This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS ALMATY 000024
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: EFIN PGOV PHUM KZ ECONOMIC POLITICAL SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN: DEATH OF PROMINENT BANKER SPARKS RUMORS
1. (SBU) Summary: The December 19 death of Bank TuranAlem (BTA) president Erzhan Tatishev in a hunting accident has put the local rumor mill into high gear. Despite calming words from representatives of the bank, the second largest in Kazakhstan, the accident has received a great deal of media attention and spawned even more speculation. Three theories compete as the "true" cause behind the death: hunting accident; elimination by economic rivals; and politically-motivated killing. Controversy, however, surrounded Tatishev long before the accident, due to his membership in opposition political party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) and his ties with exiled DCK leader Mukhtar Ablyazov. The results of a criminal investigation, standard procedure in such deaths, will probably due little to convince skeptics. End summary.
2. (U) On Sunday, December 19, Tatishev was killed in a hunting accident in Zhambyl Oblast, about 260 kilometers east of Almaty. According to a preliminary police investigation Tatishev was allegedly shot in an accidental discharge while trying to pass a 12-gauge shotgun to a passenger. Supposedly, the passenger wanted to shoot wolves passing in the distance.
The Official Version of Events
3. (U) Police, at least until they finish their investigation, and bank officials claim no foul play. Within hours of Tatishev's death, a special session of the BTA Board of Directors appointed Deputy Chairman of the Board, Saduakas Mameshtegi, acting Chairman. At a December 20 press conference, BTA Chairman of Board of Directors Ualiev said that he and the board "completely exclude any political motivation" behind the tragedy. Furthermore, he rejected business rivalry as the cause behind the death: "Of course he had rivals and those who thought ill of them, but we cannot and do not want to link that with this tragedy." In a further statement, the bank vowed to adhere to its present business strategy.
4. (U) Police, for the present, are investigating the incident as negligence, not as a murder or conspiracy. Authorities are conducting their investigation under Article 101, para. 1 "Causing death through negligence."
5. (SBU) Nevertheless, both friends and colleagues are baffled by the sheer negligence that allegedly led to the death. Colleagues of the deceased told Kazinform, a state news agency, that Tatishev was an experienced hunter who spent every free weekend hunting. In addition, a representative of a Western bank in Kazakhstan, who had hunted with Tatishev, thought such an accident highly unlikely. He told Econoff that Tatishev handled weapons safely and professionally. According to the Western banker, it was unlikely Tatishev would have been so reckless in handling a loaded firearm.
Eliminating a Competitor?
6. (SBU) Various print sources claim that business rivals removed Tatishev because of the growing presence of BTA. The web paper "Navi.Kz" writes that, "its expansion.in the CIS could not but put the banking structures of the CIS on their guard." Under Tatishev, BTA became a leading bank in Kazakhstan and expanded its activities throughout the CIS. In addition to existing branches in Moscow, Kiev, Minsk, Bishkek and Shanghai, BTA also plans to open offices in Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Chisinau, Baku and Dushanbe. On December 16, Tatishev initiated a multi-million dollar financing deal with Leningrad Oblast.
7. (U) Tatishev owned 24% of BTA's shares, which will now apparently be passed to his heirs. When asked at the press conference about future management of TatQhev's BTA stake, Ualiev said that "there are some juridical nuances, and probably it will be handled via proxy by the bank's management."
Eliminating a Political Figure?
8. (SBU) Others point to Tatishev's links to opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK). Tatishev had long-standing commercial links with Mukhtar Ablyazov, a DCK
founder, former Minister of Energy and Industry (1998-99), and businessman. In 2002, Ablyazov was charged with misusing his post as Minister and later convicted in what most observers viewed as a politically-motivated case. In a recent broadcast, Kazakhstan state television drew a link between Ablyazov's May 2004 release from prison and BTA's subsequent increase in activity such as expansion in the CIS. In 2002, Tatishev broke with DCK, saying that participation in a political party was inappropriate for a professional businessman. On December 2, 2004, the BTA Chairman, together with the heads of six other banks, signed a statement that the banking sector should not be involved into politics.
9. (SBU) Controversy and rumors swirled around Tatishev even before his death. In May 2003, the sensationalist Kompromat.ru web site reported that Tatishev had absconded to the U.S. with the bank's funds. BTA denied the rumor, stating that the Chairman was on a business trip to the U.S. The rumor's authors linked Tatishev's trip with the early release of Ablyazov. In addition, an attempt was made on the banker's life in June 2002 when gunmen attacked his official car. Fortunately for Tatishev, he was not in the car at the time. Following the incident, police theorized the attack had been due to political motives.
10. (SBU) Comment: Given the penchant here for conspiracy theories, even the results of the official investigation are unlikely to clear the air around Tatishev's death. Few in Kazakhstan, however, believe the accident to have been the result of a brief moment of bad judgment. The alleged circumstances of the accident - passing a loaded shotgun while driving a jeep - are close to incomprehensible, particularly in light of Tatishev's renown as a hunter. The fate of BTA and of Tatishev's 24% share will, most likely, prove the best explanation to his untimely death. End comment.