Crossroads Asia

Was Kyrgyzstan Seriously Going to Loan Helicopters to Uganda?

The apparent scheme wasn’t carried out, but implicates former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.

By Satina Aidar for
Was Kyrgyzstan Seriously Going to Loan Helicopters to Uganda?
Credit: Flickr / ajw1970

On June 15, 2018, Russian language media were abuzz with news of an alleged corrupt deal involving former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Atambayev, the reports said, pushed a deal to lease two Mi-24V and two Mi-8MTV helicopters, which Kyrgyzstan had received as military assistance from Russia, to Uganda.

Kyrgyz Parliament member Kanybek Imanaliev and his Ata-Meken opposition party peers maintain that the former president was in charge of the dubious operation, and that then-Atambayev Chief of Staff (and later Prime Minister) Sapar Isakov served as liaison for the deal. Allegedly, in 2014 President Atambayev signed an order to lease the four helicopters for two years to Uganda, which needed them to participate in the African Union mission to Somalia.

As Russia’s Kommersant reports, the lease agreement was signed on December 3, 2014, by representatives of Uganda’s Ministry of Defense and the state enterprise Kyrgyzkural (“Kyrgyz weapons”). It has now come to light that this dubious transaction was overseen by none other than Sapar Isakov himself. A 2015 letter addressed to the Chief of Staff of Kyrgyzstan’s Armed Forces carried in the Kommersant article, Isakov explained that “the project is quite complicated from the point of view of its practical implementation.”

Since Atambayev left office following presidential elections in October 2017, corruption allegations involving him and his entourage have surfaced with increasing regularity. These include the scandal surrounding the embezzlement of Chinese funds earmarked to modernize Bishkek’s power plant; inflated prices in the 8.7 million Euro restoration of the Kyrgyz historical museum, also in Bishkek, as well as in the construction of the hippodrome in Cholpon-Ata for the 2016 World Nomad Games.

In the same 2015 letter, Isakov wrote that canceling the contract will cause a $30 million loss for the state’s coffers, as well as potentially damage prospective projects for Kyrgyzkural, Kommersant reported. While the exact amount of money involved in the deal has not been officially revealed, according to the contract the Government of Uganda was meant to pay for the lease through an account in the Emirates Bank in Dubai, which belongs to Sky Tech Trading Services FZE, an Emirates-based offshore company. A company that goes by this name is located in the Free Economic Zone in Fujairah, but the phone operator stated that their telephones had been disconnected for non-payment of bills.

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In 2015, Kyrgyzstan’s Minister of Defense Abibilla Kudaiberdiev demanded that the general prosecutor’s office verify the agreement with the government of Uganda. He also questioned the legality of funds to rent state property being transferred to the account of an unknown company registered in the UAE Free Economic Zone, adding that he found out about the contract only six months after it had been signed. As Kommersant reports, on August 25, 2015, the military prosecutor’s office announced the contract to be “illegal”; yet, Isakov demanded that the Ministry of Defense obey the Commander-in-Chief, President Atambayev.

What followed at the close of 2015 looks a lot like judicial persecution for failing to abide by Atambayev’s orders, as criminal charges were brought against several key figures in the Ministry of Defense for abuse of office, illegal use of budgetary finds, and embezzlement. On October 12, 2015, the Anti-corruption unit of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) accused (by then, former Minister) Kudaiberdiev himself of a “corruption scheme for the illegal use of budget funds in the Ministry of Defense of the Kyrgyz Republic.”

As several of the above criminal cases against the leadership of the Ministry of Defense continue, two questions need to be answered: were these criminal cases brought against the defendants for refusing to comply with Atambayev’s alleged corrupt scheme? And if so, isn’t it high time for Kyrgyzstan’s Public Prosecutor to investigate the former president himself?

Satina Aidar is a lawyer from Kyrgyzstan. The author is using a pseudonym.