The Peace Corps Sharp Incident in Kazahkstan

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Peace Corps Sharp Incident in Kazakhstan

The Peace Corps "Sharp Incident" in Kazakhstan

The Peace Corps Sharp Incident in Kazakhstan

There were a number of factors in Peace Corps' decision to suspend its program in Kazakhstan in November 2011 including a rash of terrorist attacks in recent months, four rapes or sexual assaults of Peace Corps Volunteers in the past year, and work related issues that have made it increasingly difficult for volunteers to conduct their work. However new information from US diplomatic cables reveals that there are elements in the "pro-Russian old-guard at the Committee for National Security (the KNB, successor to the KGB) aimed at discrediting the Peace Corps." One incident that provides insight into Peace Corps relations in Kazakhstan that has remained unreported until now, was the arrest and trial of Peace Corps Volunteer Tony Sharp who was sentenced to two years imprisonment in 2009 after "what appeared to be a classic Soviet-style set-up" by elements in the Kazakhstani government that want to damage bilateral relations with the United States. Sharp was freed and deported through the diplomatic efforts of US Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland and action by President Nazarbayev who understood the damage the case could cause the bilateral relationship and acted against the Committee for National Security (KNB), which likely cooked up the provocation against Sharp in the first place.

The Peace Corps "Sharp Incident" in Kazakhstan

The Peace Corps "Sharp Incident" in Kazakhstan

by Hugh Pickens


As previously reported in the article "Sexual Assaults and Terrorism Are Factors Leading Peace Corps to Suspend Program in Kazakhstan" the Peace Corps' decided in mid-November 2011 to suspend its program in Kazakhstan and remove the 117 Peace Corps volunteers serving in the country. There were a number of factors in the decision to suspend the program including a rash of terrorist attacks in recent months, four rapes or sexual assaults of Peace Corps Volunteers in the past year, and work related issues that have made it increasingly more difficult for volunteers to conduct their work.

New information reveals that relations between Peace Corps and the government of Kazakhstan have been strained for several years and that according to US diplomatic cables there are elements in the "pro-Russian old-guard at the Committee for National Security (KNB) aimed at discrediting the Peace Corps and damaging bilateral relations."

One incident that provides insight into Peace Corps relations in Kazakhstan that has remained unreported until now, was the arrest, trial, and imprisonment of Peace Corps Volunteer Tony Sharp in 2008 "in what appeared to be a classic Soviet-style set-up." We will be reporting on this story covering background on the story, the arrest of the Peace Corps Volunteer, efforts made by the US embassy for his release, the PCV's trial and imprisonment, the release of the PCV after US diplomatic intervention, and analysis of the incident.

Part 1: Background


Peace Corps Online

Caption: Central Downtown Astana, Kazakhstan.

"Kazakhstan is extremely different from the other countries of Central Asia. It's Eurasia, not Central Asia," says US Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland. "It's much more developed in many, many ways. The degree of its "human capacity" is truly impressive. It's a regional leader and an emerging world player." A meeting ground between Europe and Asia for more than 2,000 years, Kazakhstan and Central Asia was the place for ancient east-west trade routes (known collectively as the Silk Road) and, at various points in history, a cradle of scholarship, culture, and power. Kazakhstan lies at the heart of the great Eurasian steppe, the band of grasslands stretching from Mongolia to Hungary that has served for 1,000 years as the highway and grazing ground of nomadic horseback people. The Kazakhs remained largely nomadic until well into the 20th century and, as a result, have left no ancient cities or ruins. The name Kazakh is said to mean "free warrior" or "steppe roamer."

In 1989, as part of the new processes of perestroika and glasnost, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev appointed a Kazakh, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to replace an ethnic Russian as the head of the Kazakh Communist Party. In early 1992, Nazarbayev was elected president of the country by popular vote. Nazarbayev insisted that he and other Central Asian leaders be considered "founding members" of the new Commonwealth of Independent States. Nazarbayev still serves as president and advocates a secular Western- oriented regime, like that in Turkey, under centralized leadership.

With independence, there has been a rise in Kazakh nationalism. The government adopted Kazakh as the official language of the country and required that civil servants eventually master the language. However, Russian is still the working language of Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian republics. While the government continues to promote Kazakh nationalism, it also seeks to assure the Slavic and other ethnic communities that they have a place in the nation.

Kazakhstan's government is a parliamentary democracy, headquartered in the newly founded capital of Astana. It has three branches: presidential, legislative, and judicial, as well as a constitutional court. The majority of political power is concentrated in the presidential branch of the government, headed by President Nazarbayev. On the regional level, Kazakhstan is broken up into 14 provinces, or oblasts, each with a mayor, or akim. All oblast akims are appointed by the president. Provinces are further divided into rayons (like a county in the U.S.) and cities, each with presidentially appointed leaders.

Peace Corps Program in Kazakhstan

Peace Corps Online

Since the first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in 1993, almost 1,000 Volunteers have served in Kazakhstan. The first group consisted of 50 English language and economic development Volunteers. Peace Corps/Kazakhstan's objective is to increase the knowledge and improve the skills of Kazakhstani citizens, strengthening their ability to compete in the global marketplace. Volunteers meet this objective by participating with Kazakhstanis in community work and life, focusing on two program areas-education and youth development.


In Kazakhstan, English is viewed increasingly as a tool to help students get access to information and technology, achieve broader academic goals, and pursue more diverse professional opportunities. Peace Corps/Kazakhstan assisted the Kazakhstani Ministry of Education by improving English language education throughout the country. Education Volunteers were placed in village schools where students have had little chance to tap into the kinds of learning to move them up the economic ladder.

Outside the classroom, Volunteers became involved in a range of activities, depending on their their community's needs as well as their interests and skills. Volunteers worked with their local counterparts to organize summer camps, environmental clubs, student-run companies, and HIV/AIDS training to name a few.

Youth Development

Youth development is a growing sector in Kazakhstan. Youth development Volunteers worked with youth nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), schools, extracurricular educational institutions, and local government officials. The program had three pillars, including Healthy Lifestyles, World of Work, and Leadership. Youth development Volunteers focused their efforts in the three pillars on three levels of beneficiaries. Volunteers worked directly with youth, with front line youth workers, and with organizational managers to improve youth development program delivery. To accomplish their goals, Volunteers used tools for participatory analysis for community action (PACA), project design and management, lesson planning techniques, interactive extracurricular activities, appropriate approaches to working with orphans and special needs youth, as well as effective organizational management, grant writing and fundraising, and facilitation techniques. As it is with all Volunteers, building community relationships was especially important for youth development Volunteers.

The Mining Community of Ridder

Peace Corps Online

Caption: Ridder, Kazakhstan.

The mining town of Ridder where many of the events in the Sharp case took place, has a population of 60,000 and is located in northeastern Kazakhstan near the border with Russia and China. Close to the Russian and Chinese borders, Ridder seems almost like a living relic of the Soviet Union. There has been little change to the town's infrastructure since Kazakhstan became independent. No new buildings have been built in Ridder, the same mines continue to fuel the city's economy and pollute the environment, and Russian remains the dominant language. The most significant changes since Kazakhstan's independence have been the installation of ethnic Kazakhs in positions of power throughout the city, and the introduction of the market economy, which has led to significant growth in trade with China. Partially as a result of the influx of cheap Chinese goods, Ridder's cost of living is half of that in Astana or Almaty, although low wages outside of mining and high unemployment pose serious economic challenges. Residents say that the global economic crisis is hitting the city hard. Ridder's inhabitants say they are eager to learn English and interact with foreigners, and many report that they travel frequently to Russia and China. Overall, most residents of Ridder seem attached to their small border town, but many express concern about the pollution from mining and metallurgy, on which their city depends.

