What we know about alleged elite corruption under former Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev

As Kyrgyzstan’s new regime consolidates power, fresh allegations of corruption by Atambayev loyalists are emerging. 

Almazbek Atambayev was pres­i­dent of Kyrgyzstan between 2011 and 2017. © Roman Gainanov/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Until November last year, Almazbek Atambayev was the huge­ly wealthy pres­i­dent of Kyrgyzstan — although the sources of that wealth remain unclear. Now it seems that Atambayev is on his way out of the coun­try, where there is talk of pros­e­cu­tion. Atambayev’s for­mer prime min­is­ter is in prison and a loy­al advis­er has been deport­ed. Just how did he reach the heights from which he now seems to be falling?

On 22 October, it was announced that Atambayev was fly­ing to Moscow for the 10th General Assembly of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties on 24–27 October, as part of his role as chair­man of the Social-Democratic Party of Kyryzstan. In the mean­time, Atambayev has announced that he is trav­el­ling to St Petersburg for the funer­al of a rel­a­tive. Coming after the arrest and depor­ta­tion of Ikram Ilmiyanov, Atambayev’s for­mer dri­ver and pres­i­den­tial advis­er, on 20 October, this Central Asian state is start­ing to talk about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the pow­er­ful ex-pres­i­dent fac­ing pros­e­cu­tion. As Edil Baisalov, a Kyrgyz activist and com­men­ta­tor, said on Twitter: “Almazbek Atambayev NEVER, nev­er took part in inter­na­tion­al par­ty con­fer­ences, nev­er rep­re­sent­ed the SDPK [Kyrgyzstan’s rul­ing par­ty] at high-lev­el meet­ings. Participating in this third-rate con­fer­ence in Moscow is just a pre­text to FLEE Kyrgyzstan.”

Indeed, since Atambayev’s term in office end­ed in November 2017, the ex-president’s name has appeared in con­nec­tion with cas­es rang­ing from the ille­gal pri­vati­sa­tion of munic­i­pal prop­er­ty to the embez­zle­ment of funds from infra­struc­ture projects. In 2018, fol­low­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and a con­cert­ed cam­paign by Kyrgyzstan’s new pres­i­dent Sooronbay Jeenbekov to con­sol­i­date pow­er, the alle­ga­tions about the sources of Atambayev’s wealth have start­ed to emerge. Publications impli­cat­ing Atambayev and his close asso­ciates in cor­rup­tion and ille­gal activ­i­ties have start­ed appear­ing in Kyrgyzstan’s main­stream media and on social networks.

Among the high­est-pro­file cas­es, for­mer prime min­is­ter Sapar Isakov is cur­rent­ly held at the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) deten­tion cen­tre. He is charged with cor­rup­tion relat­ing to lob­by­ing in the Bishkek Heat and Power Plant scan­dal. Former Bishkek may­or Albek Ibraimov is also in GKNB deten­tion as the author­i­ties inves­ti­gate two sep­a­rate cas­es of cor­rup­tion in which he is implicated.

There can be lit­tle doubt that Atambayev loy­al­ists have fall­en vic­tim of the clash between the for­mer pres­i­dent and Jeenbekov, a some­time ally turned foe. In reac­tion to the arrests of his clos­est asso­ciates, Atambayev issued a pub­lic state­ment in June this year, in which he claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty and over­sight over projects asso­ci­at­ed with these new cor­rup­tion investigations: 

Neither S. Isakov, for­mer pres­i­den­tial Chief of Staff, nor the for­mer may­or of Bishkek K. Kulmatov had the author­i­ty to inde­pen­dent­ly take the deci­sions that are at the basis of these accu­sa­tions. […] All strate­gic deci­sions for the recon­struc­tion of the [Bishkek] Heat and Power Plant and the asso­ci­at­ed loan from China, includ­ing our agree­ment that the Chinese side appoint the con­trac­tor, the deci­sion to redi­rect for­eign grant funds… were made by me as the Head of State. The key role of the President in mak­ing these deci­sions is due the lack of respon­si­bil­i­ty among state insti­tu­tions and employees.

The same applies to the imple­men­ta­tion of oth­er nation­al projects […] includ­ing: […] the con­struc­tion of an alter­na­tive North-South road, the trans­fer of Kyrgyzgazinfra­struc­ture to the com­pa­ny Gazprom, con­struc­tion of the Verkhne-Narynsky cas­cade of hydro­elec­tric pow­er plant, […] recon­struc­tion of the History Museum and many oth­er strate­gi­cal­ly impor­tant facil­i­ties and activities.”

