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Official Admits to Slaying, Kazakhstan Says

February 28, 2006|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The top civil servant in Kazakhstan's Senate, five members of an elite national security unit and two former security officers have confessed to killing a key opposition leader, the Central Asian country's interior minister said Monday.

Opposition leaders, however, said they believed responsibility for the slaying of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, his driver and his bodyguard lay higher in the power structure of the oil-rich former Soviet state.

Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov said during a news conference in Astana, the capital, that Senate administration chief Yerzhan Utembayev had ordered the opposition leader's killing because of a newspaper article that severely criticized Utembayev and damaged his career.

The Senate official borrowed $60,000 to pay for the killing, giving the money to a former Interior Ministry employee who hired one former and five current security service commandos to abduct and execute the three men, Mukhamedzhanov said.

"The men have confessed," he said in comments reported by the Russian news agency Interfax.

Lyudmila Zhulanova, deputy chairwoman of the opposition Ak Zhol party, said in a telephone interview that the interior minister's account was "absurd, to say the least."

Citing the claim that a critical article by Sarsenbayev was the reason for the slaying, she added: "If that were a reason for killing someone, everyone here would have shot each other to death long ago.... I believe the true causes lie much deeper."

The arrests of six of the men were announced Feb. 20, and Utembayev was detained Wednesday. Two more suspects accused of leading the killers to their targets have been arrested since Sunday, the interior minister said.

The bodies of Sarsenbayev and his companions were discovered Feb. 13 on the outskirts of Almaty, the country's largest city and former capital. All three men had been shot in the back and the head, and the hands of the driver and bodyguard had been tied, the Almaty prosecutor's office said.

Sarsenbayev, a onetime confidant of President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, served in 2002 and 2003 as the Kazakh ambassador to Russia. He broke with the president and joined the Ak Zhol party in 2003.

Tulegen Zhukeyev, a leader of the opposition For a Just Kazakhstan coalition, said in Almaty that his group did not believe that Utembayev was responsible for the deaths. "We have already said we do not believe this theory ... and we have not changed our minds," he said.

Zhulanova said Nazarbayev may wish to see the case fully investigated because it otherwise could be politically damaging. However, she said she considered it unlikely that the identities of those who ordered the killing would be revealed.

"We have to understand that the identities of the people involved matter," she added. "It matters how far this goes, how much it affects the interests of his entourage."

Last week, Nazarbayev accepted the resignation of National Security Committee chief Nartai Dutbayev, who quit to take moral responsibility for the alleged involvement of his agency's employees. Nazarbayev declared that whoever was responsible for the slayings would get "the toughest punishment."

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