Emphasizing its roots as a Russian and later a Soviet pioneer settlement, many residents still prefer to call the town by its former name, Leninogorsk. In many ways, Ridder seems frozen in time. Mostly Soviet-made "Lada" cars ply streets named after Soviet World War II heroes and giants of Russian literature. Mines and factories belch out smoke. In the center of the city, housing consists mainly of concrete Soviet apartment blocks. In stark contrast to Astana or Almaty, visitors do not observe any new construction. Most locals still call Ridder's main thoroughfare, Independence Street, by its former name -- Lenin Street. Surrounding Lenin Street is a large, central town-square, with a monument to the many citizens of Ridder who gave their lives during the Great Patriotic War on one side. On the other side is the the Palace of Culture, which, based on old photos in the Ridder City Museum, also appears to have remained unchanged from the Soviet period.

A visit by a Political Officer from the US Embassy in April, 2009 disclosed that many residents of Ridder have a positive view of the Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Ridder over the years. "For those interested in English, The Political Officer's interlocutors praised the role of the Peace Corps in providing Ridder's youth with opportunities to develop their English. The Political Officer observed that residents gathered every Sunday in the local library to practice English with all the foreigners in town. The Political Officer also met with three families who had hosted Peace Corps volunteers, all of whom said that the Peace Corps Program is critical to helping the people of Ridder. One local resident, who sold fish out of a container truck in the local market, reminisced at length about her close personal relationship with the young woman who had lived with her family. She said that it was because of this experience that her son, who is studying English and Chinese in Ust-Kamenogorsk, already speaks excellent English, and had even interpreted for an ambassador visiting the region."

Part 2: Arrest of a Peace Corps Volunteer

Peace Corps Volunteer Tony Sharp

Peace Corps Online

Caption: Peace Corps Volunteer Tony Sharp on a camping trip outside Ridder, Kazakhstan in October 2007.

Peace Corps Volunteer Anthony Kavanaugh Sharp entered pre-service training in Talghar, Kazakhstan on August 22, 2006, received 10 weeks of intensive technical, cross-cultural, safety and security, and language training, and was sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kaz 18 group on November 11, 2006.

Sharp was assigned to the isolated East Kazakhstan Oblast town of Ridder, in the mountains north of Oskemen (Ust Kamenogorsk) in northeastern Kazakhstan, where he worked with the Non-governmental Organization named Ak-Kem-Ridder, an ecological-interest NGO specializing in ecological preservation, education and tourism, forest sustainability and restoration of forests. Sharp worked on projects such as: Save Your Forest (a tree planning and ecological seminar program) Global Environmental Fund (Collective Video); Clean the Ulba River (six kilometer river bank clean-up project); Idea Wild (compass reading seminars); Grey Meadow (eco-tourism base camp); HIV/AIDS education; Tri-lingual Ridder Museum Display; Cabin construction and tee pee building; and the Tree farming Cross-cultural club English conversation club.

Sharp was scheduled to complete his Peace Corps service and depart Kazakhstan on December 2, 2008.

Sharp's Arrest

On November 26, 2008, just days before the end of his Peace Corps tour, police took Sharp into custody at about 2 am after they spotted him climbing a fence to leave a restricted zinc mining complex near Ridder. Sharp was carrying a bag which contained what police described as industrial explosives commonly used in mining. In a subsequent search of Sharp's residence, police took several maps, his cell phone, camera, computer, a number of CD-ROMs and some hiking/outdoor gear. In the search of Sharp's apartment, authorities said they found a "top secret map, proving that Sharp is an American spy."

Police questioned Sharp throughout most of Thanksgiving day, but released him that evening without charges. Police took Sharp's passport and told him he could not leave Kazakhstan until the investigation, which could take up to two months, was complete. Police said they would likely charge Sharp under section 25.1 of the Kazakhstani legal code, illegal possession of firearms (explosives) and that Sharp, if charged and convicted, could face a maximum of five years in prison.

Sharp's Account of What Happened

According to Sharp, he went to the mining complex at the suggestion of his Kazakhstani counterpart and supervisor, Aleksei Aleksandrovich Grigorenko, from the NGO where he was assigned to work as a Peace Corps Volunteer and with Mikhail Vasilivich Petin, a friend of his supervisor's who was familiar with the mine. According to Sharp, he had long been curious about the mine and had quickly agreed when his supervisor suggested a visit. While they were at the mine, Sharp says his supervisor picked up several items and placed them in a bag the supervisor was carrying.

As the three were about to leave the restricted area, Grigorenko asked Sharp to hold his bag while he climbed the fence. As the three departed the restricted area after midnight on November 27, mine security and local Ministry of Interior (MVD) police detained Sharp and claimed to find industrial explosives in "his" bag. Sharp says he did not know what the items were and that he only took the bag as he was getting ready to climb the fence to leave the mine. Police did not apprehend Sharp's supervisor or the third man.

Sharp says that the map authorities found during a search of his apartment was a Soviet map from the 1960s that Sharp had bought in the bazaar as a souvenir.

US Consular Officer Comes to Ridder to Visit Sharp

Peace Corps Online

Caption: Ridder, Kazakhstan.

On December 3, 2008, a Consular Officer visited Sharp in Ridder. At the time of the Consular Officer's visit, an additional PCV was in Ridder to provide moral support to Sharp. The Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer had also visited Ridder and Peace Corps arranged for legal representation. Sharp had no health issues and did not make any specific requests of the Embassy. The Consular Officer was in regular contact with Sharp's family in Oregon.

The Consular Officer also met with the Ridder police investigator assigned to Sharp's case, the senior investigator, the Deputy Chief of Police and the Chief of Police. They said the case file and all evidence, including the items taken from Sharp's residence, had been sent to the Oskemen Ministry of Internal Affairs regional office for examination. They were awaiting instructions from their superiors in Oskemen before taking further steps, but all the police officials said they expected Sharp would be charged. The investigators both said they believed Sharp had been used by others, but that they did not know by whom or why, and that they did not think that Sharp's actions were motivated by criminal intent. The Chief of Police also mentioned that some of the maps found in Sharp's residence could possibly be considered military secrets although Sharp said they were Soviet-era topographical maps of the region purchased locally soon after he arrived.

On December 4, 2008, the American Charge and Consular Officer met with Talgat Kaliyev, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Americas Desk, and his consular assistant regarding the case. Kaliyev was aware of the details of the case and said he believed it to be a serious matter. He pointed out that Sharp was in a restricted area in the middle of the night and that markings on the maps found in his residence were of interest. Kaliyev said that he was concerned that Sharp's explanation of his actions did not reflect his true intentions but promised, however, to help resolve the matter as expeditiously as possible.

Kaliyev raised the cases of Asel Abdygapparova, currently serving a life sentence in Texas for capital murder, and Talapker Imanbayev. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that this was not a "tit for tat" but that they simply wanted to see "what the possibility was" of Abdygapparova serving the remainder of her sentence in Kazakhstan and returning Imanbayev to serve time for a previous Kazakhstani fraud conviction.

Sharp Charged with Illegal Possession of Firearms (Explosives)

On December 31, 2008 the Ministry of Interior investigator recommended Sharp be charged with violating Article 251, Part 1, of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan, for illegal possession of firearms (explosives), which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Sharp was the only one of the three men in the mine who was apprehended and although Sharp had video and photos to prove otherwise, the investigators refused to look at them. According to Sharp, the police received a tip-off as early as 20:00 hours that night that there would be trespassers at the mine, the bag he was caught with that allegedly contained explosives was not his, and the driver of the taxi they used to reach the mine gave false testimony. Further, the investigators refused to check records of Grigorenko's cell-phone calls that night.

