Documents have come to light proving that the beneficiary of a $748,000 renovation funded by the U.S. military was not the state or people of Kyrgyzstan, as initially claimed by Kyrgyz and U.S. officials, but a private citizen who acquired the property under dubious circumstances.
The former state hospital, in the Bishkek suburb of Shopokov, was intended to be a “development center for battered women” and “a shelter for up to 55 women and their children,” according to U.S. military press materials distributed during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2010. The American airbase at Manas funded the renovations. The base commander and U.S. ambassador attended the event.
For a time, the impressively refurbished two-story building stood empty. Today it accommodates a private kindergarten that earns its owners roughly $47,000 per year, based on calculations using figures provided by the school’s employees.
The $748,000 grant was unusually large for Manas, accounting for one-third of the base’s humanitarian aid spending that year. Most of Manas’s development grants that year were for less than $20,000.
American officials appeared to believe at the time that the funds were being used to refurbish a state-owned building. In 2011, when the building stood empty, a Manas spokesperson told EurasiaNet.org that after refurbishment the building was supposed to remain Kyrgyz government property and said Manas was not responsible for monitoring program activity.
The implementing partner was Zamira Akbagysheva, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s Congress of Women.
Today, a sign on the gate outside the building declares “Authorized People Only.” With its sparkling paint-job, new windows, and bright-red roofing tiles, the building stands out in the neighborhood of dilapidated gray houses.
An investigation I worked on for Kloop.kg has found that companies controlled by Akbagysheva, who never set up a woman’s shelter, own the building.
After an MP last month declared that the building had been illegally privatized, Kloop.kg obtained documents from local officials showing the building had been transferred to private hands as far back as 2003—seven years before the U.S. military-funded restoration.
Some of the registration documents contradict each other, but legally, the State Property Management Fund’s Timur Malbashev confirmed, the building was transferred to an organization run by Akbagysheva in 2003.
According to registration documents at the district Cadastre Department, the building is owned by Shopokov’s city hall.
But Shopokov’s current mayor, Suleiman Umaraliev, was surprised to learn that cadastre documents say his administration owns the building. In response, he showed how, in 2003, the building quickly transitioned from government property into Akbagysheva’s hands in a series of maneuvers that suggest she had high-level support in a government that two years later was overthrown by protestors furious at elite corruption. (We have posted the mayor’s documents here.)
“They [the buyers] paid a ridiculous [small] amount of money,” noted Umaraliev, who has been in office since 2008.
First the government transferred ownership to Shopokov city hall on August 23, 2003, under a decree signed by then Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev. The building and property were estimated to be worth 444,000 soms (equivalent to about $10,000 at the time).
Three days later, following a lightening-fast decision by the Shopokov city council, the building was transferred to a private organization called Dialog that was run, at the time, by Akbagysheva. Her organization later paid 20,600 soms (about $500 back then) to complete the purchase.
According to the Ministry of Justice’s database, Akbagysheva’s son, Aktan Sapiyanov, now heads Dialog.
During a visit to the building on February 20, the kindergarten manager, who introduced herself as Nurjan Ryskulova, said about 60 children attend the kindergarten, each for a monthly fee of 4000 soms ($65). When asked about the owner of the kindergarten, she hesitated and said she did not know, but said the building was “managed by” the Congress of Women of Kyrgyzstan—Akbagysheva’s organization.
Akbagysheva refused to comment throughout Kloop.kg’s investigation.
The U.S. military departed Manas in July 2014. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan still lacks facilities to support battered women. In January, Human Rights Watch reported that Bishkek, a city of approximately 850,000, has only one shelter for women suffering domestic abuse and that it has only 15 beds.