A loose coalition of Kazakh civil society groups has hired a former congressional aide to lobby Congress and the Joe Biden administration for sanctions against corrupt actors in the central Asian country.
The Coalition of Civil Society of Kazakhstan — also known as Dongelek Ystel — has retained Alexander Beckles, a former legislative director to former Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), to lobby on “democracy, stability and prosperity in the region of Kazakhstan, as well as issues of finance, including rules and governmental programs related to anti-money laundering, international sanctions, and anticorruption.” The contract is for $40,000 per month for an initial one-year term.
The engagement was first disclosed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in March. Beckles however has now disclosed a statement of work that provides new details about his engagement, which includes:
- Helping US officials and Kazakh activists work together to “expose, investigate and stop money laundering and violation of money laundering laws”;
- Impose sanctions against Kazakh individuals deemed “human rights abusers, kleptocrats, and corrupt actors” under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and ban them and their close relatives from entering the United States;
- Convince the US Treasury Department to freeze the assets of corrupt Kazakh officials in the United States; and
- Initiate criminal investigations and support ongoing investigations against Kazakh kleptocrats and American companies owned by them and their relatives.
The agreement was signed by the head of the coalition’s foreign office, Serik Medetbekov, who is based in Germany. Medetbekov told Foreign Lobby Report in a phone interview that the coalition was formed about 18 months ago and is funded by donations, including by Kazakh business leaders domestically and abroad who want to see rule of law improve in the country.
“We are trying to bring attention of the new administration to the Central Asian countries,” he said. “There is evidence that the money stolen from those countries is flowing to the West and corrupting the democratic systems of the West.”
Medetbekov said the coalition mostly represents a younger generation of civil society activists fed up with endemic corruption under former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned in March 2019 after three decades in power. The situation has improved under his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, according to Transparency International, but remains concerning.
The coalition notably works with new movements and fledgling political parties, such as the opposition Democratic Party of Kazakhstan led by Janbolat Mamai, a 32-year-old journalist who was convicted in 2017 on what he says were trumped-up money laundering charges. Meanwhile the coalition’s spokesman is a well-known human rights activist and blogger, Alnur Ilyashev, who was found guilty last year of spreading false information for social media posts criticizing Kazakhstan’s ruling party, Nur Otan, over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and other matters.
“We are trying to work with the whole democratic part of civil society part of Kazakhstan,” Medetbekov said. “There are a lot of civil movement in Kazakhstan. And they are all against the regime.”
Medetbekov said the coalition particularly wants to go after illicit Kazakh fortunes. He cited the examples of Timur Kulibayev, a Nazarbayev son-in-law accused of siphoning tens of millions of dollars off of a pipeline project paid for with Chinese loans; Nazarbayev brother Bolat Nazarbayev, whose US assets once included a $20 million Fifth Avenue condo in New York; and Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker turned opposition figure who now lives in France and is accused of embezzling more than $7.5 billion from Kazakh bank BTA, where he served as CEO before it was nationalized in 2009.
“We oppose the people … who worked for this regime, stole the money, ran to the West and now pretend that they are in the opposition to the regime,” Medetbekov said. “For us it’s impossible — if somebody steals money on the street in New York, police will be there in a few minutes. But other persons are breaking American law and nobody is taking care of it. This is the point.”
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This is the first time Beckles has registered his firm, Alexander Beckles LLC, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), although he is registered to lobby for the governments of Burundi, Guinea and Uganda as a consultant to Scribe Strategies & Advisors. He also lobbies for the Democratic Republic of the Congo state mining company Gecamines via Scribe.
The lobbying appears to have had some early results.
On May 7 the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), delivered remarks on the floor of the US House of Representatives “addressing the situation in Kazakhstan concerning kleptocracy.” The remarks focused particularly on the accusations against Kulibayev.
“Fighting corruption is an imperative for the United States. As a beacon of liberty and the rule of law, it is our duty and the purest expression of our values. It is also a highly practical form of soft power that advances our national security,” Thompson said. “As Kazakhstan is aspiring to be a strategic partner of the United States, I call on my colleagues to join me in urging the Biden Administration to review this case of kleptocracy and corrupt officials from Kazakhstan and assure that it will be included in our government’s discussions regarding this important part of the world.”
Neither Beckles nor Thompson’s office responded to a request for comment.
The coalition, however, promptly highlighted the remarks on its Facebook page.