Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security on June 18 detained former Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiyev on corruption charges in a graft case relating to a power station that hit the headlines when it malfunctioned and left inhabitants of the capital Bishkek exposed to the winter cold for days.
Satybaldiyev is the second ex-PM to be charged in connection with the case. The first was Sapar Isakov, who was taken into custody on June 5. The charges are based on Isakov’s involvement in the construction of the Bishkek Thermal Power Plant, which started in 2013. He is accused of lobbying for the interests of a Chinese company, TBEA, which won the tender to build the power plant.
However, Isakov’s closeness to ex-president Almazbek Atambayev is widely seen as the main reason behind the interrogations and charges and the sacking of him and his short-lived cabinet in mid-April by current Kyrgyz President Sooranbai Jeenbekov, who succeeded Atambayev last November. Satybaldiyev also worked under Atambayev as PM, from September 2012 until March 2014, and might also be seen as Atambayev’s ally.
Prior to indicting Isakov, the authorities pressed corruption charges against a former Bishkek mayor and ally of Atambayev and even made moves to directly target Atambayev himself – on May 17 lawmakers placed him on a list of officials who might be responsible for the power plant breakdown.
Fighting an apparent power struggle, Jeenbekov appears to be set on completely dismantling any influence Atambayev may have left in the country, and the cards are mostly stacked against his predecessor. While both Atambayev and Jeenbekov belong to the same party, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), most of its members appear to be aligned with Jeenbekov – that includes SDPK members of parliament who control the ruling coalition.
When Jeenbekov came to power, many saw him as Atambayev’s stooge, with the former president having supported him during the election last year. But their relationship took an unexpected turn after Atambayev publicly criticised him in late March, even though his criticisms were seemingly mild. Atambayev remarked that he "has to engage in politics again” in order to assist Jeenbekov and prepare the party for the 2020 parliamentary elections. Opponents claimed it was a step towards realising what they described as an alleged plan to rule from the shadows.
On April 7, Jeenbekov dismissed the head of the State Committee for National Security Abdil Segizbayev and deputy security chief Bolot Suiumbayev, two other officials seen as loyal to his predecessor.
While Atambayev, who calls Jeenbekov an “old friend”, said during his March remarks it was necessary to say “harsh words” about new president Jeenbekov in order to help him rule, the latter possibly took the criticisms rather personally.