The latest Central Asian telecom scandal centers on Kyrgyzstan and isn’t exactly new, though the players implicated factor into the state’s present political tumult.
On Monday, President Almazbek Atambayev instructed state prosecutors to investigate Omurbek Tekebayev, head of the now-in-opposition Ata-Meken party, and two others for corruption. Atambayev and Tekebayev, former allies and leaders of the protest movement that unseated the previous Kyrgyz President, have been increasingly at odds over the pending constitutional referendum.
According to Reuters on Monday, Atambayev asked prosecutors to closely examine a document dated April 2012 and obtained recently by the state security service (GKNB) from the government of Belize which describes the planned sale of assets by an offshore company, allegedly to the benefit of Tekebayev, and fellow Ata-Meken MPs Almambet Shykmamatov (a former Justice Minister) and Aida Salyanova (a former prosecutor general.)
The document apparently indicated that an offshore company, Southfield Management Inc. — allegedly owned by Maxim Bakiyev, the much-hated son of Kyrgyzstan’s former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev — held 51 percent of the shares in MegaCom, a prominent Kyrgyz telecom. Tekebayev, Shykmamatov, and Salyanova allegedly held stakes in Southfield, amounting to 22 percent, and stood to gain from the then-planned $50 million sale of MegaCom assets. As Reuters notes, “[t]he sale mentioned in the documents never took place because the government nationalized the assets in question.”
Partnership in an offshore company is not, in itself, a crime; but being linked in any fashion to the Bakiyevs is tantamount to a crime in Kyrgyzstan.
Tekebayev vehemently denies the state’s charges of any wrongdoing. He told Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz RFE/RL bureau, that the documents are fake. He pointed out that Salyanova was prosecutor general when the Kyrgyz state nationalized MegaCom and said his faction always favored nationalization.
However, in a 2011 EurasiaNet article, Tekebayev is cited as among those who “contend that the Megacom case is spoiling relations with one of Kyrgyzstan’s most important partners, if not its prime patron.” It’s not clear, from that categorization, how strongly Tekebayev opposed nationalization then.
Back in 2011 as the Kyrgyz state moved on cracking down on assets tied to the former regime, including nationalizing MegaCom, the situation risked irritating Moscow. Maxim Bakiyev had allegedly obtained his shares in MegaCom from Moscow-based Eventis Telecom in 2006 and the Russian company was trying to get them back when Bishkek nationalized the telecom.
Tekebayev told Reuters, regarding the new document, “This is 100 percent fake… This is a primitive provocation they have come up with… because we oppose the referendum (on executive powers).”
Similar allegations have surfaced before, as Kloop points out, Ata-Meken says it intends to sue a publication which carried similar allegations and in 2012, the party won a case against a different publication that carried claims that Tekebayev had received a million dollars for mediating the sale of MegaCom.
Few hands in Kyrgyz politics are clean. Matters such as this — including offshore companies, the children of autocrats, and long-time political figures — are deeply complex and in need of thorough investigation. It is troubling, however, that Atambayev’s anti-corruption push seems to be targeting his former allies (now his present political irritants), making it potentially a crusade of convenience rather than one of conviction.