Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Steps Down Amid Telecom Scandal

Kyrgyz prime ministers tend to have a short shelf-life.

Catherine Putz
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Steps Down Amid Telecom Scandal
Credit: Flickr

On Monday, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziyev resigned amid a scandal over whether the government illegally sold radio frequencies

In late May, MP Janar Akayev demanded that Abylgaziyev prove his innocence in the developing scandal. Allegations of corruption have cropped up around the State Communications Agency’s handling of the re-registering of certain frequencies belonging to AlaTV after its sale to Beeline, a Russian telecommunications company and a top provider in Kyrgyzstan. In March, Beeline bought AlaTV for $1.8 million and acquired its license to use the 200 MHz radio frequency for cable television. Beeline then re-registered the frequency with the State Communications Agency to be used for 4G communications instead, for nothing (and ultimately, without an auction, passed it on to a Kazakh company). Akayev drew comparison between the auctioning of a 200-megahertz band for 700 som ($9.30) and the 2015 sale of a a 15-megahertz band for 1.5 billion som. Others have pointed to a different company that paid 900 million soms for the same license that Beeline seems to have acquired for free.

Akayev’s accusation is that this series of transactions has cost the state millions and none of it would have been possible without the knowledge of high-ranking officials like Abylgaziyev.

In his statement on June 15 announcing his resignation, Abylgaziyev said, “I have nothing to do with this case, and the accusations made against me have no basis.” He went on to state, however, that he was stepping down because “in today’s difficult conditions, when the country confronts the threat of coronavirus infection and struggles with its consequences for the economy, the government must work stably and enjoy the full confidence of citizens.”

Abylgaziyev, who has served as prime minister since April 2018, took a two-week leave of absence on May 27 to “avoid accusations of exerting any pressure on the course of the investigation.” In that period, he said in his statement, the authorities did not question him regarding the investigation.

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Natalya Chernogubova, a former director of the state telecommunications agency, was detained in May, followed by her deputy, two employees of the of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), and an AlaTV deputy director — all in the course of a closely guarded probe into the sale of radio frequency licenses. As 24.kg notes, this is far from the first or only current telecommunications scandal in Kyrgyzstan.

Abylgaziyev took over the prime minister post after Sapar Isakov was dismissed. Isakov had earlier served as President Almazbek Atambayev’s chief of staff and has suffered in the fallout between Atambayev and his successor, current President Soornbay Jeenbekov. (Atambayev is currently in the midst of two separate trials; in the one related to the 2013 early release of a Chechen gangster, the prosecution has asked for a sentence of 15 years.) In December 2019 Isakov was sentenced to 15 years in prison on corruption charges and in early June 2020 he was convicted in a second corruption case that extended his jail term to 18 years.

Abylgaziyev has been replaced in the premier slot by his deputy, Kubatbek Boronov, who has been first deputy prime minister since April 2018. Boronov has featured in the government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic given that from 2011 to 2018 he had headed the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Boronov has been described by the ruling parliamentary coalition as a “technical” prime minister whose government will only serve until the upcoming parliamentary elections, after which the new parliament can set a longer-term government.

Kyrgyz prime ministers tend to have short terms. Since 2010, the country has had nine different men sit as prime ministers: Atambayev (Dec. 2010-Sep. 2011, Nov 2011-Dec 2011), Omurbek Babanov (Dec. 2011-Sep. 2012), Zhantoro Satybaldiyev (Sep. 2012-Mar. 2014), Djoomart Otorbaev (Mar. 2014-May 2015), Temir Sariyev (May 2015-Apr. 2016), Sooronbay Jeenbekov (Apr. 2016-Aug. 2017), Sapar Isakov (Aug. 2017-Apr. 2018), Abylgaziyev (Apr. 2018-Jun. 2020), and now Boronov. 

Of those former prime ministers, many have been accused of corruption while those seen as “technical” and apolitical have quietly kept out of the arena since their terms ended. As noted above, Atambayev is on trial and Isakov is in jail — Jeenbekov is president. After losing the 2017 presidential election to Jeenbekov, Babanov fled Kyrgyzstan after the authorities opened a criminal case against him (it was still open as of August 2019); he scuttled an April 2019 plan to return before finally returning in August last year. Temir Sariyev had resigned amid graft accusations and unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 2017, too.

Boronov’s tenure is already envisioned to be short, with parliamentary elections anticipated to take place in October. The political field in Kyrgyzstan is an abject mess, so who knows who will rise to the top after election day.

With reporting from the Associated Press.