Kyrgyzstan: Another former PM arrested over alleged graft
The dragnet over the power plant modernization has now caught up with Zhantoro Satybaldiyev.
Security services in Kyrgyzstan say they have arrested another former prime minister as part of investigations into alleged irregularities during a power plant modernization project.
The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, said on June 18 that Zhantoro Satybaldiyev is being investigated on suspicion of corruption.
Satybaldiyev, who served as head of the government from September 2012 to March 2014, has been placed in custody pending a ruling by the Pervomaisk district court in Bishkek to determine how long he is to remain in detention.
Sapar Isakov, who served as prime minister until he was dismissed in April in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, was detained last month as part of the same investigation.
The investigation into the circumstances surrounding the overhaul of Bishkek thermal power plant, a dual-purpose structure that provides the capital with electricity and heating, was ostensibly sparked by a malfunction in January. The sudden collapse of the plant left hundreds of thousands of people without heating just as temperatures outside had sunk to almost -30 degrees Celsius. Detractors of the modernization project claim that it was bedeviled by overspending and that the contract was granted in an improper manner to a Chinese company called TBEA.
It is only relatively recently, however, that the authorities have begun filing criminal cases in earnest. And the primary high-profile targets of those investigations are figures known to be allies of the ex-president, Almazbek Atambayev, who stepped down in November, having come to the close of his single permitted, six-year term. Although Atambayev actively endorsed his successor, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the two men have since fallen out.
The arrests of Satybaldiyev and Isakov came on the heels of a three-month parliament inquiry into the power plant modernization project. Parliamentarians named multiple people as responsible for purported wrongdoing. Among them were the two now-detained prime ministers, as well as two other former prime ministers, Temir Sariyev and Joomart Otorbayev. The latter two have not to date faced any proceedings from the security services.
Another person who has been caught up in the power plant dragnet, however, is Kubanychbek Kulmatov, a former customs chief and mayor of Bishkek — the latter being an office he held for two years, up to February 2016. In May, the GKNB announced it was charging Kulmatov with corruption for allegedly redirecting $2 million that had been provided as part of a China-issued loan to fund the power plant renovation onto the accounts of the mayor’s office. His office is then said to have used the money to grant a construction contract for a school in a shanty neighborhood on the fringes of Bishkek without going through the process of a tender.
Kulmatov denied when he was charged that he had done anything wrong and was openly derisive about the idea he could be put on trial for building a new school in an underprivileged neighborhood.
In possible recognition of the oddity of that charge, the GKNB have this week doubled down on Kulmatov, accusing him manufacturing documents for the purpose of illegally crossing state borders. The security agency also said on June 17 that Kulmatov obtained Russian citizenship in 1995 and then subsequently, in 1996, illegally claimed Kyrgyz citizenship too. His lawyer has called this latest accusation nonsense, saying that he can present a copy of a Russian court ruling that Kulmatov never had Russian citizenship.