One of the few national newspapers to report a presidential scandal, the Assandi Times cried foul on Wednesday over the “special edition” sold openly on the streets of the capital, Almaty.
The “special edition” said a corruption case being fought in a US court was a fabrication of an exiled dissident. Prosecutors in the case have alleged President Nursultan Nazarbayev and former oil minister Nurlan Balgimbayev received more than $78 million in bribes from US businessman James Giffen, whose trial on corruption charges begins on Thursday.
Giffen, who brokered deals with major Western oil firms for Kazakhstan, is to go on trial in New York on Thursday, accused of breaking US corruption laws. He denies the charges.
Former Kazakh prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who lives in exile, was accused by the “special edition” of being the brain behind the fabrication, echoing Nazarbayev’s own dismissal of the case as a “set-up” by Kazhegeldin.
“It’s obvious at first glance that this is a forgery,” said Assandi Times deputy editor Galina Dyrdina.
“We assume that this was sanctioned and organised by the president’s administration.” A presidential adviser denied this and promised police would investigate.
The case threatens to become an embarrassment to ex-Soviet Kazakhstan, where oil has kick-started an economic boom but accusations of corruption are rife.
US prosecutors have also accused the Kazakh government of lobbying Washington to drop the case.
The Assandi Times gives its circulation as 42,000 in a country of 15 million. It is one of a handful of opposition media that criticise Nazarbayev’s 15-year rule – a taboo for the mainstream press.
The paper has suffered a number of mysterious attacks.
Its offices were firebombed in 2002 shortly after the headless body of a dog was hung on an office window with a note attached by a screwdriver saying: “There won’t be another one [warning]”.