Part 3: The US Embassy Works to Secure Sharp's Release

The US Ambassador Intervenes

Peace Corps Online

Caption: US Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland.

One of the most important figures in negotiating the successful outcome to the Sharp affair was US Ambassador Richard Hoagland. Hoagland previously served as US Ambassador to Tajikistan 2003-2006, and recently served as Charge d'affaires to Turkmenistan July 2007-July 2008. Hoagland felt a great affinity for the Peace Corps. In an interview with the Peace Corps Newsletter, "Vesti" in 2009, Hoagland disclosed that he was a volunteer English teacher in an isolated village in Congo Kinshasa from 1974 to 1976. Although Hoagland was not in the Peace Corps but in another volunteer organization he said he greatly values that experience and has absolutely indelible memories of that time. "Also, my sister was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines in the late 1970s and managed an agricultural project to develop a mango plantation for a remote village, for small-scale economic development," said Hoagland. "She always tells me the most important job she ever had was on the isolated island of Bohol in the Philippines, setting up a mango plantation as an economic development project – which the corrupt mayor expropriated, once it became successful. Nu I shto – such is life! Peace Corps is one of the great U.S. people-to-people achievements of the 20th century, now continuing into the 21st century. As the advertisement says, "It's the most difficult job you'll ever love!" And it's one of the most important things we as a nation do all over the world."

On December 12, 2008 US Ambassador Hoagland met with President Nursultan Nazarbayev's Foreign Policy Adviser Yerzhan Kazykhanov. Kazykhanov said he was unaware that a Peace Corps Volunteer in the town of Ridder was under investigation for trespassing at a restricted zinc mine and allegedly carrying industrial explosives. Ambassador Hoagland summarized the case for Kazykhanov and emphasized that he expected every U.S. citizen in Kazakhstan to obey the laws of the country; however, if the young man in question was guilty of anything it was of naivete and bad judgment. The Ambassador emphasized we fully agree with the Foreign Ministry that we want this handled quietly and kept out of the media but the young man's parents are increasingly frustrated and have said they might contact U.S. journalists to publicize this case to try to speed its resolution. The Ambassador pressed that the investigation be completed quickly and that the young man be deported as soon as possible. Kazykhanov said he fully agreed that we do not want this incident to become a bilateral irritant. He said he would "talk around" to see what could be done to expedite the case and conclude it satisfactorily, but added he could make no promises at this point.

On December 29, 2008 Ambassador Hoagland raised the Sharp case with Kazakhstan's self-described Number Two and President Nazarbayev's confidante, State Secretary Kanat Saudabayev, pointed out the inconsistencies in the case and said the US strongly suspected a set-up by those who would seek to harm the image of the Peace Corps and the bilateral relationship between the US and Kazakhstan. Saudabayev said he was unaware of the case but would look into it.

On December 31, 2008 Hoagland met again with State Secretary Kanat Saudabayev. Saudabayev credibly responded he was unaware of the case of Peace Corps Volunteer Anthony Sharp and asked, "Is this the KNB (Committe for National Security, the pro-Moscow ex-KGB intelligence service) or MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs)?" The Ambassador responded, "MVD is investigating, but we strongly suspect the KNB is at the root of this. We consider the case, based on concrete evidence, a clear provocation and totally incompatible with our positive relationship. We are outraged, but we want this to continue to be kept quiet, out of the media. I insist to all American citizens in Kazakhstan that they must follow Kazakhstan's laws. In this case, as soon as the investigation is concluded, no matter the outcome, we want you to deport Sharp -- get this off the bilateral agenda. This is an irritant you do not want for the new U.S. administration." Saudabayev picked up his cell phone, dialed a number, but received no answer. He said, "We'll take care of this."

The Appearance of Political Provocation

On January 6, 2009 the Ambassador met with Saudabayev's Chief of Staff Roman Vassilenko and went through the case in detail, emphasizing the suspicion that this was a provocation designed to harm the bilateral relationship. On January 9, the Ambassador presented a non-paper to Saudabayev that concluded with the following paragraphs:

"Should the case go to court, it is likely to become public. Neither Kazakhstan nor the United States wants that kind of publicity -- especially at the beginning of the new administration of U.S. President Barak Obama, who has already made a welcome gesture (a post-election phone call) to President Nazarbayev of his intention to build further our bilateral relationship."

"I am convinced this case is a political provocation specifically designed to harm U.S.-Kazakhstani relations -- although I emphasize I do not believe the highest level of the government of Kazakhstan was aware of the provocation."

"I ask that the government of Kazakhstan intevene at the highest levels to dismiss this case, declare Sharp persona non grata, and deport him immediately. I am certain the leadership of Kazakhstan wants this unpleasant situation concluded before the inauguration of President Obama on January 20."

Saudabayev stepped into his private office with Vassilenko to read the paper. He then had Vassilenko tell the Ambassador, "The case is 'more complicated' than he first thought, and he can do nothing."

According a US Embassy Cable written on January 12, 2009, "Assuming Sharp is telling us the truth, and we have no reason to doubt him, we strongly suspect this case is indeed a political provocation: Sharp went to the restricted zinc mine at Grigorenko's instigation; Grigorgenko handed Sharp a bag to hold as they were about the exit the mine premises; law-enforcement authorities allegedly received a tip-off call earlier in the evening and were waiting for them; the investigators have refused to examine all evidence. When an Embassy Consuar Officer met with local law-enforcement officials in Ridder on December 3, they told him they believed Sharpe "had been used by others" and they did not think he acted with criminal intent. Law-enforcement officials planting firearms/explosives/drugs on an intended victim is a classic Soviet-style maneuver in this part of the world."

"Why would the government do this? We know from their many interventions during the past months that the government, and specifically Committee for National Security (KNB) Chairman Amangeldy Shabdarbayev, remains disappointed at best and deeply annoyed that the United States refuses to assist Kazakhstan with what it considers its most urgent and high-profile case, the extradition from Europe of Nazarbayev's former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev. Further, we know that Russia's intent is to limit U.S. influence and presence in Central Asia, and Kazakhstan's KNB is extremely close to Russian intelligence agencies. Peace Corps would be an extremely low-hanging fruit."

Sharp's Apartment Attacked

At about 04:00 hours on January 11, 2009 someone threw a piece of metal through a window of the apartment where Sharp was living. He was not injured and no other windows in the apartment building were broken. Later in the day Sharp left his apartment and moved back in with his original host family. Peace Corps Country Director Sasser instructed Sharp to report the incident to the police and advised him to take extra precautions, like not walking around the town alone at night.

Kazakhstan Proposes a Deal on the Sharp Case

After State Secretary Kanat Saudabayev declined to intervene in the criminal case involving Sharp, the US Ambassador raised the matter with Presidential Foreign Policy Advisor (and former Deputy Foreign Minister) Kairat Sarybay and on January 15, the Ambassador provided Sarybay with the same non-paper on the case that he had given to Saudabayev. Sarybay phoned the Ambassador on January 20 and informed him that he had tasked resolving the issue to Ministry of Foreign Affairs Americas Department Director Talgat Kaliyev.

On January 21, 2009, Kaliyev called in the Political-Economic Chief from the US Embassy and explained that he had spoken with "many people" involved with the case and had stressed to them the potential "political complications" for the bilateral relationship adding that unfortunately, it was not simply possible to make the case disappear, given that Sharp was allegedly caught with explosives and that "classified maps" were found in his apartment. That said, there was a recognition that Sharp had no "evil intentions."

