Kyrgyz ex-leader goes on trial after summer of turmoil

Supporters of former Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev holding his portraits gather outside the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) headquarters, where a case hearing for ex-leader Atambayev is held, in Bishkek on August 16, 2019. Photo AFP
  • AFP
  • October 11, 2019 2:41 AM

Bishkek -- Kyrgyz ex-president Almazbek Atambayev, who faces a litany of accusations including organisation of murder and unrest, goes on trial Friday after months of political turmoil in the volatile Central Asian country. 

The 63-year-old former ally of President Sooronbai Jeenbekov has been charged with corruption over the release from jail and flight to Chechnya of one of the ex-Soviet nation's most notorious mob bosses during his presidency in 2013. 

Atambayev faces up to 15 years in prison, if convicted, his lawyer Sergey Slesarev told AFP. A closed preliminary hearing on the corruption case is set to begin Friday. 

The former president is also suspected of committing 13 other crimes including organisation of murder, organisation of mass disturbances and taking servicemen hostage during clashes at his residence this summer, his lawyer said.

Atambayev is the president's former friend and was active in securing the incumbent's election victory in 2017.

But the two subsequently fell out, roiling the impoverished country's political elite. 

Atambayev, who hails from Kyrgyzstan's north, accused Jeenbekov of forming a "family-clan regime" along with other southern politicians.

Their standoff sparked clashes between Atambayev's supporters and security services in August.

The conflict between the two has been watched with apprehension in Russia and China, whose political and economic influence in the country deepened during Atambayev's rule.

Russian President Vladimir Putin whose country has a military base in Kyrgyzstan met with Atambayev and Jeenbekov separately in Moscow in July. 

But the Kremlin chief's intervention failed to defuse the conflict.

In August, Atambayev was detained in a joint police and special forces operation targeting his residence near the capital Bishkek.

An earlier raid on his compound was repulsed by armed supporters leading to the death of a special forces officer and prompting a murder investigation. 

Atambayev's arrest came after he ignored three police summonses for questioning in connection with the release of crime boss Aziz Batukayev.

- Dogs and feasts - 

Batukayev's release on medical grounds caused an uproar in Kyrgyzstan where influential crime bosses are often viewed as being able to strike deals with the leadership. 

Leaked photos from Batukayev's time in jail showed that the criminal enjoyed a more comfortable existence than his fellow inmates, holding feasts in his cell where he reportedly kept dogs and regularly hosted visitors. 

Medical documents that showed he suffered from terminal cancer and provided the basis for his release were later revealed as forgeries by investigators. 

Authorities say they have been unable to secure Batukayev's extradition from Russia.

At least three other former officials including one former state prosecutor will also face trial over Batukayev's release.  

A number of other officials who were detained in connection with the case are believed to have testified against the former leader.  

Atambayev became Kyrgyzstan's first elected president to hand over power peacefully in 2017, following uprisings in 2005 and 2010. 

The second revolution left nearly 100 people dead and saw authoritarian leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev flee to Belarus.  

The Kyrgyz constitution now prohibits presidents from seeking a second term -- a unique stipulation in a region where long-ruling strongmen are the norm, but one that stokes tensions around election time.

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