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Was Kyrgyzstan Seriously Going to Loan Helicopters to Uganda?

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The appar­ent scheme wasn’t car­ried out, but impli­cates for­mer Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.

On June 15, 2018, Russian lan­guage media were abuzz with news of an alleged cor­rupt deal involv­ing for­mer Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Atambayev, the reports said, pushed a deal to lease two Mi-24V and two Mi-8MTV heli­copters, which Kyrgyzstan had received as mil­i­tary assis­tance from Russia, to Uganda.

Kyrgyz Parliament mem­ber Kanybek Imanaliev and his Ata-Meken oppo­si­tion par­ty peers main­tain that the for­mer pres­i­dent was in charge of the dubi­ous oper­a­tion, and that then-Atambayev Chief of Staff (and lat­er Prime Minister) Sapar Isakov served as liai­son for the deal. Allegedly, in 2014 President Atambayev signed an order to lease the four heli­copters for two years to Uganda, which need­ed them to par­tic­i­pate in the African Union mis­sion to Somalia.

As Russia’s Kommersant reports, the lease agree­ment was signed on December 3, 2014, by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Uganda’s Ministry of Defense and the state enter­prise Kyrgyzkural (“Kyrgyz weapons”). It has now come to light that this dubi­ous trans­ac­tion was over­seen by none oth­er than Sapar Isakov him­self. A 2015 let­ter addressed to the Chief of Staff of Kyrgyzstan’s Armed Forces car­ried in the Kommersant arti­cle, Isakov explained that “the project is quite com­pli­cat­ed from the point of view of its prac­ti­cal imple­men­ta­tion.”

Since Atambayev left office fol­low­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in October 2017, cor­rup­tion alle­ga­tions involv­ing him and his entourage have sur­faced with increas­ing reg­u­lar­i­ty. These include the scan­dal sur­round­ing the embez­zle­ment of Chinese funds ear­marked to mod­ern­ize Bishkek’s pow­er plant; inflat­ed prices in the 8.7 mil­lion Euro restora­tion of the Kyrgyz his­tor­i­cal muse­um, also in Bishkek, as well as in the con­struc­tion of the hip­po­drome in Cholpon-Ata for the 2016 World Nomad Games.

In the same 2015 let­ter, Isakov wrote that can­cel­ing the con­tract will cause a $30 mil­lion loss for the state’s cof­fers, as well as poten­tial­ly dam­age prospec­tive projects for Kyrgyzkural, Kommersant report­ed. While the exact amount of mon­ey involved in the deal has not been offi­cial­ly revealed, accord­ing to the con­tract the Government of Uganda was meant to pay for the lease through an account in the Emirates Bank in Dubai, which belongs to Sky Tech Trading Services FZE, an Emirates-based off­shore com­pa­ny. A com­pa­ny that goes by this name is locat­ed in the Free Economic Zone in Fujairah, but the phone oper­a­tor stat­ed that their tele­phones had been dis­con­nect­ed for non-pay­ment of bills.

In 2015, Kyrgyzstan’s Minister of Defense Abibilla Kudaiberdiev demand­ed that the gen­er­al prosecutor’s office ver­i­fy the agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment of Uganda. He also ques­tioned the legal­i­ty of funds to rent state prop­er­ty being trans­ferred to the account of an unknown com­pa­ny reg­is­tered in the UAE Free Economic Zone, adding that he found out about the con­tract only six months after it had been signed. As Kommersant reports, on August 25, 2015, the mil­i­tary prosecutor’s office announced the con­tract to be “ille­gal”; yet, Isakov demand­ed that the Ministry of Defense obey the Commander-in-Chief, President Atambayev.

What fol­lowed at the close of 2015 looks a lot like judi­cial per­se­cu­tion for fail­ing to abide by Atambayev’s orders, as crim­i­nal charges were brought against sev­er­al key fig­ures in the Ministry of Defense for abuse of office, ille­gal use of bud­getary finds, and embez­zle­ment. On October 12, 2015, the Anti-cor­rup­tion unit of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) accused (by then, for­mer Minister) Kudaiberdiev him­self of a “cor­rup­tion scheme for the ille­gal use of bud­get funds in the Ministry of Defense of the Kyrgyz Republic.”

As sev­er­al of the above crim­i­nal cas­es against the lead­er­ship of the Ministry of Defense con­tin­ue, two ques­tions need to be answered: were these crim­i­nal cas­es brought against the defen­dants for refus­ing to com­ply with Atambayev’s alleged cor­rupt scheme? And if so, isn’t it high time for Kyrgyzstan’s Public Prosecutor to inves­ti­gate the for­mer pres­i­dent him­self?

By Satina Aidar (Satina Aidar is a lawyer from Kyrgyzstan. The author is using a pseu­do­nym.)

Was Kyrgyzstan Seriously Going to Loan Helicopters to Uganda?

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