Kaliyev made a proposal to resolve the situation. This would entail a trial -- a perfunctory one -- in a closed court, without any media or publicity. Sharp would be found guilty, given a suspended sentence, and immediately deported from the country. Kaliyev said this proposal would be acceptable to all the relevant parties among the authorities.

The US Political-Economic Chief promised that the US would review the proposal and get back to Kaliyev as soon as possible and stressed that the US believed the case against Sharp was a clear provocation and are concerned that it might have originated from Astana, and that the Committee for National Security (KNB) could be involved. Kaliyev responded dismissively. The KNB is, of course, well aware of the case, since it involves a foreigner, but "they are not happy with it," Kaliyev maintained.

Kaliyev told the US Political-Economic Chief that it was important that Peace Corps volunteers behave appropriately and not get themselves in trouble and requested information about the legal basis for the Peace Corps program in Kazakhstan, including whether the program had a formal bilateral agreement with the government. The US Political-Economic Chief said he would obtain this information from the Peace Corps.

US Responds to the Proposal

Peace Corps Online

Caption: The US Embassy in Kazakhstan.

On January 23, 2009 the US Political-Economic Chief, Peace Corps Country Director, and Consular Chief met together with Kaliyev who was accompanied by Tauboldy Umbetbayev from the Ministry of Foreign Affair's Consular Department. Kaliyev reiterated his proposal for resolving the Sharp case. He made it clear that he had, in fact, spoken directly with the judge overseeing the case. According to Kaliyev, the judge cannot simply release Sharp, because he was caught with dynamite in a bag, and items found in his apartment "do not conform to his legal status in the country." Nevertheless, the Kazakhstani side is ready to close its eyes to all of this in the spirit of our good bilateral relationship and the fact that Sharp did not have any evil intentions. Kaliyev insisted that we should not worry -- Sharp will not spend any time in jail. He said he had briefed Foreign Minister Tazhin, who agreed with the proposal and that Presidential Foreign Policy Advisor Sarybay was also in the loop.

Kaliyev insisted that this proposal is the best option for Sharp to be free to leave the country. If Sharp wants to, he is welcome to appeal the guilty verdict from the safety of the United States. Kaliyev said that a US consular officer could be present at a closed trial, and said he would check to confirm that Sharp's lawyers could be there too. As Kaliyev envisions it, this would be a very quick affair. Perhaps the judge would just read out the charges, immediately hand down a guilty verdict, and suspend the sentence. Kaliyev refused to speculate on the outcome if the proposal is declined and the case goes to a public trial. The Pol-Econ Chief, Consular Chief, and Peace Corp Director made clear to Kaliyev that the final decision about whether to accept the proposal would be Sharp's to make, in consultation with his lawyers.

The US Consular chief and Peace Corps Director told Kaliyev that they had spoken with Sharp's attorneys and understood that it is possible in the Kazakhstani legal system to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Sharp might be willing to plead guilty to trespassing, a crime which carries a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail, if the others charges, including the explosives charge, are dropped. Kaliyev said that there is only so far he can go in interfering in the legal process, but promised to look into the possibility and get back to us with an answer about this alterative by January 27.

The Peace Corps Director reminded Kaliyev that in his January 21 meeting with the US Pol-Econ Chief, he had asked about the legal status of the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. He explained that the Peace Corps has an overall bilateral agreement with the government, and three separate Memoransum of Understanding's under it, with the Ministries of Education and Science, Information and Culture, and Trade and Industry. Kaliyev indicated that there are "some in the government" who want to know how long the agreement is valid for, and how Kazakhstan can terminate it and admitted that in this regard, Sharp's conviction on explosives charges would be a problem for the Peace Corps program in Kazakhstan. However, Kaliyev stressed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports the Peace Corps -- "we believe your people are doing a great job" -- and said that there is no reason to be worried about the future of the Peace Corps "for now."

Sharp Prepares for Trial

Peace Corps hired new attorneys for Sharp through the Almaty office of Chadbourne and Parke and they began working on the case on January 22. The attorneys believed that the case was very weak and were preparing a vigorous defense. Court proceedings were, at that time, scheduled to begin on January 28.

Peace Corps Director and Consular Chief were to travel to Ridder on January 26 together with Sharp's lawyers and they would inform Sharp and the lawyers about the government's proposal, as well as the discussion with Kaliyev about a guilty plea to trespassing. "Sharp will need to make his own decision about the government's proposal, in consultation with the lawyers," reads a US diplomatic cable. "That said, at this juncture, it is clear that the government will not simply make this case go away by deporting Sharp without any trial. If the case goes to trial in an open court, the attendant publicity may make it very unlikely for Sharp to be acquitted or to be convicted and given a suspended sentence. In addition, should Sharp's lawyers be successful in poking holes in the case, the judge might send it back for reinvestigation, causing a delay that could last for months. We hope to hear back from Kaliyev on January 27 about the alternative of a guilty plea to trespassing. Sharp spoke with Peace Corps Director on January 23 following the meeting with Kaliyev and said that the police were in the process of again searching his office and the office of Ak-Em Ridder, the local organization he had previously worked for as a volunteer."

Sharp Accepts the Proposal to Resolve the Criminal Case

The US Consular Chief and Peace Corps Country Director traveled to Ridder on January 26, together with the newly-hired lawyers for Sharp and briefed Sharp and the lawyers about the proposal made by Ministry of Foreign Affairs Americas Department head Talgat Kaliyev for resolving Sharp's criminal case -- specifically, that after a brief closed trial, Sharp would be found guilty, given a suspended sentence, and immediately deported from the country. Consular Chief and Peace Corps Country Director also told Sharp about the alternative the Embassy proposed to Kaliyev -- i.e., that Sharp would consider pleading guilty to a lesser charge of trespassing, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail, if all the other charges, including the explosives charge, were dropped.

Sharp's legal team -- which included a corporate lawyer from Chadbourne and Parke overseeing the case, a criminal defense attorney, and a former judge from Ust-Kamenogorsk -- explained to Consular Chief and Peace Corps Director that they believe the case against Sharp is weak, and that in a fair, open trial, they would prevail in getting the charges reduced to administrative ones. Sharp's initial reaction was that he preferred the Embassy's plea-bargain alternative over Kaliyev's proposal. Sharp also reported that police from Ust-Kamenogorsk appeared to be investigating a new case against him, connected to "secret" Soviet topographical maps from the 1960s which were found in his apartment.

Pol-Econ Chief met on January 27 with Kaliyev, who on this occasion declined to directly address the Embassy's alternative proposal. Instead, he insisted that Sharp should accept his own proposal, promising that there would be nothing to worry about and that everything would be finished within a week or so. Kaliyev, however, left open the possibility that in the end, the judge might not convict Sharp on all the criminal charges. He also made clear that he had directly discussed the case with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and Procurator General's Office. He assured Pol-Econ Chief not to be concerned about the new investigation against Sharp: "That's just part of the game."

Pol-Econ Chief relayed the gist of the Kaliyev meeting to Consular Chief, who informed Sharp. On the basis of Kaliyev's reassurances, Sharp agreed to accept Kaliyev's proposal. Pol-Econ Chief immediately informed Kaliyev and asked him to relay the acceptance to all the other relevant parties among the authorities.

Part 4: Sharp Goes to Trial

Peace Corps Online

On February 26, 2009, the trial of Peace Corp Volunteer Anthony Sharp was completed in Ridder and the judge handed down his verdict. Sharp was sentenced to two years in prison on the explosives charges. After sentencing Sharp was taken away in handcuffs for prison in-processing.

