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29 April 2024

The Live-Streamed Murder Trial of Saltanat Nukenova Keeps the Attention of Millions in Kazakhstan

The ongoing high-profile murder trial against the former Minister of Economy of Kazakhstan Kuandyk Bishimbayev explained.


Image: sud.gov.kz/fb

For the past month, millions of Kazakhstanis have been following the trial of Saltanat Nukenova’s murder in real-time, as it was live-streamed on YouTube. The defendant is the former Minister of Economy of Kazakhstan, Kuandyk Bishimbayev. He was previously convicted of bribery and jailed in 2018 for ten years before then-President Nursultan Nazarbayev pardoned him less than two years later. Now, he is being tried for murder with particular cruelty of his wife Nukenova. 

The murder happened at Bau restaurant, which, according to Orda.kz, belongs to the mother of Bishimbayev, Almira Nurlybayeva. His cousin Bakhytzhan Baizhanov, the former director of the ‘Gastrocenter,’ where Bau restaurant was located, is also facing trial for concealment and failure to report a crime. 

The chronology of that night was examined during the trials. It was revealed that on 8 November 2023, Nukenova and Bishimbayev attended a concert. A witness and a close friend of Nukenova, Aida Akhmedina, who was with them at that concert, revealed that the couple started arguing during the concert and left suddenly. Nukenova didn’t even take her coat from the wardrobe and didn’t explain to Akhmedina when the latter called after realizing her friend left her alone at the concert. 

Next, Nukenova arrived with Bishimbayev at Bau restaurant, which, according to the workers’ personal messages, belonged to him, as they were calling him as “the boss.” CCTV footage from the restaurant of that night, shown to the public in court on 4 April, captured the couple leaving the restaurant and talking in the hallway at around 1 am, both under the influence of alcohol. After this, Bishimbayev came closer to Nukenova and grabbed her face while other guests were passing by.

Later that night, after all the restaurant workers had left, decorators arrived. At 3 am, they heard a noise behind the closed doors of VIP Room Number One and saw a lamp above it shaking. 

After this, Nukenova and Bishimbayev were captured on CCTV exiting VIP Room Number One at 6:56 am. Nukenova didn’t have her pants on, was wearing Bishimbayev’s jacket, and was carrying some clothes. 

The next video file, from 7:16 am, showed Bishimbayev grabbing Nukenova’s hair, throwing her on the floor, and kicking her multiple times. He then walked away before returning to drag her up by the hair and hit in the face. Once again, Bishimbayev began to walk away before dragging Nukenova down the corridor by her hair. Then he changed his direction and pulled her into the toilet. 

At 7:19 am, they left the toilet, with Bishimbayev dragging Nukenova by her hair to VIP Room Number One. That was the last time Nukenova entered that room, as later that day, on 9 November, she was pronounced dead. 

It is hard to know exactly when Nukenova died. However, the results of the court medical examination revealed she died a long and painful death as a result of brain trauma. Medical staff were not called until 7:55 pm when Bishimbayev and Baizhanov realized that she was not breathing. 

Although the police confiscated the phone on the day of the murder, it wasn’t until 22 April that Bishimbayev agreed to finally give Judge Aizhan Kulbayeva the password to his phone so that it could be examined. That’s when the videos that Bishimbayev filmed that night were found. They were not shown to the public, only to the prosecutors, the plaintiff's team, the defendant’s team, and the jury. However, everyone could hear Bishimbayev’s drunk voice insulting Nukenova, accusing her of sleeping with the successful Kazakh entrepreneur Raimbek Batalov, who publicly rejected these accusations. Bishimbayev didn’t even remember that these videos existed on his phone. He originally denied that they were his videos before finally admitting that he made them.

While his wife was dying next door, Bishimbayev was doing anything but getting her help. He called his tarot reader, whom he asked to “see” if Nukenova would be fine. While giving her testimony in court, the tarot reader said she didn’t know he was serious. She heard how drunk he was, so she just told him what he wanted to hear. 

Besides that, Bishimbayev contacted two women that day. One was micro-influencer Gulnara Nassyrbekova and an unknown woman written in his contacts as “Yulia Super.” Bishimbayev texted the latter at 7:24 pm, asking, “What are you doing? Are you free?” Her response, “I was doing lashes. What time?” came at 7:36 pm and was left unanswered. Nassyrbekova came to Bau to meet Bishimbayev and spent about an hour and a half there while Nukenova was dying next door. 

When Nassyrbekova came to court on 23 April to testify, she explained her message to Bishimbayev that day—“You smell like roses.” According to her, the message was mistakenly sent to Bishimbayev, as his name, Kuandyk, is very similar to the Kazakh word ‘Kudalyk,’ which is used for a daughter-in-law’s mother. So, the ‘roses’ message was meant for her, not Bishimbayev. 

However, internet users weren’t quick to believe her and found the other meaning of her message. The phrase reminded them of the English idiom “to come out smelling like roses,” which means “to have people believe that you are good and honest after a difficult situation that could have made you seem bad or dishonest.” Some even accused her of hiding evidence, such as his and Nukenova’s clothes. Following the ongoing accusations online Nassyrbekova, deleted her Instagram account. 

Bishimbayev’s main argument was that, during their short marriage, Nukenova’s jealousy was the reason for their fights, which, according to all the witnesses, happened often. The regularity of the couple’s fights was also the restaurant workers’ excuse when asked why they didn’t call the police when they saw them fighting that night. However, the witnesses, among which were Nukenova’s friends, family, and personal assistant, disclosed that the deceased had told them that Bishimbayev beat her, didn’t let her sleep because he wanted to talk to her all the time, never left her alone, and didn’t allow her to see her friends, to be active on social media, and to continue work. 

Nukenova was an astrologist, and before she married Bishimbayev, she was making around three million tenge (6,780 USD) per month, according to her assistant, Tasova Anara. After marrying Bishimbayev, she asked family members for small loans, which was unusual given how financially stable she was before marriage. Tasova also revealed that she saw “traces of suffocation and ropes” on Nukenova.

Bishimbayev denies his guilt, saying that it wasn’t torture and deliberate infliction of death with particular cruelty but the infliction of the bodily injuries on her, which resulted in her death through negligence. He claims that besides those beatings that were caught on CCTV, all the other bruises on Nukenova were a result of her falling and hitting herself on the toilet and the floor. However, these claims were disputed by the medical expert Takhir Khalimnazarov, whose professionalism and tenacity when responding to questions from Bishimbayev’s lawyers gained him the admiration and love of the public. His newly created Instagram page already has 131 thousand followers, thanking him for his work.

On 24 April, Judge Kulbayeva concluded the case proceedings, with debate expected to start on 29 April.

Although time will show what the future holds for Bishimbayev, Nukenova’s murder trial has already done a lot for Kazakhstani society by bringing awareness to the ongoing problem of domestic violence and sexual abuse that women and girls in the country are subject to. 

On 15 April, President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev signed the law on domestic violence “on ensuring the rights of women and the safety of children.” We previously reported on the new bill’s harsher sentences. Many called this law “Saltanat’s Law,” as they believe her death became the accelerator of real action against domestic abusers and sexual offenders.