well as for payment services that make money by processing electronic bets. Actually, the largest beneficiary of bet processing is the PayDala payment service, whose beneficiary is Nurali Aliyev, the grandson of Nursultan Nazarbayev and the son of the ex-president’s daughter Dariga. Dariga Nazarbayeva controls a number of the largest media outlets in Kazakhstan. A businessman close to her, Timur Turlov, also owns media assets. This explains the fact that information about large-scale corruption, as well as the interests of high-ranking politicians and businessmen involved in it, is not written very often in Kazakhstan.

Moreover, it is not often written about the involvement of large US based companies in these schemes. It is not clear whether Apple and Amway became victims of local lobbyists or were aware of shady schemes to promote their own interests remains a mystery. There is no law on lobbying in Kazakhstan, which de facto gives greater freedom of action to various consultants and shadow decision-makers. However, participating in these types of business promotion schemes is directly against Apple and Amway’s business ethics, which may not please their shareholders.

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