Security services in Kyrgyzstan on May 21 charged a recently fired head of the customs service with corruption, broadening an ongoing campaign of pressure against top officials serving under the former president.
The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, said that Kubanychbek Kulmatov is suspected of committing corrupt acts while serving as mayor of the capital city, Bishkek, an office he held for two years up to February 2016.
Kulmatov, 55, is accused of redirecting $2 million worth of Chinese grants intended for the construction of schools in the regions 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 denies all accusation of wrongdoing and said the school was built legally.
“If you are talking about financial damages, you need to put a sum to it. What is the amount?” he said to reporters on May 21 after being questioned by the GKNB and having his home searched.
The Chinese grants in question were part of a larger financial aid package from Beijing to help modernize a thermal power plant in Bishkek. That renovation is now at the center of a mounting political scandal amid claims of irregularities in how the contract was granted and how the work was executed.
A parliamentary inquiry into the power plant modernization has focused much of its attention on senior officials who served under former President Almazbek Atambayev, who is embroiled in an escalating proxy tussle with his successor and incumbent head of state Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
In recent weeks, Jeenbekov has moved quickly to root all of Atambayev’s leftover cronies from senior positions. Among the heads to roll have been those of the head of the GKNB, the General Prosecutor and even a prime minister loyal to Atambayev.
Kulmatov, who is the first top-tier Atambayev associate to face actual criminal charges, said the investigation against him “has a political subtext.”
Kulmatov began his climb through the ranks at the customs services — a body widely said to be riddled with corruption — in 2004. From 2010 through to 2013 he acted as head of that body. Following an interim period as mayor of Bishkek, he headed the Kyrgyz-Russian Fund for Development, a Moscow-funded body that doles out credit to farmers and small and medium businessmen. Late last year, he was again appointed head of the customs service, but was then fired on May 14.
Nurjamal Djanibekova is a journalist based in Bishkek.