Kyrgyzstan: Former PM charged with corruption over power plant project
Sapar Isakov says he is in shock and that he will fight to prove his innocence.
Security services in Kyrgyzstan said on May 29 that they are charging the recently fired prime minister on corruption offenses — a bold move that will raise the stakes in a deepening political standoff.
The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, said in a statement that Sapar Isakov is being investigated over his role in the overhaul of a power plant in the capital, Bishkek. Isakov has been instructed to refrain from traveling as investigations continue.
The GKNB statement maintained that in 2013, while Isakov was in charge of the presidential administration’s foreign liaison department, he conspired to use his position to lobby in the interests of the foreign company that eventually took charge of the power plant project.
“As a result, huge damage was caused to the interests of the state and the people,” the GKNB said in its statement.
Critics of the power plant project contend that the contract was improperly granted to Chinese-owned company TBEA and that the costs of the work were artificially inflated. Isakov has argued that Kyrgyzstan was given no choice on who would get the plant modernization contract as funding for the project was provided by China, which he said made its choice of a contractor a key stipulation for granting the $386 million loan.
The decision to charge Isakov with a criminal offense does not come out of blue. He had been summoned for questioning on three occasions by the security services, most recently for six hours on May 29.
Speaking to media after the GKNB announcement, Isakov appeared stunned.
“To begin with they have been trampling over the name of Isakov in social networks and the media,” he said, referring to himself in the third person. “They are creating a hype around this person and making him out to be a criminal. My lawyers and I will now work closely on proving my innocence. I am in shock.”
The drama around the power plant is playing out against the backdrop of a behind-the-scenes battle for political influence between President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and his predecessor, Almazbek Atambayev. Isakov is widely regarded as a tight Atambayev ally and efforts to prosecute him will inevitably be seen as a shot across the bow of the former president.
Atambayev stepped down in November at the end of his single permitted six-year term, but left behind a raft of friendly officials that political observers say were his means of retaining influence over the running of the country. Jeenbekov, however, despite ostensibly being an old associate of Atambayev, has systematically cleared out all those holdover names. For his security services to now escalate matters to a high-profile prosecution is a clear sign of intent.
Atambayev has increasingly few resources with which to respond and has been notably mute in the face of the ongoing onslaught against his allies. In late March, the membership of the political party he helped found, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, or SDPK, reelected him as its leader. That return to the active political scene after six years of playing a nominally super partes institutional role as head of state signaled his intent to serve as a counterweight to the presidency.
The SPDK has proven fickle and disloyal in parliament, however.
In mid-May, members of parliament, including many from the SDPK, threw their support behind an initiative to strip Atambayev of criminal immunity. The deputy who made the proposal suggested the former president could face questioning, at the very least, over the power plant scandal that has now trapped Isakov in its wake.
It is not clear that Jeenbekov will go all the way, but if Atambayev has not yet understood that a stark red line has been drawn, it is unlikely he ever will.