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Kazakhstan arrests top media chief on corruption charges

February 22, 2016

Kazakhstan on Monday arrested the influential head of the country’s Union of Journalists and former presidential spokesman Seitkazy Matayev on tax evasion and embezzlement charges.

The state anti-corruption agency said Matayev was detained along with his son Aset Matayev who heads the private KazTAG news agency.

Both are accused of defrauding the state to the tune of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes and financial misdemeanours through their media assets between 2011 and 2015.

If found guilty they could face up to 12 years in prison.

The arrests came as the former Soviet state prepares to hold parliamentary elections in March expected to strengthen the position of 75-year-old President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his Nur Otan party.

Seitkazy and Aset Matayev issued a statement denying the allegations against them, saying the charges were designed to put “pressure” on the media and “limit freedom of speech”.

The elder Matayev is known as a powerful and well-connected figure who has remained uncritical of Nazarbayev after serving as his press secretary between 1991 and 1993.

As Nazarbayev’s spokesman, he famously announced to journalists in December 1991 that “the Soviet Union has ceased to exist” after a summit of Soviet republics in then-Kazakh capital Almaty that ended with the formal dissolution of the USSR.

Nazarbayev has led the country for over a quarter of a century and lacks a clear successor. He won another five-year term with almost 98 percent of the vote in presidential elections last year.

Kazakhstan’s media is rated as “not free” by the US-based watchdog Freedom House and criticism of Nazarbayev and his family is not tolerated.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.