Kazakhstan: Would-be US entrepreneur complains of business theft

The police say it is Alexander Lee who committed fraud.

Almaz Kumenov Sep 26, 2018

A would-be U.S. national based in Kazakhstan has accused a high-ranking police officer of being involved in the seizure of his business and has complained that authorities have done nothing to address the situation. 

In an appeal uploaded to YouTube on September 23, Alexander Lee named the head of police in the northern Pavlodar region, Amantai Aubakirov, as the culprit.

The Interior Ministry has rejected these claims, however, and said it has no evidence there is any basis to Lee’s accusations. 

"In 2014, I came to Kazakhstan with the aim of setting up a business, investing and providing jobs to the local population,” Lee said in his video appeal. “I opened the first Spanish restaurant in Almaty and a company for the import and wholesale trade of alcohol. And then in 2017, the acting chief of police for the Pavlodar region, a former deputy Interior Minister, Amantai Aubakirov, seized my business. His daughter and son-in-law … embezzled my material assets and his wife took over the alcohol import and trading company.”

The U.S. Embassy said it was not allowed to confirm if Lee is indeed genuinely an American citizen. Lee did not respond to requests for further elucidation of his allegations.

Losses from the seizure of his business amounted to 69 million tenge ($194,000), he said. Lee added that he filed a police complaint 11 months ago, but had received no satisfaction.  

His video has drawn hundreds of comments, most of them criticizing the local police and describing the episode as typical for Kazakhstan. 

But the Interior Ministry has fired back with a robust denial of Lee’s account. Spokesman Almas Sadubayev told Tengrinews website that a police internal affairs department investigation revealed no evidence of “raiding” — the Russian-language term used widely across the post-Soviet space to describe the wholesale appropriation of enterprises. Furthermore, police say they believe it may have been Lee who engaged in fraud.

Sadubayev said that in 2012, Lee, Aubakirov’s wife and another partner jointly set up a company. Lee later reassigned his 50 percent share in the company to another individual without informing his partners, Sadubayev said. It was this act that led to the falling-out, the ministry spokesman claimed.

"In December 2017, the co-founders [of the company] notified Lee that the lease on their company premises had come to an end and that they were putting an end to their cooperation with him. In response to that, Lee complained to the police about his property being raided,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement. 

Aubakirova has also filed a complaint against Lee for fraud with the prosecutor’s office, Sadubayev said.

Seemingly unwilling to give the impression the case is being sandbagged, Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov has since told reporters that investigations into the various claims are still ongoing and that a definitive decision is yet to be taken on how authorities will proceed.