Kyrgyz Legal Battle

Kyrgyzstan’s ex-president and its new government are swapping allegations of wrongdoing through international lawyers.

Kyrgyz Legal Battle

Kyrgyzstan’s ex-president and its new government are swapping allegations of wrongdoing through international lawyers.

The Kyrgyz government has hired international lawyers to track down foreign properties or businesses owned by Askar Akaev or those close to the ex-president, who was overthrown during an uprising in late March.


A state commission headed by acting vicy prime minister Daniyar Usenov has been probing the Akaev family finances in Kyrgyzstan since April 19.


Acting general prosecutor Azimbek Beknazarov told a press conference in Bishkek on June 1 that foreigners were hired to conduct the out-of-country investigation because Kyrgyz lawyers and investigators are not licensed to make enquiries abroad.


But international expertise doesn’t come cheap. Beknazarov said the Kyrgyz government would pay the Vienna-based lawyer leading the team 500,000 US dollars with another getting five per cent of any monies returned to Kyrgyzstan.


Akaev, meanwhile, is preparing to sue Usenov who he accuses of defamation and has hired Russian lawyer Maxim Maximovich to take him to court. Usenov has publicly labelled the ex-president as corrupt and a thief.


“When a high-ranking official makes such a statement, he should either prove what he has said or apologise,” said Maximovich. “We will probably use methods of legal defence and appeal to a court to defend the honour and dignity of Kyrgyzstan citizen Askar Akaev.”


So far, 114 criminal cases have been opened at home against companies connected with the Akaevs and their inner circle, though the ex-president has not been directly named.


“Not a single specific charge has been made [against Akaev]. Not a single piece of evidence has been presented,” said Maximovich at a press conference May 27.


He accuses Usenov, a former opposition leader, of exacting vengeance on a political adversary.


“The actions of the commission headed by Daniyar Usenov are of a political nature … to take revenge on a political rival,” he said.


The two men have a long and sometimes bitter history. In 2000, Usenov was barred from taking up his parliamentary seat after receiving a four-year suspended sentence for assault based on an incident at Bishkek airport four years earlier. He was belatedly prosecuted only after announcing he would run for the presidency.


Akaev, who is currently in Moscow, has denied that his family controls an extensive property empire, insisting through Maximovich that he owns only an apartment in Bishkek and an old dacha. In Moscow, he rents a modest dacha, “an old wooden building without any luxuries”, the lawyer said.


No papers relating to the lawsuit have yet been filed, but news that Akaev has hired legal representation and plans to sue received a mixed response in Kyrgyzstan.


Olga Bezborodova, parliamentary deputy and former editor of the newspaper Vecherny Bishkek, owned by Akaev’s son-in-law, said, “Before the court verdict any accusations violate presumption of innocence. Now Akaev has a lawyer. Balance has now been established. There is the prosecuting side and the defence.”


Some ordinary citizens were less enthusiastic, however.


About 12 people picketed the building where Maximovich held his press conference with one, Ismanaliev Marat, telling IWPR, “We are angry that [Akaev] has raised his head again. We do not want a person who robbed the people for 15 years to return and stand up for his rights. We do not believe that he is the moral right to do so.”


Maximovich’s announcement of the pending law suit coincided with a parliamentary briefing by Usenov on the results of the first 40 days of investigations by the state commission.


The commission admitted in early May that untangling the complex web of ownership surrounding many of the firms they believed were connected to Akaev was proving difficult.


In his May 27 presentation, Usenov asked the team’s mandate be extended by another month, saying 136 companies had been added to the initial list of 42, all of which he said are connected to the Akaevs.


Some are alleged to have evaded income tax while others are accused of misusing public funds.


In his report to parliament, Usenov cited one factory that he said was artificially bankrupted and sold to an Akaev relative at a price below the market value.


“If one calculates the damage done to the country from illegal privatisation, tax avoidance, non-payment of duties, illegal seizure of business from businessmen, in all areas, I would assess this at billions of soms,” Usenov later told IWPR.


He said materials the commission has obtained show “most of the actions are criminal in nature, design and implementation” and concern “hundreds of people who were in power, who used their official position to achieve their criminal goals”.


Despite the possibility of legal action against Usenov by Akaev, parliamentary deputies responded positively to the report with one urging the deputy prime minister to widen his enquires.


“This commission must not stop here, it must investigate even further, so that in future officials of any rank do not wish to appropriate property or other things for themselves,” said Omurbek Tekebaev, parliamentary speaker.


“This investigation should not just concern Akaev’s family and circle, but all high-ranking officials.”


Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek


Kyrgyzstan
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