What fol­lows is an overview of what is known about Atambayev’s assets, as well as ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tions against Atambayev loyalists.

Origin story

Atambayev, 62, has often pub­licly boast­ed about his wealth. In 2016, at a cer­e­mo­ny to receive the cre­den­tials of sev­er­al for­eign ambas­sadors, Atambayev claimed that his polit­i­cal career start­ed when he was already a multi-millionaire.

Indeed, dur­ing a meet­ing with Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2017, Atambayev boast­ed (in the third per­son) that “Atambayev has nev­er stolen! He made his own mon­ey! When Atambayev became a mul­ti-mil­lion­aire, many of today’s mil­lion­aires were only start­ing their busi­ness­es! I was already a dol­lar mul­ti-mil­lion­aire here!”

Atambayev’s busi­ness activ­i­ty began in 1991 with the Kyrgyz Writers’ Union, where he gained con­trol over the foundation’s assets. In November 1992, the Nooruz Writers’ Club – a large two-sto­ry build­ing in Bishkek’s city cen­tre owned by the Writers’ Union – was con­vert­ed into a Joint Stock Company. Atambayev’s Forum com­pa­ny held 70% of the Nooruz shares, and Atambayev’s close rel­a­tive Nurbek Sharshenov turned the premis­es into a restaurant.

June 2017: Almazbek and Raisa Atambayev with Vladimir Putin, Moscow. CC BY 4.0 Wikipedia / Kremlin.ru. Some rights reserved.

In a 2014 inter­view from exile in Moscow, the first President of inde­pen­dent Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akayev, accused Atambayev of steal­ing a 50 mil­lion-rou­ble grant made to the Kyrgyz Writers Union by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the ear­ly 1990s. According to Akayev, the mon­ey was used to pri­va­tise state assets, such as a sheep­skin and coats fac­to­ry in Kant, a town 20 kilo­me­tres east of Bishkek, and the KyrgyzAvtomash fac­to­ry for car engine radi­a­tors, which Atambayev head­ed from 1997 to 2005. In 2017, in a defama­tion case against the Zanoza news web­site and jour­nal­ist Naryn Aiyp, the Kyrgyz General Prosecutor’s Office stat­ed that Akayev’s claims had been dis­proven in a 2014 inter­view on Kyrgyz Television (KTRK). According to Aiyp, when the jour­nal­ist asked the Prosecutor’s Office to present this pro­gramme (or a tran­script) in court, they failed to do so.

Atambayev’s career in pol­i­tics began as a mem­ber of par­lia­ment for the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (1995–2000) – of which he was one of the founders – fol­lowed by stints as a Minister of Industry, Trade, and Tourism (2005–2006), Prime Minister (2007), and again Prime Minister for the inter­im gov­ern­ment estab­lished after the ouster of President Bakiyev in the April 2010 rev­o­lu­tion. In October 2011, Atambayev won the pres­i­den­cy in a land­slide and served one six-year term (2011–2017) as stip­u­lat­ed in Kyrgyzstan’s constitution.

Atambayev is undoubt­ed­ly rich, but the ori­gins of his wealth are less clear. For exam­ple, when, in 2017, Kyrgyz oppo­si­tion politi­cian Omurbek Tekebayev accused the for­mer pres­i­dent of hav­ing busi­ness inter­ests out­side Kyrgyzstan, Atambayev argued that he had sold his stake in the Turkish com­pa­ny Elektromed Elektronik in 2003 for 45 bil­lion Turkish liras (which, he added, was equiv­a­lent at the time to $35 mil­lion). When activist Edil Baisalov point­ed out that, at the 2003 exchange rate, 45 bil­lion liras amount­ed to $26,000, the press ser­vice of the Presidential Administration inter­vened to spec­i­fy that the company’s mar­ket val­ue was much more than its autho­rised capital.

