Kyrgyzstan Rocked by Smear Scandal

The president sacks his brother after allegations he was involved in planting heroin to compromise a prominent politician.

Kyrgyzstan Rocked by Smear Scandal

The president sacks his brother after allegations he was involved in planting heroin to compromise a prominent politician.

Thursday, 21 September, 2006
Kyrgyzstan’s political establishment has been shaken by more allegations in the case of Omurbek Tekebaev, a leading opposition politician believed to have been targeted in a dirty tricks campaign.

President Kurmanbek Bakiev has sacked his brother Janysh as deputy head of the secret police or National Security Service, SNB, after parliament got hold of a document alleging he had ordered drugs to be planted in Tekebaev’s luggage as he left on a trip abroad.

The Kyrgyz parliament drafted a resolution on September 12 calling for the resignations of Bakiev, Prime Minister Felix Kulov, and other government ministers.

Tekebaev, who resigned as speaker of parliament earlier this year, was arrested by Polish border guards on September 6 after they found 595 grams of heroin in his suitcase on arrival in Warsaw. The drugs were stuffed inside a “matrioshka” – the familiar Russian wooden toy which usually has smaller dolls nesting inside it.

With such strong material evidence, the Poles placed Tekebaev in custody and charged him with smuggling narcotics.

But the authorities in Poland – like Kyrgyzstan, a country with a recent communist past – took a closer look at the matter, and on September 8, a district court in Warsaw dropped all charges and released Tekebaev. He was, the court said, “an active opposition figure in a country where the struggle for democracy has not ended”, and as such, there was reason to believe the drugs had been planted on him to discredit him.

Tekebaev stepped down as speaker of parliament in February 2006 and has since become an increasingly vocal critic of President Kurmanbek Bakiev’s administration. He remains a member of parliament.

Central Asian parliaments are generally the tame instruments of the ruling elite, but Kyrgyzstan’s legislature has broken the mould by seizing the initiative and driving forward the process of disclosure, however uncomfortable the results may prove for senior officials.

On September 8, the assembled members of parliament were treated to a showing of footage from the closed-circuit cameras installed at Manas, Bishkek’s international airport.

In the film, Tekebaev’s luggage is separated from that of two other members of his delegation after they check in together on September 5. For no obvious reason, his bag is taken off somewhere out of sight of the cameras for 14 minutes, and is then brought back to rejoin the others. A uniformed airport security service officer is seen carrying the bag when it disappears and reappears, and the same man is present as it passes through a security X-ray machine.

Parliament immediately set up a 10-member commission to look into the case. Beyond the issues of what had happened and which airport personnel were involved, the unspoken question was whether some more senior figure had ordered drugs to be planted on Tekebaev.

As if the CCTV film was not enough, there was more to come when the parliamentary commission convened on September 11.

The investigating commission produced a written statement from Nadyr Mamyrov, the deputy director of Manas airport, alleging that Janysh Bakiev personally instructed him to arrange a smear operation against Tekebaev. The commission said it also had a video recording in which Mamyrov gave the same testimony.

Mamyrov told commission members that he wrote his statement in the presence of both President Bakiev and SNB chief Busurmankul Tabaldiev.

This explosive testimony was not made public the day Mamyrov wrote it – September 8 – when Tabaldiev told reporters merely that his agency had nothing to do with the case, and wanted to investigate it urgently.

Tabaldiev appeared in parliament on September 12 to announce that he was stepping down, and that his deputy Janysh Bakiev had been dismissed by presidential decree.

Parliament went on to draft a strongly-worded resolution which will be put to the vote on September 14, calling for the resignations of the president, the prime minister and the rest of the government including the interior minister and the remaining deputy heads of the SNB. In addition, it demands the recall of two other Bakiev brothers – Marat, who is currently Kyrgyz ambassador to Germany, and Adyl, a counsellor at the country’s Beijing embassy.

If the government does not comply with the resolution, parliament is warning that it will declare September 15 a day of civil disobedience.

President Bakiev has ordered a new government commission – separate from the parliamentary body - to be set up to look into the case.

The scandal is clearly a huge embarrassment for President Bakiev, who confirmed his brother’s appointment as deputy head of the SNB in March this year.

Bakiev presides over a political environment that remains unsettled a year and a half after the March 2005 revolution that ousted his predecessor Askar Akaev. He has lost some support among the core constituency of former opposition figures – Tekebaev among them – who were his allies in the revolution. Many of them now accuse his administration of achieving little in the way of democratic and economic progress.

To win election in July 2005, Bakiev forged an alliance with another opposition politician, Felix Kulov, even though the two were not seen as natural allies. After the election, they continued working together, one as president and the other as prime minister.

That relationship – known as the “tandem” in Kyrgyzstan – may now be under strain.

Kulov, who last week said he was “100 per cent convinced” that Tekebaev was the innocent victim of a dirty trick, appeared in parliament on September 12, where he said, “Janysh Bakiev has let down not just the president but the whole country.”

Parliamentarians wanted to summon President Bakiev himself, but he declined, saying he had other commitments for the day.

Tekebaev had earlier arrived in parliament after flying into Bishkek overnight. The applause that greeted him reflected the sympathy he has been shown during this scandal. From the outset, there has been a rare degree of unanimity among politicians that he was no drug smuggler.

Among the opposition, there was always a suspicion that someone in a position of authority was behind the incident, and that Tekebaev was targeted as he is a particularly high-profile government critic. As well as being ex-chairman of parliament, he heads the Ata-Meken Socialist Party and is co-chairman of an opposition umbrella group, the Movement for Reform.

In a letter to the European Parliament late last week, the Movement for Reform said, “We are certain that this drug was planted by Kyrgyz security services with the sole aim of discrediting an opposition leader and removing him from the political scene.”

Bolot Baikojoev, a former member of parliament who like Tekebaev, has become disillusioned with the Bakiev-led government, also blamed the security services and said, “Tekebaev is a possible presidential candidate and a leader of the opposition, so the present regime decided to neutralise him - and it did so in a dirty, primitive manner.”

Opposition politicians pointed to the timing of the incident, just as political activity was about to be stepped up after a quiet summer. On September 17, opposition groups will gather in the southern town of Aksy for a “kurultai” or assembly at which the Movement for Reforms will play a prominent role.

Taalaibek Amanov is the pseudonym of an independent journalist in Bishkek. Aziza Turdueva, a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL, provided additional reporting.

Support our journalists