AKSU, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – On the surface, the Kazakh town of Aksu looks like a Communist stereotype. Its metals factory is the biggest in the world and for generations it has provided residents with employment, healthcare, education and leisure.
But there’s a crucial difference. The Eurasian Resources Group factory is controlled by three billionaires and though the Kazakh government has a stake it’s a far cry from the Communist model of ownership by the proletariat.
The trio are Alexander Machkevich, Alijan Ibragimov and Patokh Chodiev and many Kazakhs see them as oligarchs close to President Nursultan Nazarbayev who has ruled since 1989.
Nazarbayev, a former Soviet apparatchik, wields sweeping power and parliament is devoid of opposition. A pro-Nazarbayev political party bankrolled by ERG’s cofounders was founded in 1998 and merged with the president’s Nur Otan party in 2006.
None of the three billionaires are native Kazakhs, though all are from Central Asia. They started their careers as commodities traders and took over Kazakh mining and metals assets during privatization.