Former Almaty Mayor, Wife Convicted And Sentenced In Absentia

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Former Almaty Mayor Viktor Khrapunov and his wife have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in absentia on corruption charges that they have called politically motivated.

At a hearing on October 8, a court in Kazakhstan's biggest city found Khrapunov and his wife, Leila Khrapunova, guilty of organization of a criminal group, financial fraud, and bribe-taking.

Khrapunov was also found guilty of abuse of office and of the illegal privatization of property belonging to another person.

The court sentenced Khrapunov to 17 years in prison and his wife to 14 years. A relative, Ayar Ilyasov, was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia on similar charges.

Viktor and Leila Khrapunov now live in Switzerland.

Nine other defendants, most of them former subordinates of Khrapunov, pleaded guilty at the trial. The court ruled that they will not be punished.

Khrapunov was mayor of Almaty from 1997 to 2004. He was later appointed governor of the East Kazakhstan region but was dismissed from that post in 2007 and served for a short time as emergency situations minister.

Khrapunov and his family moved to Switzerland in 2007 in the wake of a scandal surrounding parcels of land that he was accused of distributed illegally during his tenure as mayor.

Khrapunov has rejected the charges against him and his wife, saying they are politically motivated.

Khrapunov's stepson, Ilyas Khrapunov, is married to a daughter of fugitive Kazakh tycoon Mukhtar Ablyazov, a critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Ablyazov has lived in self-imposed exile in Europe since 2009. He was tried in absentia in June 2017 and sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of organizing and leading a criminal group, abuse of office, embezzlement, and financial mismanagement.

Ablyazov also has maintained innocence, calling his trial politically motivated.

Rights activists and critics say the long-ruling Nazarbaev has persistently suppressed dissent, prolonged his time in office through undemocratic votes, and used the levers of power to neutralize potential opponents.