Sharp's Trial

Court proceedings in Sharp's case began in Ridder on January 28, 2009. Somewhat surprisingly, the initial proceedings were not closed to the public. The Consular Chief and Peace Corps Country Director attended, along with Sharp and his lawyers. After just 30 minutes, the proceedings were adjourned until January 30. Sharp's lawyers believed the proceedings might continue into the week of February 2, but should not go on any longer than that and they planned on putting into the record all their evidence to counter the procurator's case, but would not file motions that might delay an end to the proceedings. Consular Chief reported from Ridder that he was relatively comfortable with the current course of events and that he and the Peace Corps Country Director would remain in Ridder to continue attending court sessions.

Sharp was moved from his residence to the hotel where the Consular Chief, Peace Corps Country Director, and the lawyers were staying. This step was taken after police knocked on the door of Sharp's residence very late in the evening on January 27. "Sharp will henceforth be accompanied at all times by a lawyer or US Embassy representative, to ensure that there are no opportunities for further provocations against him."

The Verdict

On February 26, 2009, the trial of Peace Corp Volunteer Anthony Sharp was completed in Ridder and the judge handed down his verdict. Sharp was sentenced to two years in prison on the explosives charges. After sentencing Sharp was taken away in handcuffs for prison in-processing.

US Ambassador Meets with Kazakhstani Officials

That same day Ambassador Hoagland met in his office with Presidential Advisor Yermukhamet Yertysbayev and explained the situation to Yertsybayev, who offered to bring it to the attention of other officials in the Presidential Administration. Following the meeting, the US embassy drafted a non-paper, translated it into Russian, and sent it to Yertysbayev. The non-paper explained that (1) we consider the case against Sharp to be a political provocation; (2) the verdict violated our understanding with the Kazakhstani government that Sharp would be given a suspended sentence and deported; (3) we would try to keep the verdict out of the U.S. media, but once it hit the press, the news would cause serious damage to the bilateral relationship; and (4) we expected the Kazakhstani government to take immediate steps to rectify the situation and deport Sharp.

The embassy phoned Talgat Kaliyev, who until recently was head of the Ministry of Foreign Relations Americas Department, and who had been tasked by Sarybay to handle the Sharp case. Kaliyev had reassured the US repeatedly over the past several weeks that everything was fine, and that Sharp would be given a suspended sentence and deported. Kaliyev was surprised to learn of the verdict.

At the same time, the Ambassador tried to call Sarybay, whose staff said he was unavailable to take the Ambassador's call. The Ambassador then called State Secretary Saudabayev's Chief of Staff, Roman Vassilenko, relayed the key points from the non-paper, and asked him to inform Saudabayev.

The Ambassador subsequently managed to reach Foreign Minister Tazhin, who was suffering from a bad cold, and relayed to him all the details. He asked Tazhin to call Sarybay immediately, which Tazhin agreed to do. Tazhin also promised to "gather the right people" the following morning and get back to the Ambassador.

Tazhin kept to his word, and called in the Ambassador early afternoon February 27. He told the Ambassador that Sharp would be released from prison as early as that day. He promised the government would follow through on its original commitment -- that Sharp receive a suspended sentence and be deported -- within 30 days, so long as we keep the case out the media. He explained that everything would be fixed through the judicial appeals process, and assured the Ambassador that the Supreme Court was already on board.

During a one-on-one conversation, Tazhin explained to the Ambassador that the hardest thing he had had to do in his intergovernmental meeting earlier that day was to push back against the Ministry of Internal Affairs and "other bodies" -- meaning the Committee for National Security (KNB) -- not on the explosives charges against Sharp, but rather regarding the fact that during a search of Sharp's apartment after his initial detention, the authorities had found a "top secret map, proving that Sharp is an American spy." The Ambassador told Tazhin, simply for his own information, that the map was a Soviet map from the 1960s that Sharp had bought in the bazaar as a souvenir. In a follow-on conversation, Talgat Kaliyev said the lesson he had learned was "you can't trust those guys (i.e., KNB) to keep their word." The Ambassador subsequently contacted Roman Vassilenko, who assured him that State Secretary Saudabayev had been involved with the case the previous evening and had briefed President Nazarabayev.

Sharp Released from Jail but Confined to Ridder

Talgat Kaliyev then worked to get Sharp out of jail, which, according to Kaliyev, included his phoning Ridder City Court Chairman Bulat Zagiyev. Per Kaliyev's instructions, the Ambassador wrote a letter to Zagiyev requesting that Sharp be released into the embassy's custody, and be allowed to travel to Astana for a medical evaluation. The US embassy faxed the letter to Ridder and several hours later, a court hearing was held to review the request, with Sharp's lawyers and the prosecutors in attendance.

The court ordered Sharp released from jail, but denied the request to allow him to travel in Astana, and instead insisted that he move back into his former apartment in Ridder. Because Sharp's landlord is not allowing him to return to the apartment, Sharp's lawyers have filed a motion with the court requesting that he be allowed to stay in the Ridder hotel where he has been residing for the past several weeks. On March 2, Sharp's lawyers appealed the denial of the request to allow Sharp to travel to Astana. Talgat Kaliyev indicated to embassy members that they should not press this latter issue too hard.

The US Ambassador was in contact with Sharp and both of his parents during February 28 and March 1. He assured them that though he could not provide all the sensitive details, the government had promised to satisfactorily resolve Sharp's case within a month. Sharp and his parents agreed with the necessity of keeping the case out of the media.

Foreign Minister Recommends a Meeting with the President

Foreign Minister Tazhin called in the US Ambassador on March 2, and reaffirmed that everything remained on track in resolving the Sharp case. He emphasized several times how "difficult and irritating" his February 27 intra-governmental meeting had been, and recommended the Ambassador request a meeting with President Nazarbayev to discuss the issue. Tazhin explained, "I have my views based on broader foreign relations and the bilateral relationship, but 'others' have other views" -- thus making it clear that Nazarbayev would be the ultimate arbiter. He did not try very hard to hide whom he meant by "others," because he said he understands "them" since he headed "that committee" -- meaning the KNB -- for a time.

Tazhin recommended the Ambassador's approach with Nazarbayev should be that we are deeply sorry and sincerely apologize, and are grateful Kazakhstan is finding a way to solve this problem -- since the "situation gives a bad impression" and we understand that it is in President Nazarbayev's hands to decide.

US Ambassador Meets with Presidential Administration Head

Ambassador Hoagland met with Presidential Administration head Aslan Musin on March 3 to discuss the Sharp case. The Ambassador briefed Musin on all the latest developments, including his discussions with Foreign Minister Tazhin, and provided Musin with two non-papers on the case that the embassy had previously given officials in the Presidential Administration. He explained to Musin that the US wants the case resolved in accordance with the Kazakhstani government's commitment to us -- i.e., that Sharp be given a suspended sentence and deported -- and avoid having the case become a major irritant in the bilateral relationship, especially at the beginning of a new Administration.

Musin thanked the Ambassador for all the information. He said the Sharp case was a small issue, but it nevertheless is important for the bilateral relationship. He agreed we should prevent it from becoming a major problem. However, Musin maintained that according to the Kazakhstani government's information, Sharp has committed violations of the law -- though taking into account the bilateral relationship, a court did issue a decision to release him from jail. Musin said the Ambassador's direct involvement in requesting the release played a big role in the decision to grant it. He said he hoped Sharp's attorneys take all the Ambassador's points into account in their appeal of the verdict, and argued that a lot will depend on the professionalism of the lawyers. Musin emphasized that the case will proceed with strict adherence to Kazakhstani law.

