INVESTIGATIONS

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

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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.

Voditel”

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.

By SATINA AIDAR 

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

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