When jour­nal­ists from Kloop.kg, one of Kyrgyzstan’s best inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism web­sites, request­ed Atambayev’s income state­ments for 2005–2006 in 2017, it was stat­ed that the records had been destroyed. According to the State Personnel Service, the law requires pub­lic offi­cials’ state­ments to be kept for six years, after which they can be dis­posed of

Living the life

Atambayev’s declared income is quite mod­est. In 2010, he earned $5,944 as prime min­is­ter in the inter­im gov­ern­ment. A month­ly salary of $500 is good mon­ey in Kyrgyzstan, but it doesn’t make you rich. By 2015, accord­ing to offi­cial records, Atambayev had accu­mu­lat­ed $111,205, while Raisa Atambayeva, his wife, had $580,860 to her name. That said, the Atambayevs’ lav­ish prop­er­ties reveal that the for­mer first cou­ple can count on much larg­er finan­cial resources, which appar­ent­ly increased sig­nif­i­cant­ly dur­ing Atambayev’s pres­i­den­tial rule and whose ori­gin remains unknown.

One such prop­er­ty is the three-storey palace in the for­mer president’s com­pound in Koi Tash, south of Bishkek. This site was built in 2016 and is equipped with gaze­bos in a lux­u­ri­ous pri­vate park. Before being elect­ed pres­i­dent, the Atambayevs lived in a non­de­script house in a dusty east­ern dis­trict in the capital.

Before and after: the Atambayev fam­i­ly’s hous­es before and after Atambayev assumed the pres­i­den­cy. Source: Youtube / Kloop. 

In March 2018, Atambayev built a 300-square-metre sum­mer vil­la on the ter­ri­to­ry of the offi­cial (and state-owned) pres­i­den­tial res­i­dence in Bishkek. The total cost of con­struc­tion was report­ed to be approx­i­mate­ly $1.3 mil­lion – in Kyrgyz cur­ren­cy, 89.3 mil­lion som. While 77.8 mil­lion som came from Atambayev’s pri­vate funds, the ori­gin of the remain­ing 11.5 mil­lion remains unknown. Attorneys from the Jakupbekova & Partners Law Firm request­ed infor­ma­tion regard­ing this project from Kyrgyzstan’s State Agency for Architecture and Construction, which, in a let­ter obtained by openDemocracy, denied hav­ing giv­en per­mis­sion for the con­struc­tion. Likewise, the contractor’s name is unknown.

Alleged corrupt deals

Since Atambayev left office at the end of 2017, a seri­ous rift has emerged between him and cur­rent pres­i­dent Sooronbay Jeenbekov, which has split their Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan.

Here fol­low sev­er­al alle­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion that have been made fol­low­ing the end of Atambayev’s pres­i­den­cy. Former prime min­is­ter Sapar Isakov, whom Atambayev described as his “right-hand man” to vis­it­ing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2016, appears in con­nec­tion with all these cas­es. In a state­ment to Open Democracy, Nurbek Toktakunov, legal coun­sel to Sapar Isakov, said that his client is being “per­se­cut­ed by the new regime”: “He [Isakov] was under a ‘black media cam­paign’ by state media and state trolls on social media for sev­er­al months to ‘jus­ti­fy his arrest’.” 

Attempted lease of helicopters to Uganda

As I detailed recent­ly in The Diplomat, in 2014 Atambayev signed off an order to lease two Mi-24V and two Mi-8MTV heli­copters to Uganda under Sapar Isakov’s supervision.

Instead of pay­ing through offi­cial chan­nels, the con­tract com­mit­ted Uganda to pay­ing for the lease through a com­pa­ny based in the United Arab Emirates. After then-Minister of Defence Abibilla Kudaiberdiyev demand­ed a judi­cial review of the deal, the mil­i­tary prosecutor’s office declared this deal to be ille­gal. So did the inter-min­is­te­r­i­al com­mis­sion that looked into the case, but appar­ent­ly no one has been held accountable.

The lease cost remains secret. In 2015 Isakov warned the chief of staff of Kyrgyzstan’s armed forces that “fail­ure to exe­cute the deal will cause a loss of $30 mil­lion”. In the end, the deal did not go ahead. 

North-South Road

At the May 2014 open­ing cer­e­mo­ny of the North-South Road, an artery con­nect­ing Kyrgyzstan’s two main cities – Bishkek in the north and Osh in the south – Atambayev declared that this was a his­tor­i­cal event whose sig­nif­i­cance would be under­stood only four years lat­er, once the road would be com­plet­ed. Four years lat­er, details have emerged of the extent of cor­rup­tion that marred this road con­struc­tion project.

Construction of a tun­nel on the alter­na­tive route North-South Road. Source: Gov.kg. 

