Are Kyrgyzstan’s Leaders Serious About War on Corruption?
Recent detention of senior figures looks good but may not herald a more comprehensive drive to root out corrupt officials.
The arrest of two high-profile officials on fraud charges in Kyrgyzstan has failed to convince the government’s critics that it is serious about cracking down on systemic corruption.
Hajimurat Korkmazov, a parliamentarian from the opposition Ata Jurt faction, was arrested on July 15 after allegedly taking a 100,000 US dollar bribe from relatives of former Bishkek mayor Nariman Tyuleev, who is under investigation for accusations of land fraud.
Investigators said the bribe was meant to be passed on to Daniyar Narymbaev, the head of Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambaev’s office. They said Narymbaev had promised to help ease a review of Tyuleev’s case in return.
On July 16, Narymbaev – seen as one of the most influential officials in Kyrgyzstan – stepped down. Six days later, he was arrested on charges of extorting bribes and abusing his position.
Atambayev told reporters on July 27 that he had given the go-ahead for charges to be brought against his trusted aide.
“I could have stopped this case, but I didn’t do that,” he said. “On the contrary, I wanted to see this case launched. People have said that corruption has reached the [top levels] of the White House [government]. We need to clean up.”
In May, anti-corruption officials began looking into land deals which they believe Tyuleev transacted illegally during his time as Bishkek mayor. Tyuleev was convicted in a separate corruption case in 2013.
His daughter Nazgul Tyuleeva told the 24.kg news agency that she approached Supreme Court judge Kanatbek Turganbekov to discuss the new charges, and was referred to Narymbaev.
She says that at Narymbaev’s request, 50,000 dollars was paid via Korkmazov to ensure a positive legal outcome for her father.
“My family had been under pressure for the past three years and feared that this pressure would increase, so we agreed to this demand,” she said.
But then, she said, there were demands for more money, and she was warned that if she did not deliver, her father would face serious criminal charges and the rest of the family would be “subjected to pressure in every possible way”.
Persuaded that the extortion would never end, she filed a complaint with Kyrgyzstan’s security service.
Immediately after Korkmazov’s arrest, Narymbaev held a press conference at which he acknowledged meeting Nazgul Tyuleeva, but insisted “there was no talk of money”.
Just before he was arrested, Narymbaev circulated a statement to the media saying the whole case had been manufactured in an attempt to defame the authorities.
The prosecutor general’s office said it would be questioning Judge Turganbekov and Social Democratic Party leader Chynybay Tursunbekov, because both were said to have attended meetings between Tyuleeva and Narymbaev.
COURTS SHORT ON INDEPENDENCE AND WILLPOWER
Human rights activists say judicial reform has not progressed significantly since President Kurmanbek Bakiev was ousted in 2010, while the fact Tyuleev’s daughter asked the president’s chief of staff to intervene in a legal case speaks volumes about how the system works.
Narymbaev was involved in the drafting of the constitution passed in 2010, as well as in reforms which should have seen the judicial system transformed into an independent structure beyond government control.
Rita Karasartova, director of the Institute for Public Analysis, says that instead of this, “The president’s office created a judicial system that cannot be called independent.”
When courts can be influenced by the executive, it becomes hard to try and convict officials in any systematic way, as opposed to singling out the few who are unfortunate or inept enough to get themselves caught.
Karasartova says Narymbaev’s arrest only became possible once the president gave his personal consent, as police would never have dared take action against such an important figure otherwise.
“Atambayev found himself in a no-win situation because if he started protecting Narymbaev, people would be outraged,” she told IWPR. “Once Narymbaev had sunk so low and disgraced himself, he had to carry the can,” she added.
Cholpon Jakupova, director of the legal aid clinic Adilet, agreed that Narymbaev’s arrest were the exception rather than the rule.
“If the order hadn’t been issued, this case would never have been launched. It isn’t feasible that Narymbaev was detained without someone’s consent, since our police are politicised and the courts are under the control of the authorities,” she told the Vecherny Bishkek newspaper.
CULTURE OF CORRUPTION ENDURES
Presidential spokesman Janar Akaev insisted that Atambaev would make no exceptions for close associates accused of fraud.
“I asked for the president’s views on this and he said, “I won’t spare anyone in the fight against corruption, not a single person, not even people close to me or people I work with – people from my team and entourage,’” Akaev said.
Jakupova is unimpressed, saying, “You can’t spend five years asleep and wake up in your sixth year in power and start talking about corruption.”
Adylbek Sharshenbaev, from the local branch of Transparency International, told IWPR that “corruption is the second most acute problem in Kyrgyzstan, after political instability”.
In 2014, Kyrgyzstan ranked 136th out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s global corruption index, and there have been few signs that the government is tackling this endemic problem.
Efforts to curb the problem were “ineffective”, Sharshenbaev said, adding, “In fact, everything has remained just words. The government has not taken any tangible steps towards creating effective mechanisms to enforce the relevant laws and regulations, to make the structures that have been established function effectively, or to engage the public in anti-corruption efforts.”
Dinara Oshurakhunova, director of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, argues that despite the rhetoric about fighting corruption, little action has been taken.
“To make the system function, we need to ensure that our laws work and are observed, that our constitution is respected, and that the judicial system and law enforcement agencies are up to the job.”
At the moment, she said, “It gets addressed here and there, but whole layers of corruption are left undisturbed.”
According to Karasartova, “The war on corruption has become a bit of play-acting. There are high-profile cases where officials, judges or prosecutors get caught red-handed, but the systemic corruption is still there.
Oshurakhunova agreed that there were plenty of other corrupt officials who would never be touched.
“It’s obvious that there are a lot of other people involved in the same thing, that is, influencing the outcome of judicial issues through corruption. We know that this clean-up was selective,” she said.
“The system for combating corruption comes down to handy responses and sporadic arrests,” Oshurakhunova added. “Or rather, it’s the lack of a system.”
Timur Toktonaliev is IWPR’s Kyrgyzstan editor.