Kazakhstan Pushes Back on Charges of "Political Provocation"

Musin then noted that the US non-papers stated that Sharp was caught up in a political provocation and stressed that he disagreed with this characterization, saying, "I want you to explain what you mean, because I'm not aware of any political organizations in Kazakhstan that would entrap him." The Ambassador responded that the non-paper was not aimed at criticizing Kazakhstan, that we recognize the importance of all Americans in Kazakhstan following the law, and admit that Sharp committed a legal violation by trespassing into a restricted area. However, the explosives charge against Sharp looks very suspicious to us. The Ambassador stressed that he is not a lawyer and thus does not want to argue the legal details, but said he would be pleased to provide Musin with the transcripts from Sharp's trial that would make clear why we came to our point of view about the Sharp case.

Musin agreed that because neither he nor the Ambassadors are lawyers, there was no need to get into the intricacies of the case; rather, what matters is the fate of a human being, who both sides are concerned about. "I think we need to take advantage of all the possibilities in our law to provide him relief. His family must be worried about him." The Ambassador explained he had personally spoken to Sharp's parents. They are concerned about their son, but agreed with the importance of keeping the case out of the media. He then noted that the Peace Corps will soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary, and explained that there have not been many occasions in the organization's history when a single volunteer commanded such high-level political attention.

Musin responded, "I'm very aware of the Peace Corps' mission, and have plenty of information about the organization, from my own personal knowledge and from our organs" -- meaning the Committee for National Security (KNB) -- "and I understand the Peace Corps does noble deeds around the world, but incidents do happen, because people are people, and I don't want to generalize this situation. We are talking specifically about Sharp's fate, and I hope that everything works out for him." "As for bilateral relations," he continued, "they will keep on developing, though lots will depend on how we interpret various incidents. The highest levels of our government do not know of any political organization that wants to harm the bilateral relationship. We recognize the critical role the United States plays in the world." Musin added that the Kazakhstani government wants its laws observed not just by its own citizens, but also by foreigners residing in Kazakhstan. The Ambassador said he agreed foreigners must obey local law and thanked Musin for his personal attention to the case.

Approximately two hours after the Musin meeting, the Ministry of Foreign Relation's Talgat Kaliyev phoned to ask that the Ambassador meet with him later in the day. At a late afternoon meeting on March 3, Kaliyev told the Ambassador that Foreign Minister Tazhin was unhappy with the results of the Musin meeting. Kaliyev said there was no reason to have given Musin the non-papers stating we believed the case against Sharp is a provocation, and that he is innocent of the most serious charges. "You should have just expressed your thanks for Musin's assistance, and promised that this won't happen again. This has complicated my own situation. Please don't take this approach with President Nazarbayev." "Musin called me directly," Kaliyev continued, "and asked why the issue of provocation was raised. Maybe he expected to hear something different. It's a question of mentality. This is the kind of thing you can tell me, but not everyone."

"I'm not a judge or prosecutor," Kaliyev explained, "I just want to protect the bilateral relationship. Tazhin put me personally in charge of the case. I'm directly in touch with all the officials in Ridder and with Sharp's lawyers. Tazhin yelled at me about what happened today with Musin. I promised him the U.S. Embassy will follow all the appropriate judicial procedures. Please just follow my lead for the next few weeks."

The Ambassador responded that he had been asked to meet with Musin by another senior official -- i.e., by State Secretary Saudabayev -- and that he regretted that the Musin meeting might have caused a problem for Tazhin. Hoagland also pushed back, noting that we had followed the MFA's guidance all along and had been very surprised when our agreement fell apart and Sharp was sentenced to prison. The Ambassador nevertheless reiterated his thanks for the important role Tazhin played in getting Sharp released from jail. It is important that Musin be briefed on the case too, given that he is close to Nazarbayev, he explained. The Ambassador said his approach with Nazarbayev would of course be different, should Nazarbayev agree to his request for a meeting to discuss the case.

On March 12, 2009 Presidential Foreign Policy Adviser Kairat Sarybay called in Ambassador Hoagland to discuss the criminal case against Peace Corps volunteer Anthony Sharp. Magzhen Iliyasov, the seemingly pro-Western director of the Presidential Administration's Foreign Policy Center and President Nazarbayev's personal interpreter, also attended the meeting but did not speak up. Sarybay told the Ambassador, "You asked for my advice, so I'll be very honest. We're dealing with a very specific issue with the Sharp case, but it's growing. My feeling is that any further allegations of a 'political provocation' would not be constructive." Sarybay said that both sides should put the matter behind them, and that the Ambassador should tell President Nazarbayev he regrets that Sharp violated the law but that he did it unthinkingly. "This would create a good environment for us to move forward in accordance with your discussions with Foreign Minister Tazhin," he argued.

"Your discussions with Foreign Minister Tazhin" means the understanding the Embassy has had since January that Sharp would go to trial, be convicted, have his sentence suspended, and be deported -- an agreement that broke down on February 26 when Sharp was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.

The Ambassador explained our view of "provocation" had come from the clear and concrete facts of the case -- a bag containing explosives given to Sharp by someone else as he was about to exit the premises of the mine, guards waiting to arrest him when he departed the mine, and false witnesses at his trial. The point in using this term was not to criticize Kazakhstan, and certainly not to imply the President's complicity, but to make fully clear how the U.S. media, Congress, and some in the Administration would view the case if it became public. We have so far successfully persuaded Sharp and his family to keep the case out of the media and to refrain from contacting Members of Congress so that the Kazakhstani government can resolve this case in accordance with its commitments to us. Sarybay responded that the Kazakhstani side is also keeping it out of the press.

In fact, this was true. The court case was widely known in Ridder, the site of the original incident, but, remarkably, nothing appeared in any media outlet in Kazakhstan or in Russia.

Meeting Arranged with President Nazarbayev

In the March 13 meeting, Ambassador Hoagland said that in a meeting with Nazarbayev to discuss the Sharp case, he would praise Foreign Minister Tazhin for his constructive efforts, explain that he insists all Americans in Kazakhstan must obey local law, admit that we have some differences about the facts of the case but acknowledge that Sharp unthinkingly did wrong in trespassing in a restricted area, and stress that we respect the Kazakhstani court system and wish to move forward with Kazakhstan in the new Obama administration. Sarybay responded, "This wording is good; these statements would not cause any difficulties for us. We'll arrange a meeting with my boss" -- meaning Nazarbayev -- "sooner is better than later." Sarybay said a meeting the following day (March 13) might even be possible. If that did not work, it would be after Nazarbayev's ten-day trip abroad which begins on March 14.

Ambassador Hoagland met with President Nazarbayev to discuss the Sharp case on March 30, 2009.

Part 5: Sharp's Release

Peace Corps Online

Caption: President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.

According to US Diplomatic Cables, with Sharp's suspended sentence, the government of Kazakhstan essentially followed through on its commitment to the US. "We can only presume that President Nazarbayev himself was the decider, siding in the end with Foreign Minister Tazhin and his other liberal advisors -- who understood the damage the case could cause the bilateral relationship -- and against the Committee for National Security (KNB), which likely cooked up this provocation against Sharp in the first place."

On April 3, 2009 an appeals court in Ust-Kamenogorsk, the capital of East Kazakhstan oblast, held an appellate hearing regarding the criminal case against Peace Corps volunteer Anthony Sharp, who was convicted on explosives charges on February 26 and sentenced to two years in prison. Sharp attended the hearing, together with his attorneys, Consular Chief, and Peace Corps Country Director.

Oral arguments before the three-judge panel lasted 30 minutes, and Sharp made his own very brief statement to the court in which he did not admit any guilt, but essentially apologized for what had happened. After 20 minutes of deliberations, the judges reaffirmed Sharp's conviction as well as a fine against him of 254,600 tenge (approximately $1700), but suspended the prison sentence, effectively putting him on probation for two years. The appeals court's decision also freed Sharp to travel within Kazakhstan. He departed several hours after the ruling by plane for Almaty, arriving there late afternoon April 3 and residing in Almaty with the Peace Corps Country Director in the interim.