In June 2018, the Fergana news por­tal pub­lished doc­u­ments alleged that the Kyrgyz author­i­ties and the Chinese con­trac­tor China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) col­lud­ed to embez­zle funds from the Chinese government’s infra­struc­ture invest­ments by over­pric­ing numer­ous items. Price tags on the project were inflat­ed by sev­er­al orders of mag­ni­tude, from pay­ing $1.10 per kilo­gramme of cement (cost on the local mar­ket: 7¢) to pay­ing $2,000 per month to pro­vide office space to an engi­neer on the con­struc­tion site.

Current Minister of Transport and Communications Zhamshitbek Kalilov, who, accord­ing to some­one famil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion is one of for­mer Prime Minister Sapar Isakov’s pro­tégés, over­saw the project, along with his pre­de­ces­sor Kalykbek Sultanov. Commenting on these alle­ga­tions of embez­zle­ment appear­ing on Kyrgyzstan’s online media, Kalilov told Radio Azattyk that “some­one is dis­trib­ut­ing unsub­stan­ti­at­ed information.” 

According to Kyrgyz MP Almambet Shykmamatov, no inves­ti­ga­tion into this case is ongoing.

History Museum refurbishment in Bishkek

In March 2016, Atambayev launched an ambi­tious ren­o­va­tion project for the Kyrgyz History Museum in Bishkek under Sapar Isakov’s super­vi­sion, as he him­self told an inter­view­er on April TV in April 2018. “This will be the pride of Kyrgyzstan. A muse­um that we can be proud of,” Isakov com­ment­ed. “Because dur­ing the recon­struc­tion I was the cura­tor, fol­lowed the progress of recon­struc­tion and the whole process.” Two years lat­er, oppo­si­tion MP Kanybek Imanaliev claimed that $13 mil­lion of pub­lic funds had been stolen dur­ing the works. The muse­um, Imanaliev claims, was restored with­out a prop­er ten­der process and project doc­u­men­ta­tion being drawn up.

As Kloop.kg web­site report­ed, the project costs appear inflat­ed. €394,000 was spent on con­sul­tan­cy and design, while €224,000 was ear­marked for a bar counter and fur­ni­ture for the muse­um cafe, among oth­er very expen­sive items. Moreover, 19,000 square metres of gran­ite and mar­ble blocks import­ed from Turkey dis­ap­peared from the site. 

Czech investor Liglass

In July 2017, the pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tion press ser­vice cir­cu­lat­ed a state­ment detail­ing that Czech com­pa­ny Liglass Trading CZ, SRO, had agreed to buy 50% of the shares of Joint Stock Company Verkhne-Naryn hydro­elec­tric pow­er sta­tions from Russian com­pa­ny RusHydro for $37 mil­lion. Previously, in December 2015, the Kyrgyz gov­ern­ment had rescind­ed the 2012 agree­ment with RusHydro to build small hydro­elec­tric pow­er sta­tions on the Naryn riv­er due to lack of fund­ing.

As Kaktus media web­site report­ed at the time: “Agreements were signed between the Kyrgyz gov­ern­ment and the Czech com­pa­ny in the pres­ence of Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.” The pres­i­dent solemn­ly declared: “The arrival of large pri­vate invest­ments from Europe will serve as a pow­er­ful sig­nal for poten­tial investors from around the world.”

Head of State Committee on Industry, Energy and Natural Resources Duishenbek Zilaliyev, President Almazbek Atambayev and Michael Smelik (Liglass). Source: Press Office of Kyrgyz President

The deal is sur­round­ed by ques­tions about why the Kyrgyz gov­ern­ment would com­mis­sion a con­tract worth sev­er­al hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars from a com­pa­ny in the red with a turnover in the tens of thou­sands of euros. According to Czech media, no one in the Czech repub­lic seemed to know about Liglass before the com­pa­ny shot to fame in con­nec­tion with the Kyrgyz deal. According to Marat Dzhonbayev, the Czech Republic’s hon­orary con­sul in Kyrgyzstan, Vratislav Mynář, the head of the Czech president’s office, report­ed­ly rec­om­mend­ed the firm to Sapar Isakov, after which Czech President Miloš Zeman and then-President Atambayev dis­cussed the com­pa­ny at the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny of Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan.

And yet, why would Isakov and Atambayev still be will­ing to engage with Liglass when, after con­duct­ing research on the com­pa­ny, in March 2017 the embassy of Kyrgyzstan in Austria had clear­ly rec­om­mend­ed that Bishkek dis­con­tin­ue any coop­er­a­tion with the com­pa­ny as they “could not find any evi­dence of [its] suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of invest­ment projects abroad”?

