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Open Secrets: Expose Reveals a Kazakh Top Manager’s Business Network

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Open Secrets: Expose Reveals a Kazakh Top Manager’s Business Network

Public domain research by Radio Azattyq showed the extent of Kairat Sharipbayev’s private interests.

Open Secrets: Expose Reveals a Kazakh Top Manager’s Business Network
Credit: Depositphotos

An investigation of a top manager in Kazakhstan’s gas transport company unveiled his rise to prominence and his unofficial business network, further evidence that connection with the family of the ex-president is still the most direct way to success in the Central Asian country.

Kairat Sharipbayev is rumored to be the husband of Dariga Nazarbayeva, the eldest daughter of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev. A video of their unofficial wedding celebration was posted online last year.

Officially, Sharipbayev’s only occupation is the general directorship of KazTransGas, a gas transport company previously under the umbrella of the state oil and gas company Kazmunaigas. In March 2021, the company was splintered off Kazmunaigas, but remained under the holding of Samruk-Kazyna, the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

Informally, however, an investigation by RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, known locally as Radio Azattyq, tied Sharipbayev’s name to several companies founded in 2014 operating in several sectors, from real estate to pharmaceuticals to the sale of gas equipment.

In 2014, Armania, at the time a rather obscure company, bought the Duman Hotel in the capital city for a discounted price from Kazmunaigas, which had financed its construction seven years earlier.

Radio Azattyq showed how Armania was ultimately owned by two companies, the Singapore-registered Tian-Shan Holding Pte., linked to Sharipbayev, and the Almaty-registered DLS Group, linked to Nazarbayeva. Armania and KazTransGas also share headquarters, as they are both registered at the same address in Nur-Sultan.

After working as a manager in state-owned companies for 15 years, Sharipbayev was rewarded with the directorship at KazTransGas in December 2015.

Importantly, from July 2014 until at least 2016, Sharipbayev was also a minority shareholder in Bank RBK, a medium-size lender that was tied to Nazarbayev through his brother Bolat.

To aid Sharipbayev’s disappearance from the registry of private companies, local businessman Aset Nurdos became the director of several enterprises previously linked to Sharipbayev and other companies in the natural gas business. According to Samruk-Kazyna, Nurdos is not affiliated with KazTransGas and its subsidiaries, although documents filed to the Ministry of Finance feature his name in connection with Intergas Central Asia, a subsidiary of KazTransGas.

Nurdos is also the owner of Gas Processing Company, which manages a gas processing plant in the northern Aktobe region, and GPC Investment, which manages another plant in the western Atyrau region.

In the Aktobe region, Nurdos’ company processes associated gas from Kazakhoil Aktobe, an oil company co-owned by Kazmunaigas and China’s Sinopec, exporting 70 percent of its production.

In Atyrau, the gas processing plant owned by Nurdos is connected to NCOC, a consortium between foreign companies and Kazmunaigas, that operates the giant Kashagan field. Registered in 2019 with five employees, GPC Investment was able to finance the construction of the plant for $860 million.

Both companies have signed contracts with KazTransGas, exposing Sharipbayev to a potential conflict of interest.

It is unclear why the relationship between Sharipbayev and Nazarbayeva remains such an open secret. The two have been rumored to be a couple for almost a decade.

In a 2019 article in the Financial Times about the potential for privatization in Kazakhstan’s energy sector, Sharipbayev was once again linked to Nazarbayeva, “[whose] family’s interests in the gas industry may limit her willingness to open up the industry.”

In 2020, before his death, Nazarbayeva’s son Aisultan told the press that Sharipbayev was his mother’s husband and they were engaged in a “secret war” against Kairat Boranbayev, an oligarch in the gas industry and Aisultan’s former father-in-law.

After his resignation in March 2019, observers were doubtful that Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the country for three decades, would suddenly disappear from politics and that his influence would wane.

Sharipbayev’s case seems to be further proof that the ex-president’s influence continues to be crucial for the survival and reproduction of the political and business elite in Kazakhstan.