Kyryzstan: Police Force in Crisis

Eighth suspected contract killing in two months underlines sorry state of Kyrgyz law enforcers.

Kyryzstan: Police Force in Crisis

Eighth suspected contract killing in two months underlines sorry state of Kyrgyz law enforcers.

As the rest of Kyrgyzstan celebrated Constitution Day last week, senior police official Chynybek Aliev – head of the division in charge of investigating abuses of office in the Ministry of the Interior, MVD – was shot dead with a Kalashnikov at pointblank range in Bishkek.

The May 5 murder – the eighth suspected contract killing in Kyrgyzstan in two months, compared with 30 in the last three years – is widely seen as further evidence that Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies are in deep crisis.

Observers say the prevalence of corruption, nepotism and an exodus of experienced officers – all fuelled by poor pay conditions – are leading to increasing lawlessness.

“The murder of Aliev shows that Kyrgyzstan has no rule of law,” Tolekan Ismailova, head of the NGO Civil Society Against Corruption, told IWPR. “It also shows that undesirable things happen at the highest echelons… If it will continue this way, then the stability of the state will be threatened.”

According to data supplied by the parliamentary committee on state security, 1,093 crimes, including 120 murders, have been reported in Kyrgyzstan so far in 2004. Between May 2003 and May 2004, 3000 people were reported missing and, of the 30 suspected contract killings carried out in the last three years, only one case has been solved.

President Askar Akaev acknowledged serious problems in Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement agencies on April 13, during a discussion devoted to the issues of intensifying the fight against crime, suggesting there were criminal elements within the police force.

Part of the problem is that corruption and nepotism have led to law enforcement agencies developing a highly inefficient structure, with rank determined by kinship or the ability to pay bribes, rather than by experience or talent.

Alymbai Sultanov, chairman of the parliamentary committee on public order, crime fighting and corruption, recently admitted in the assembly that “corruption and bribery have become rooted in the very structure of the MVD”.

“There exist certain price lists for getting a job at the MVD,” he told IWPR. “For instance, in order to secure a job as an ordinary patrol officer, one has to pay from 100 to 500 dollars.

“There are worthy police workers, but these people cannot move up the career ladder because they lack finances and connections… One’s career growth within [the] Kyrgyz police [force] does not take into account the success rate of crime investigations. Instead, kinship and locality ties and money play the role.”

MVD staff told IWPR that more senior positions can also be bought with bribes. “If you want to become the deputy head of a district police department in the capital, it’s enough to pay 10,000 dollars. And the post of deputy head of Bishkek internal affairs department costs 20,000 dollars,” said one.

Another told IWPR that promotion has little to do with merit, “Whenever the minister, or a deputy minister, or a head of some division changes, his close associates are also changed,” he said. “As a rule, the new people are enlisted from the ranks of one’s relatives, from one’s region, or for a bribe, but never based on professional criteria. This is why professionals spend years in low ranking positions, and then quit their jobs.

“Any police chief tries to surround himself with his people, so that they cover his back in certain situations when he violates the law, and he does the same favor to them as well.”

Observers note a worrying blurring of the boundaries between law enforcement agencies and the criminal groups they are meant to track down.

Local media in Kyrgyzstan recently reported that the car driven by the deputy head of the internal affairs department of Bishkek, police colonel Melis Turganbaev, was listed as stolen by Kazakstan’s Interpol bureau.

Some see Aliev’s death as further evidence of these blurred boundaries.

“Within the MVD there are certain groups that have merged with criminal groups,” parliamentary deputy Adakhan Madumarov told IWPR. “A real war is going on. The murder of Aliev shows that there are traitors in the MVD…who totally support criminal groupings. Solving high profile cases, investigated by Aliev, is not in their interest.

“The murder of a representative of government shows that the authorities don’t control the situation in the country nowadays,” agreed deputy Nikolay Baylo. “The authorities are powerless. Organised crime is openly penetrating the ranks of the authorities. This is undermining the foundations of the state and democracy. It is possible that after the next elections, organised crime will get into the official structures.”

“There are less and less honest people remaining at MVD,” another deputy, Azimbek Beknazarov, told IWPR.

The same view is echoed from within the law enforcement agencies themselves.

Police major Jamankul Junusov told IWPR that high-ranking MVD heads are providing patronage for criminal groups.

“I started believing this after they tried to fire me, an operative worker with 18 years of work experience, right at the moment when I came very close to solving one of the high profile contract killings of 2002,” he said, adding that he suspects MVD chiefs are reluctant to investigate certain notorious criminal cases.

Ismailova confirmed that justice is often only a secondary consideration in criminal cases, telling IWPR, “The [current] system allows the outcomes of criminal cases to be decided for bribes. The MVD has price lists by which one can ‘negotiate’ any criminal case.”

At the root of many of these problems are the poor working and pay conditions of Kyrgyz police officers.

According to the parliamentary committee on state security, the salary of a higher-ranking policeman is around 22 dollars – marginally more than an ordinary officer. Observers argue that poor pay makes officers more vulnerable to temptation.

“The state itself is preparing potential terrorists, extortionists and bribe-takers. A policeman who does not receive his salary for several months will, naturally, violate the law in order to feed his family,” Ismail Isakov, chairman of the parliamentary committee on state security, told IWPR.

“According to research conducted by international agencies, the most corrupt institution in Kyrgyzstan is the MVD. This is the result of the socio-economic situation of the workers of this agency, who receive beggarly salaries,” agreed Ismailova.

Poor pay conditions are also leading to an exodus of highly qualified officers. In 2003 alone, 1,318 police officers quit their jobs with the MVD.

Despite government pledges to address the problems that are currently crippling Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement agencies, many remain sceptical about the scope for improvement. “Take a look at Bishkek’s streets,” said Aybek, a student at the MVD Academy. “Who drives the fanciest Mercedes and BMW cars? Who has the most luxurious mansions having no more than a 200-dollar salary? Everyone knows everything, but nothing changes.”

Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.

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