Kazakhstan jails international expo organiser for corruption
Kazakhstan on June 9 sentenced a former minister to 14 years in prison for embezzling millions of dollars while heading the Central Asian country's preparations to host a major international expo next year, AFP reports.
In one of the biggest corruption cases in the oil-rich country, former sports and tourism minister Talgat Ermegiyayev was jailed for embezzling over 5.9 billion tenge ($18 million at the current rate) while in charge of the state company organising the event.
The court ordered him to repay the full amount to Astana EXPO-2017, which he chaired from 2013 to 2015.
Ermegiyayev on Thursday protested that he was innocent of the charges which have rocked preparations for an event seen as key to promoting Kazakhstan on the international stage.
Some 22 other defendants received sentences up to 10 years for offences the country's anti-corruption service said resulted in losses to the state expo company worth $31 billion.
Kazakhstan's 75-year-old President Nursultan Nazarbayev last year appointed his other long-term political ally, Akhmetzhan Yessimov, to replace Ermegiyayev as head of Astana EXPO-2017.
The Kazakhstan event is officially recognised by the Bureau of International Expositions based in Paris and will welcome 169 member states with its theme "Energy of the Future" in mid-2017.
Astana was awarded the right to host the event by the BIE in November 2012, edging out the Belgian city of Liege, which was the only other bidder.
For Kazakhstan the event will be an opportunity to spotlight Nazarbayev's futuristic creation Astana, which was a minor provincial steppe town before replacing Almaty as the capital in 1997.