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Kazakh media boss sentenced to six years for graft

October 3, 2016

A court in Kazakhstan on Monday jailed the influential head of the main journalist union for six years for tax fraud, in a case he blasted as a political hit job.

Seitkazy Matayev — a former spokesman for veteran president Nursultan Nazarbayev — has stayed unflaggingly loyal in public to the Central Asian nation’s leader, but accused senior officials including the parliament speaker of initiating the case.

The court in capital city Astana also handed a five-year term to his son, Aset Matayev, the head of the private KazTAG news agency, and ordered the confiscation of property belonging to the pair.

Their supporters in the courtroom loudly decried the verdicts as they were announced by the judge.

Both Matayevs were detained in February and accused of defrauding the state to the tune of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.

The father and son previously denied the allegations against them and said the charges were designed to put “pressure” on the media and “limit freedom of speech”.

But many commentators have viewed the case against them as part of a broader power struggle within the elite in Kazakhstan, an energy-rich country of 18 million where corruption is endemic.

There is almost no space for critical journalism in Kazakhstan, where most of the biggest media assets are owned by the state or powerful figures in government.

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.

Autocrat Nazarbayev, 76, has ruled for nearly three decades and has never indicated a successor.

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