At least ten criminal cases have been launched in connection with a corruption probe at Kyrgyzstan's largest gold mine, Kumtor, officials announced on October 30. The investigation comes as Bishkek continues to push for a greater share in the huge project.
Prosecutor general Aida Salyanova announced the details of the prosecutions at a session of parliament. Those accused include top level officials from the two previous administrations, who signed off on the original agreements on the mine with investors.
Kyrgyz prosecutors have launched a wide-reaching investigation into deals signed on Kumtor between 1992 and 2009 - a period that spans the rule of two former presidents, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Both the current government and opposition leaders say that those agreements, and in particular the 2009 deal with current majority owner Centerra Gold that is still in force today, were unfavourable to Kyrgyzstan.
Two former ministers - then-finance minister Bolot Abildaev and ecology and emergency situations minister Temirbek Akmataliev - have already been detained in connection to a 2003 agreement, reports RIA Novosti. Abildaev, who was sacked after the 2005 Tulip Revolution, is now general director of Gazpromneft Asia, while Akmataliev now works at the Kyrgyz National Academy of Sciences.
Salyanova also told the parliament that she had personally filed a case against Kurmanbek Osmonov. However, the prosecution against the current MP for nationalist the Ata-Zhurt faction - which has led calls for Kumtor to be returned to the state entirely - has been suspended after Osmonov claimed illness, 24.kg reported on October 28.
Vice prime minister in 2003, Osmonov, endorsed the document on restructuring the agreement with the Canadian company. "The government, headed by Nikolai Tanayev, made changes and additions to the agreement with the investor. Tanayev was accused of this case in 2005. But in 2010 all materials together with the building of the Prosecutor General's Office burned," Osmonov's lawyer Kairat Zagibayev told the news portal, suggesting his client was not involved in arranging the details of the contract.
While the investigation continues, the Kyrgyz government is in the midst of a long-winded process towards yet another new agreement with Centerra. Driven by occasionally violent protests amidst growing resource nationalism across Central Asia, parliament voted in 2012 in favour of renegotiating the 2009 agreement to get a better deal for Kyrgyzstan.
On October 23, the parliament rejected a draft deal that would have given the state 50% ownership of the gold mine, which drives a huge chunk of the country's GDP. An overwhelming majority insisted Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev's government hold out for a stake of at least 67%.
On October 31, Satybaldiyev - who has been pushing against nationalist claims amid warnings of huge damage to Kyrgyzstan's investment profile - told a press conference that the government is now working on three variants for a new deal with Centerra.
"The first," he said, according to 24.kg, "is creation of 50/50 joint venture. The second variant is a 67% share for Kyrgyzstan, forcibly imposed by the deputies, and the third: nationalization."
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