Kazakhstan Followed Through on its Commitment

According to US Diplomatic Cables, with Sharp's suspended sentence, the government of Kazakhstan essentially followed through on its commitment to the US. "We can only presume that President Nazarbayev himself was the decider, siding in the end with Foreign Minister Tazhin and his other liberal advisors -- who understood the damage the case could cause the bilateral relationship -- and against the Committee for National Security (KNB), which likely cooked up this provocation against Sharp in the first place."

On June 3, the appellate court in Ust-Kamenogorsk accepted the procurator's motion to reduce Sharp's sentence to "time served" and a fine. The court granted the motion, vacating Sharp's two-year probation. Sharp's attorneys then obtained the necessary documentation confirming that there were no further restriction's on Sharp's travel.

On June 5, 2009 the US Ambassador met with Presidential Foreign Policy Advisor Kairat Sarybay and thanked Sarybay for his assistance and discretion in expediting the resolution of the ongoing case of Peace Corps volunteer Anthony Sharp, who was convicted of unlawful possession of industrial explosives on February 26. Sarybay told the Ambassador that "there is a real political intention to solve this case. We hope that you can see that our bureaucracy handled the issue properly. No one can say that Kazakhstan is not running according to the rule of law."

While carefully stating that he did not expect there to be any quid pro quo, Sarybay said that, in light of Kazakhstan's assistance with the Sharp case, if Kazakhstani citizens living in the United States find themselves in similar circumstances in the future, "we hope that they will be treated fairly." Sarybay also told the Ambassador that some influential members of the government had wanted to require the U.S. Attorney General to send a letter to Kazakhstan's Procurator General, requesting assistance with Sharp's case. Sarybay, however, said that he had argued successfully against that, saying it would be an additional precondition for Sharp's release and would come as a surprise to the U.S. government.

Sarybay suggested that the Ambassador draft a thank you letter to Foreign Minister Tazhin that would thank the government for its support and cooperation and note that "everything was done properly and correctly" concerning the case. The Ambassador said he already had a draft thank-you letter prepared and would send it as soon as Sharp left Kazakhstan.

Sharp Leaves Kazakhstan

On June 12, the Ministry of Foreign Relations called the US embassy with their response diplomatic note to the US April 13 note, confirming that there were no impediments to Sharp's departure. Sharp left Kazakhstan on June 13. The Ambassador sent a letter to Foreign Minister Tazhin on June 16 thanking him for his assistance on the case.

Part 6: Conclusion

Peace Corps Online

"I do hope we will return in the future. I know many, many people who were touched by Peace Corps volunteers in a positive way. As with all relationships in life, there are ups and downs. Sometimes space is the best thing. Perhaps some time apart will be a blessing for both Peace Corps and Kazakhstan. This country is full of resources and people who are actively working towards the future of a better Kazakhstan. It really is an amazing country with an incredibly rich history and culture." - Statement by a Peace Corps Volunteer leaving Kazakhstan.

"Peace Corps is one of the great U.S. people-to-people achievements of the 20th century, now continuing into the 21st century. As the advertisement says, 'It's the most difficult job you'll ever love!' And it's one of the most important things we as a nation do all over the world." - US Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland

Many residents of Ridder have a positive view of the Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Ridder over the years praising the role of the Peace Corps in providing Ridder's youth with opportunities to develop their English. "One local resident, who sold fish out of a container truck in the local market, reminisced at length about her close personal relationship with the young woman who had lived with her family. She said that it was because of this experience that her son, who is studying English and Chinese in Ust-Kamenogorsk, already speaks excellent English, and had even interpreted for an ambassador visiting the region." - Report by a US Embassy Staffer on Ridder, Kazakhstan.

"Though the case took months to resolve, the embassy's confidence that Nazarbayev would do the right thing in the end was not misplaced. He was likely the decider, siding with his more progressive advisors, like Tazhin and Sarybay, and against the KNB, to protect the bilateral relationship and thus maintain his long-standing policy of balancing Kazakhstan's relations with Russia, China, and the United States." - US Diplomatic Cable.

Just days before the end of his Peace Corps tour, Tony Sharp accepted an invitation from two Kazakhstani citizens, including his local counterpart, to take a late-night tour of a mine near the town of Ridder. Upon exiting the mine, one of the locals gave Sharp his bag to hold while he climbed back over the security fence. Local authorities were waiting, and promptly arrested Sharp, claiming that the bag contained industrial explosives. These facts are not in dispute.

The incident had all the makings of a Soviet-style set-up, engineered by the pro-Moscow old guard in the Committee for National Security (the KNB, successor to the KGB), and aimed at discrediting the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan and at damaging U.S.-Kazakhstan relations at a time when Kazakhstan's leadership saw the election of President Obama as an opportunity to enhance its relationship with the United States.

The US Ambassador raised Sharp's case in December and January with State Secretary Kanat Saudabayev and with Sarybay, stressing that he believed it was a provocation, and urging that the government intervene at the highest levels to have it dismissed and to have Sharp deported from the country. The police concluded their investigation on January 14, and charges were brought against Sharp for illegal possession of explosives. Kaliyev informed embassy representatives on January 21 that he had worked out an arrangement with the relevant government agencies: If Sharp agreed to a closed trial and we all kept the case out of the media, Sharp would be convicted, but given a suspended sentence and immediately deported.

Sharp accepted the deal, but the government failed to live up to its bargain. After a month long-trial which ended on February 26, a judge convicted Sharp on the explosives charges and sentenced him to two years in prison. He was immediately taken off to jail, but was released the following day after the Ambassador got Foreign Minister Tazhin to intervene.

Tazhin made clear that the KNB and Ministry of Internal Affairs had pushed back and were pressing their view that Sharp was an "American spy." He nevertheless promised that on appeal, the case would be resolved in accordance with the earlier agreement. It appeared, however, that President Nazarbayev would himself make the final decision. Sarybay arranged a meeting for the Ambassador with Nazarbayev on March 30, where the Ambassador expressed regret that Sharp had trespassed at the mine, but conveyed our hope we could put the case behind us and move forward on enhancing the bilateral relationship. Though there were a number of bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, the case moved slowly toward resolution following the Nazarbayev meeting.

Though the case took months to resolve, the embassy's confidence that Nazarbayev would do the right thing in the end was not misplaced. He was likely the decider, siding with his more progressive advisors, like Tazhin and Sarybay, and against the KNB, to protect the bilateral relationship and thus maintain his long-standing policy of balancing Kazakhstan's relations with Russia, China, and the United States.
















Email correspondence with Peace Corps Volunteer Tony Sharp who has had an opportunity to review this article prior to its publication. December 2011.

Profile of Peace Corps Volunteer Tony Sharp. Peace Corps Wiki.

US State Department. Biography of Richard E. Hoagland.

Peace Corps Welcome Book for Kazakhstan. United States Peace Corps.

US Embassy in Kazakhstan. "Ambassador Richard Hoagland's Inteview with Peace Corps Newsletter, "Vesti"" April 7, 2009.

"Sexual Assaults and Terrorism Are Factors Leading Peace Corps to Suspend Program in Kazakhstan" by Hugh Pickens. Peace Corps Worldwide. November 18, 2011.

"Peace Corps Suspends Program in Kazakhstan " Peace Corps Press Release. November 18, 2011.

"Peace Corps to quit Kazakhstan in Central Asia" by Peter Leonard. Associated Press. November 18, 2011.

"US Peace Corps quits Kazakhstan" by By James Kilner, Almaty. The Telegraph. November 18, 2011.

