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Kazakhstan, the buckle in Belt and Road initiative, to probe stalled $1.9B Chinese rail project

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Agence France-Presse

Kazakh President Kassym Jomart-Tokayev called Tuesday for officials in the Central Asian country to investigate delays in a troubled $1.9 billion light railway system financed by neighbouring China.

Kazakhstan’s economy ministry said in April that construction of a light railway network set to ease congestion in the capital Nur-Sultan had ceased after China had delayed financing for the project.

In July, Kazakhstan issued a warrant for the arrest of the former head of the state company managing the project, Talgat Ardan, as reports of embezzlement at the company emerged.

At a government meeting on Tuesday Tokayev ordered the anti-corruption agency to deepen the investigation into misdeeds at the project and asked the government to “set specific deadlines for resuming work and completing the first phase” of the light railway.

Tokayev said there had been a “planned escape” in comments that appeared to refer to Ardan and called for top officials that oversaw the signature of agreements for the railway to be held to account.

The project Tokayev has called “the saddest song” was originally expected to be completed by next year.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan, which has the biggest economy in ex-Soviet Central Asia, has positioned itself as the “buckle” of China’s Belt and Road initiative — a trillion-dollar trade and infrastructure drive designed to ramp up Beijing’s overland trade.

But Chinese investments in the region have often met criticism for facilitating corruption in countries where it is endemic.

Two former prime ministers and other officials are currently standing trial on corruption charges in Kazakhstan’s neighbour Kyrgyzstan after a power plant modernised with Chinese credit collapsed in freezing temperatures in January, 2018.

Tokayev, 66, became president after the shock resignation in March of long-ruling leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who spent three decades in the post and is still viewed as Kazakhstan’s top decision-maker.

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