A fresh scandal broke out in Kyrgyzstan when Omurbek Tekebayev, a member of the Kyrgyz parliament and a leader of the opposition movement For Reforms, was arrested at the Warsaw airport on September 6 for allegedly smuggling 500 grams of heroin.
Polish authorities soon released Tekebayev and issued an official statement that the incident was a political provocation, and no criminal charges were filed against him. Representatives from the Polish customs office also noted that the Kyrgyz Interpol office had alerted them about possible drug smuggling aboard Tekebayev’s flight.
Kyrgyz government officials, including President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, his younger brother and National Security Service official Zhanybek Bakiyev, Prime Minister Felix Kulov, Prosecutor General Kambarly Kongantiyev, and Manas airport vice-president Nadyr Mamyrov rushed to speak in support of Tekebayev. But while Kulov made a statement immediately after Tekebayev’s arrest, Bakiyev spoke only after Polish security officials had announced their verdict. Initial suspicions suggested that the Russian Federal Security Service, former Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev, or even Tekebayev himself, who allegedly sought to build a reputation as a repressed politician, were behind the incident.
A group of Kyrgyz parliamentarians managed to seize a videotape recorded on the day of Tekebayev’s departure from Manas airport in Bishkek. On the tape, Mamyrov is seen pulling Tekebayev’s luggage out of camera range and bringing it back after 15 minutes. The tape was accidentally left in the airport’s archives, while the original copy was erased.
Bakiyev’s brother became the primary suspect in the plot after Fergana.ru published a letter by Mamyrov on September 12. In the letter, Mamyrov states that he had followed directives given by Zhanybek Bakiyev. The night before the letter became public, the chairman of the Kyrgyz Security Service, Busurmankul Tabaldiyev, stepped down from his post. He was followed by Zhanybek Bakiyev, and Mamyrov has apparently fled the country. The scandal could well result in Bakiyev’s impeachment, if more evidence is found against the president or his closest allies. Kyrgyz opposition and civil society have already begun to refer to the case as “heroingate.”
Kongantiyev had previously claimed that people involved in the shadow economy, including drug traffickers, are permeating the Kyrgyz government and parliament. Tekebayev’s family members have been suspected of selling drugs, which makes him a possible suspect. But Tekebayev himself is known for being a successful businessman who probably would not risk his career by smuggling such a small amount of drugs into Europe.
Tekebayev enjoys support in both the south and north of Kyrgyzstan. He could potentially be a popular candidate in the 2010 presidential elections, and he has good relations with Prime Minister Kulov. This February Tekebayev was sacked as speaker of parliament under strong pressure from President Bakiyev (see EDM, February 14). This recent scandal has only contributed to Tekebayev’s popularity across the country, as he is seen as a victim of the regime’s suppressive policies.
This recent political intrigue distracted Kyrgyz public attention from the curious disappearance of U.S. Air Force Major Jill Metzger, serving at the U.S. military base outside Bishkek. Metzger went missing for three days on September 5. She reportedly claims that someone stuffed a bomb into her jeans pocket and abducted her. One Kyrgyz political scholar told Jamestown, “The U.S. mass media outlets portrayed Metzger as a hero, but few details on her abduction are available.” Incidents like this have never happened in Kyrgyzstan before and some locals find the official version difficult to believe. Most people were worried about Tekebayev’s problem, not Metzger’s disappearance.
Tekebayev’s case appears to be a sophisticated political sting operation that ended in total fiasco. Against the background of myriad smaller political intrigues and corruption, there is little doubt of the ruling elites’ complicity in the plot. Ambiguous reshufflings of government positions have been constant since the March 24, 2005, revolution that removed former president Akayev. One Kyrgyz government representative who was recently sacked from his high-ranking position complained to Jamestown that Bakiyev’s cadre politics are “deeply unfair and absolutely unpredictable.” With regard to the ongoing constitutional reform, one Kyrgyz legal specialist notes, “Government officials, while working on constitutional projects, are more concerned with redistributing positions, not changing the state structure.”
New anti-government demonstrations are likely to take place in Bishkek in the coming days. There have already been several gatherings at different locations in southern Osh oblast, Tekebayev’s birthplace. Dozens of people greeted Tekebayev at the Bishkek airport on September 12, as he returned home from Poland. Upon his return to Bishkek, Tekebayev directly accused the government of being behind his arrest: “No one but the government organized it. All resources and opportunities were used… The Warsaw court believed me and not the government.”
(Akipress, 24.kg, Tazar.kg, Fergana.ru, Fox.com, CBS.com, Bely Parohod, Baisalov.livejournal.com, September 5-12)