Kazakhstan Peace Corps Volunteer "Adventures in Kazakhstan" writes: Sudden Departure.... November 17, 2011.

Kazakhstan RPCV "Nomadic Development" writes: A Eulogy to Peace Corps Kazakhstan November 18, 2010

About the Author

Peace Corps Online

Hugh Pickens (Peru 1970–73) is a physicist who has explored for oil in the Amazon jungle, crossed the empty quarter of Saudi Arabia installing microwave communications systems, and built satellite control stations for NASA all over the world . Pickens is now retired and he and his wife of 27 years live in his hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma where he writes for numerous web sites, cultivates his square foot garden, and photographs local events. Since 2001 Pickens has edited and published Peace Corps Online . His other writing accomplishments include contributing over 1,100 stories to Slashdot: News for Nerds , writing articles about the Peace Corps for Wikipedia and Peace Corps Worldwide , and taking photos and reporting on his home state of Oklahoma at Ponca City, We Love You .


The material in this article is licensed under under the Creative Commons under an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license . Attribution for use of any material from this article must be provided to Hugh Pickens and if used on the web a link must be provided to

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About the Author

Hugh and Dr. S. J. Pickens
Dr. Pickens and Hugh Pickens celebrated 33 years of marriage before Dr. Pickens passed away in 2017.
Pickens Museum opens on NOC Tonkawa Campus. Pictured (L-R): Dr. Cheryl Evans, NOC President, Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum, and Sheri Snyder, NOC Vice President for Development and Community Relations. (photo by John Pickard/Northern Oklahoma College)

Hugh Pickens (Po-Hi '67) is a physicist who has explored for oil in the Amazon jungle, commissioned microwave communications systems across the empty quarter of Saudi Arabia, and built satellite control stations for Goddard Space Flight Center in Australia, Antarctica, Guam, and other locations around the world. Retired in 1999, Pickens and his wife of 33 years moved from Baltimore back to his hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma in 2005 where he cultivates his square foot garden, mows seven acres of lawn, writes about local history, photographs events at the Poncan Theatre, produces the annual Oklahoma Pride series with his wife at Ponca Playhouse, and recently sponsored the first formal dinner in the Marland Mansion in 75 years. Pickens is founder and Executive Director of Pickens Art Museum with locations at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, City Central in Ponca City, and Pickens Gallery at Woolaroc. Pickens can be contacted at Pickens is a covid survivor and a stroke survivor.

Personal Statement

Most days you will find me sitting in my easy chair with an HP laptop or a book in front of me. I enjoy intellectual pursuits: studying, writing, reading, researching, analyzing, and predicting. During my off time I like riding the backroads of Oklahoma in my hot rod, working out, watching old movies on TCM, playing games like chess or dominoes, participating in community theatre, and, my secret pleasure, reading trashy detective novels by John D. MacDonald. I enjoy theater and concerts and I go to NYC several times a year to see Broadway shows and visit galleries and museums.

Pickens' Publishing

In 1996, Pickens edited and published ''My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?'', the memoirs of Jack Crandall, professor of history at SUNY Brockport. Since 2001 Pickens has edited and published “Peace Corps Online,” serving over one million monthly pageviews. Pickens' other writing includes contributing over 2,000 stories to “Slashdot: News for Nerds,” and articles for Wikipedia, and “Ponca City, We Love You”. Pickens has written the following articles available on his wiki at Research and Ideas.

History and Biography

I enjoy doing in-depth research on one person and writing a detailed biography of lesser known events or figures. I like to find someone, an artist, a politician, a former Peace Corps Director, or an Oklahoman, that I like and am interested in learning more about them and writing their biography from scratch. I started and filled out dozens of biographies when I wrote for Wikipedia back in the stone age in the early 2000's when they were getting started. But Wikipedia became too bureaucratic and political for me so now I research and write biographies on my own mediawiki platform. (I only make anonymous edits to Wikipedia now usually on the discussion pages.)

Science and Technology

I graduated with a degree in physics from SUNY Brockport in 1970 and have worked in science and technology my entire career. I have held such jobs as Geophysical Observer on a geological survey crew in the amazon jungle, running a portable hydrocarbon detection laboratory on an oil rig, systems engineer for the microwave communications system and supervisory control system on the 800-mile long Trans-Andean Pipeline, independent contractor to Collins Radio in 1979 installing, commissioning, and testing microwave repeater stations all over Saudi Arabia, military advisor to the Royal Saudi Navy on naval communications, navigation, and fire control systems (1980 - 84), project engineer, then project manager for Bendix Fields Engineering (later becoming AlliedSignal Technical Services, then Honeywell Technical Services) from 1984 until my retirement in 1999.

Business and Investing

I am a speculator and enjoy designing and executing trading strategies that exploit market inefficiencies through my assessment and evaluation of information asymmetries, market psychology, and human emotion. Over the years I have put together several open-source histories of companies I am interested in including micro-caps that I have invested in.

Ponca City, Oklahoma

I was born and grew up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, a town of about 25,000 somewhat isolated in North Central Oklahoma (a two hour drive to the nearest metropolitan areas in Tulsa, OKC, and Wichita.). After I left Ponca City to go to college, I worked overseas and on the East Coast for 30 years. But my wife and I came back to Ponca after our retirement in 1999.

Ponca City is an interesting amalgam of historical developments including being being founded and created from scratch during and after the Cherokee Strip Land Run in 1893, becoming an oil boom town in the 1920's, home of the "Palace on the Prairie" built by oil magnate E.W. Marland, home to Conoco's R&D facility employing hundreds of Phd.'s in the 1950's, 60's and 70's giving Ponca a character of a university town, and finally the continual influence of Native American tribes on our history especially the Ponca tribe and Osage Nation. Some interesting articles I have researched and written about Ponca City include:

Pickens Museum

Pickens Museum is a distributed museum that is active in three location: Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, City Central in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and at Woolaroc Museum near Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The museum has plans to build a 15,000 ft2 art museum on highway 60 West of Ponca City, Oklahoma. in the next few years.


Peace Corps Writing

I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru from 1970 - 73 working with the Peruvian Ministry of Education teaching high school science teachers how to build lab equipment out of simple, cheap materials. In 2000 I started "Peace Corps Online" to document the work volunteers are doing around the world both during and after the Peace Corps Service. I ran the web site for ten years and posted about 10,000 stories. Even though the site is no longer active, I still get over 50,000 monthly pageviews.


Phillips 66

Conoco and Phillips 66 announced on November 18, 2001 that their boards of directors had unanimously approved a definitive agreement for a "merger of equals". The merged company, ConocoPhillips, became the third-largest integrated U.S. energy company based on market capitalization and oil and gas reserves and production. On November 11, 2011 ConocoPhillips announced that Phillips 66 would be the name of a new independent oil and gasoline refining and marketing firm, created as ConocoPhillips split into two companies. ConocoPhillips kept the current name of the company and concentrated on oil exploration and production side while Phillips 66 included refining, marketing, midstream, and chemical portions of the company. Photo: Hugh Pickens all rights reserved.

For nearly 100 years oil refining has provided the bedrock of Ponca City's local economy and shaped the character of our community. Today the Ponca City Refinery is the best run and most profitable of Phillips 66's fifteen worldwide refineries. The purpose of this collection of reports is to provide a comprehensive overview of Phillips 66's business that documents and explains the company's business strategy and execution of that strategy.

Safety, Environment, Legal


Strategic and Financial

Business Segments

Stock Market


Refining Business Segment

Increasing Profitability in Refining Business Segment

Detailed Look at Ponca City Refinery

Other Phillips Refineries

Other Locations