The Kyrgyz Embassy added that Liglass had gone bank­rupt. The deal with Liglass was even­tu­al­ly can­celled in September 2017. 

The gen­er­al direc­tor of Liglass Trading states that the com­pa­ny “was spe­cial­ly sep­a­rat­ed from a group of com­pa­nies under my con­trol, specif­i­cal­ly for this project in Kyrgyzstan”, and that the com­pa­ny has expe­ri­ence in hydro­elec­tric projects in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, United Kingdom, Romania, Serbia, Chechnya and India.

Heat and power plant scandal in Bishkek

On 4 April 2018, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) brought chargesagainst a num­ber of Atambayev offi­cials in con­nec­tion with a $386 mil­lion Chinese loan to refur­bish Bishkek’s heat and pow­er plant.

Former PM Sapar Isakov was among those arrest­ed. In a 2013 let­ter, Isakov had report­ed back to Atambayev him­self with details of the pow­er plant project. While mem­bers of the Kyrgyz par­lia­ment allege that $100 mil­lion was stolen from the loan, at the time of writ­ing Atambayev hasn’t been linked to the investigation.

You scratch my back, I scratch yours

While the pres­i­den­cy has allowed Atambayev to reap huge finan­cial ben­e­fits, he has gen­er­ous­ly reward­ed his friends and asso­ciates with posts, pow­er and money.

Albek Ibraimov

In 2016, Atambayev cat­a­pult­ed his for­mer car mechan­ic Albek Ibraimov to the post of Bishkek may­or despite the latter’s lack of rel­e­vant education.

Albek Ibraimov. CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikipedia. 

Indeed, under Atambayev, Ibraimov’s star had already soared. from 2010 to 2011 he was head of Bishkek Free Economic Zone; then spent a year as the head of state con­cern Dastan, a tor­pe­do man­u­fac­tur­er, fol­lowed by a year as deputy chief of staff of the pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tion. From 2013 to 2016 he was chair­man of the board of direc­tors at Manas International Airport before becom­ing may­or of Bishkek, a posi­tion he held until this year.

Like Atambayev, Ibraimov lived mod­est­ly pri­or to 2010. Journalists have uncov­ered the many prop­er­ties Ibraimov did not declare in his income state­ments, includ­ing a 50-hectare estate with a manor in Arashan vil­lage, half-an-hour south-east of Bishkek. 

The estate is sur­round­ed by a three-metre brick wall stretch­ing for 3.5 kilo­me­tres around the prop­er­ty. Armed guards patrol the perimeter.

Albek Ibraimov’s estate in Arashan. Source: AKI Press News / Youtube. 

Ibraimov’s luck appears to have run out, how­ev­er. In June 2018, he was arrest­ed on charges of cor­rup­tion. He is accused of mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion and embez­zle­ment dur­ing his tenure at Dastan, where he alleged­ly inflat­ed the prices for the pur­chase of spare parts. A month lat­er, Ibraimov was charged on anoth­er count of cor­rup­tion for the ille­gal allo­ca­tion of munic­i­pal land south of Bishkek while serv­ing as may­or. Currently, Ibraimov is held at the GKNB deten­tion cen­tre. The inves­ti­ga­tion is ongoing.


Ikramjan Ilmiyanov is Atambayev’s for­mer chauf­feur, hence the nick­name “vodi­tel’” (“dri­ver” in Russian). Ilmiyanov had his career fast-tracked to pres­i­den­tial advi­sor due to his total ded­i­ca­tion to his boss (leg­end has it that he lit­er­al­ly savedAtambayev’s life by smug­gling him into Tajikistan in the ear­ly 2000s when he was want­ed by Akayev).

Ikram Ilmiyanov in cus­tody, 20 October 2018. 

During Atambayev’s tenure, Ilmiyanov amassed con­sid­er­able assets and even made it onto Kyrgyzstan’s rich list. In 2011, he acquired a 143.6‑square-metre apart­ment on Bishkek’s cen­tral Chui avenue, as con­firmed by a state­ment from the state reg­istry ser­vice obtained by openDemocracy.

In 2016, Ilmiyanov’s two daugh­ters entered the pri­vate Sagemont school in Florida, US, where tuition fees exceed$20,000 per stu­dent per year. That same year, Ilmiyanov’s declared annu­al income was $4,500.

