Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Isakov Gets New Trial, Too

He’s on the lam after getting out of jail during the October unrest and neglecting to return to prison.

Catherine Putz
Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Isakov Gets New Trial, Too
Credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Service

Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sapar Isakov has been granted a new trial in the case of corruption related to the renovation of the State History Museum and the construction of a hippodrome in Cholpon-Ata. 

The trouble is, no one knows where Isakov is. A new trial likely won’t begin without him.

The Kyrgyz Supreme Court’s decision in the matter comes a week after it made a similar ruling with regard to former President Almazbek Atambayev’s conviction and 11-year sentence in the case of the early release of Aziz Batukayev.

Isakov was, like Atambayev, among the imprisoned politicians freed during the unrest after the October 4 parliamentary election. But unlike Atambayev, Isakov never returned to jail. According to 24.kg’s reporting, Isakov and Albek Ibraimov, a former mayor of Bishkek jailed in late 2019 on corruption charges, were released “for seven days for family reasons,” but neither man returned to jail when their week of liberty was finished. In late October, the two men were placed on an interstate wanted list by Kyrgyz authorities. Their whereabouts are unknown.

Nevertheless, on December 7 the Supreme Court overturned the Isakov conviction, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reports. Isakov’s lawyer, Bakytbek Avtandil uulu, said that the trial violated the law in that the accused was not present at the proceedings. Apparently Isakov had interrupted the judge in the case while in court and the judge barred him from attending future sessions. The rules, Avtandil uulu said, say that a judge can bar a defendant from one session but not all subsequent meetings.

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Isakov was sentenced to 12 years after a Bishkek court found him guilty of corruption related to the lengthy and expensive renovation of the State History Museum and the construction of a hippodrome in Cholpon-Ata. In late 2019, Isakov had been sentenced to 15 years on corruption charges related to the Bishkek Power Plant fiasco. In June, in sentencing over the museum conviction, the judge combined Isakov’s terms into an 18-year sentence. In August, a second court upheld the 18-year sentence.

Isakov maintained his innocence in both cases. He served as prime minister of Kyrgyzstan from August 2017 to April 2018 and before that as deputy head of Atambayev’s presidential administration spearheading work on foreign investments. 

Isakov was one of a number of Atambayev allies who found themselves crushed in the feud between Atambayev and his successor, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. After Jeenbekov’s election in October 2017, tension emerged between him and Atambayev. 

In some ways, Jeenbekov and Isakov’s fates could have easily been flipped. Jeenbekov served as Atambayev’s prime minister from April 2016 to August 2017, immediately before Isakov did. He had also, before that, just like Isakov, been deputy head of the presidential administration. But in the end, Jeenbekov became president and Isakov took the fall for many of the (perceived or real) sins of corruption pegged to the Atambayev era.

Of course, Jeenbekov himself was ousted in mid-October. Jeenbekov resigned under the threat of continued violence in the streets, with pressure added by Sadyr Japarov. Japarov, who for about a month served as both prime minister and acting president, is another political figure freed from jail in the post-election unrest but one that, somehow, spun escape from incarceration into a path to power.