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Karachai-Cherkessia in Turmoil

The president disavows his son-in-law as a scandal grows.
By Akhmat Ebzeyev

Karachai-Cherkessia was in ferment this week as thousands of people attended a rally calling for the resignation of Mustafa Batdyev, president of this North Caucasian republic, and all his ministers.

The protesters, who gathered in the capital Cherkessk on November 1, say Batdyev has failed to deal with a growing crisis involving the disappearance of seven men, in which his son-in-law has been implicated.

The demonstrators, who included relatives of the seven, said they would continue their protest until “all the guilty are punished”.

Ali Kaitov, married to the president’s daughter, is in custody, charged with arranging the murder of the seven – an assumption based on the discovery of blood and evidence of gunfire at the scene of the alleged crime.

Kaitov gave himself up on October 25 after the authorities made him their prime suspect. Eleven other people have been arrested and four more are still on the run.

The charges against Kaitov relate to the evening of October 10, when a group of seven young men, including Rasul Bogatyrev, a member of the local parliament and a business associate of the accused, are said to have gone to a meeting with him, and subsequently vanished.

The other suspects include policemen and guards at the country house where the meeting allegedly took place.

Witnesses reported hearing gunfire from the grounds of the house.

Prosecutors are now saying they believe the case is connected with a dispute over ownership of the Tsakhilov factory, one of the major paint and varnish producers in southern Russia. Kaitov has a 30 per cent stake in plant, while Bogatyrev owns 20 per cent.

IWPR attempted to contact Kaitov’s lawyers but were unable to find out either from prosecution officials or other sources where they are. They are believed to be somewhere outside Karachai-Cherkessia.

The ongoing criminal case took on political dimensions when angry relatives of the seven missing men burst into Batdyev’s office, accusing the authorities of failing to act. The president was forced to flee together with his bodyguards.

Batdyev has announced that his daughter Lyudmila is divorcing Kaitov.

On October 27 Itar-Tass news agency quoted deputy prosecutor general Nikolai Shepel as saying that Kaitov was refusing to give any more evidence, citing the constitutional right that “no one is obliged to testify against himself”.

The sense that things were getting out of hand in the republic was heightened by the October 18 murder of deputy prime minister Ansar Tebuyev, who was shot dead not far from the interior ministry headquarters. It is not yet clear whether the incidents are linked.

After the disappearance of the seven men, the Russian Federation prosecutor general’s office moved in, taking the criminal case over from local officials and dispatching a special team from Moscow to run the investigation.

Russian president Vladimir Putin also sent his new envoy for the North Caucasus, Dmitry Kozak, to Cherkessk to talk to family members of the disappeared and calm tensions.

Batdyev announced rewards of five million rubles (170,000 US dollars) for information leading to the whereabouts of the disappeared men, and two million rubles for anyone who helped find Tebuyev’s killers.

This was clearly not enough for the relatives, and at the November 1 rally the protesters called on Batdyev to come out and face them and account for actions he had taken on the case.

“Damn this regime, which has merged with the criminal world!” said Mahmud Kubanov, the father of one of the disappeared men.

In the North Caucasus, the assumption might be that violent crime is linked to Islamic fundamentalism or ethnic rivalries. But political analysts in Karachai-Cherkessia, speaking off the record, have told IWPR that the Tebuyev murder and the disappearance case are more likely to be connected with the business scene.

Russian crime officials handling the latter case have made a definite link to the Tsakhilov chemical factory, in which both Kaitov and Bogatyrev have a business interest.

The plant – one of Karachai-Cherkessia’s prize assets – was privatised in the mid-Nineties. The death of major shareholder Zakhar Tsakhilov prompted a struggle for control of the company.

“The investigators believe it was the confrontation over… shares at the [Tsakhilov] chemical plant that led to the tragic events of October,” said analyst Ali-Hasan Akbaev, who heads the economics and opinion polls department at the West Caucasian Analysis Centre.

No one in government in Karachai-Cherkessia has commented on the role the dispute over the factory might have played.

The death of Tebuyev will have come as an added blow for President Batdyev.

A former police colonel, Tebuyev was seen as a man of considerable power and wealth. He worked for Batdyev as deputy interior minister and from April took charge of social issues in the government.

He and Batdyev were close friends who came from the same region and went to the same school. A government official who requested anonymity told IWPR that Tebuyev was “almost irreplaceable” for the president.

In a televised cabinet meeting, Batdyev said Tebuyev’s killers were likely to have been either common criminals or Islamic extremists. That’s a statement that most analysts would question.

Akhmat Ebzeyev is editor of Vesti Gor newspaper in Karachai-Cherkessia.

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