An inves­ti­ga­tion by Azattyk stat­ed that Ilmiyanov is affil­i­at­ed with the IHLAS con­struc­tion com­pa­ny and made an alle­ga­tion that he is involved in the ille­gal acqui­si­tion of land in Bishkek. Following the arrest of oth­er Atambayev’s asso­ciates, Ilmiyanov left the coun­try. On 20 October, Ilmiyanov was detained in Russia and returned to Bishkek to face cor­rup­tion charges. 

Island of corruption

Since inde­pen­dence in 1991, Kyrgyz offi­cials have been linked to every­thing from pro­tec­tion rack­e­teer­ing to drug traf­fick­ingmis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of pub­lic fundsbribesextor­tionkid­nap­ping and ran­som.

According to Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index, Kyrgyzstan ranks 135 among 180 coun­tries, pre­ced­ed by Iran and fol­lowed by Lao. More than an “island of democ­ra­cy”, as it used to be known after the col­lapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan is an island of cor­rup­tion. It is hard to dis­tin­guish where the crim­i­nal under­world ends and the offi­cial upper­world begins: politi­cians and crim­i­nal groups in the coun­try live in sym­bio­sis.

International crim­i­nal Kamchi Kolbaev lives cheek by jowl with pub­lic fig­ures. As the US Department of the Treasury report­ed in 2012, Kolbaev is the Central Asia over­seer for the Brothers’ Circle crime syn­di­cate, which is involved in nar­cotics traf­fick­ing, among oth­er things. As a con­se­quence, then US President Barack Obama sin­gled out Kolbaev “as a sig­nif­i­cant for­eign nar­cotics traf­fick­er under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act”. The US Treasury Department states that he is “is want­ed in Kyrgyzstan for orga­nized crimes and crimes involv­ing the use of weapons/explosives, and organized/transnational crime”. And yet, a video emerged in May 2018 show­ing for­mer pros­e­cu­tor gen­er­al Elmurza Satybaldiev attend­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of Kolbaev’s mother’s birthday.

It is a well known fact that illic­it funds have been moved out of Kyrgyzstan to pur­chase lux­u­ri­ous real estate. As cor­rup­tion watch­dog Global Witness has amply doc­u­ment­ed, Maxim Bakiyev, son of for­mer President Bakiyev, set up a mon­ey-laun­der­ing scheme that siphoned $1.2 bil­lion through accounts in Citibank in New York, Standard Chartered in the UK and Raiffeisen Zentralbank in Austria. Eugene Gurevich, a finan­cial advi­sor to Maxim Bakiyev cur­rent­ly serv­ing a prison sen­tence in the US for fraud, con­firmed these schemes in a recent inter­view.

After flee­ing Kyrgyzstan in April 2010, the for­mer min­is­ter of indus­try, ener­gy and fuel resources, Saparbek Balkibekov, pur­chased a small British island in the Atlantic Ocean. According to for­mer MP Bakytbek Beshimov, the alleged source of his enrich­ment was the illic­it sale of 116 mil­lion kilo­watts of Kyrgyz elec­tric­i­ty through a com­pa­ny in the British Virgin Islands, caus­ing an ener­gy cri­sis in the country.

The con­flict that has erupt­ed between Atambayev and Sooronbai Jeenbekov, his for­mer ally and appointee, raised hopes that the new pres­i­dent may steer the coun­try towards real change. That hope was short-lived, how­ev­er. Under the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, peo­ple con­nect­ed to for­mer pres­i­dent Bakiyev’s admin­is­tra­tion are stag­ing a come­back. Official posts con­tin­ue to be hand­ed out on the basis of favouritism and clien­telism. A case in point is the recent appoint­ment of con­struc­tion mag­nate Aziz Surakmatov as the new may­or of Bishkek, despite his long record of con­struc­tion and land laws vio­la­tions, and the obvi­ous con­flict of interest.

Given the loot­ing of state resources, and the ram­pant cor­rup­tion in Kyrgyzstan’s law enforce­ment and judi­cial bod­ies, it seems a safe bet that Jeenbekov’s pres­i­den­cy will con­tin­ue Atambayev’s lega­cy with only a dif­fer­ent cast of actors. While the two for­mer allies fight it out, the peo­ple of Kyrgyzstan are left with only crumbs on which to survive.

The author would like to thank Tom Mayne and the Kazakhstani Initiative on Asset Recovery (KIAR) for their assis­tance in research­ing this article.


What we know about alleged elite cor­rup­tion under for­mer Kyrgyz pres­i­dent Almazbek Atambayev

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