Kazakhstan has sacked its defence minister and launched a criminal investigation into alleged illegal sales of fighters, following South Korean protests that the country had supplied Soviet-built fighters to North Korea.

South Korea has expressed "serious concern" over the alleged sales, and intelligence chief Chun Yong-Taek claims North Korea is assembling at least 30 Mikoyan MiG-21 fighters from parts bought in Kazakhstan. The US State Department says it will monitor the issue "very, very closely".

In March, Azerbaijan impounded an Antonov An-124 at Baku which was carrying six partially disassembled Kazakh MiGs. Kazakhstan claimed the aircraft were en route to the Czech Republic, but the crew said they were heading for North Korea. The aircraft were returned to Kazakhstan in April.

Embarrassed Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, aware that the issue could harm international relations and oil investment in his country, has ordered an investigation into possible violations of arms sales regulations by senior defence and government security officials.

On 9 August, Nazarbayev sacked defence minister Mukhtar Altynbayev and national security committee chairman Nurtai Abykayev.

Source: Flight International