Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Criminal Boss Released From Prison In Kyrgyzstan

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by Joldosh Osmonov (04/17/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The early release from prison of one of Kyrgyzstan’s most influential criminal bosses received a negative public reaction and provoked new disputes among political groups in the country. While Kyrgyzstan’s authorities claim that the release was lawful, the parliament mounted an unexpected attack on the government, calling on the country’s leadership to punish responsible officials.

 On April, 9 the Naryn city court released the criminal leader Aziz Batukaev, an ethnic Chechen thief in law, from prison notwithstanding the fact that his term should have lasted for another eight years. The prison officials claim that Batukaev was released due to his health condition – he allegedly suffers from a serious form of leukemia and is likely to die in a matter of days. Immediately after his release, the boss departed for Grozny, Chechnya, on a private airplane.

Batukaev was sentenced to four years of imprisonment in 2004 for purposeful infliction of damage to a person’s health and for illicitly obtaining and possessing weapons. In 2006, after the tragic mass disorder at the Moldovanovka prison that led to the deaths of four people including then MP Tynychbek Akmatbaev and the head of the State Penitentiary Service Ikmatullo Polotov, Batukaev was sentenced to additional prison terms for organizing mass disorders and illicit possession of weapons. As a result, Batukaev was to serve a total of 16 years and 8 months in jail.

According to some sources, Batukaev allegedly controlled the illegal drug trafficking transiting Kyrgyzstan on its way from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe between 1993 and 2006. His long-lasting confrontation with rival criminal leader Ryspek Akmatbaev has led to the deaths of dozens of people during different periods of time. Batukaev was accused of murdering Tynychbek Akmatbaev, Ryspek Akmatbaev’s older brother, when the MP was visiting the Moldovanovka prison to get acquainted with the prisoners’ conditions, but was not found guilty.   

The discharge of the criminal boss caused resentment among the Kyrgyz public and gave way to various assumptions and speculations. Local media outlets recalled rumors circulating several months ago about influential people in Chechnya offering large amounts of money to Kyrgyz authorities in exchange for Batukaev’s release. The Kyrgyz parliamentarian Ravshan Jeenbekov said that some mass media outlets are talking about US$ 1.5 million that Batukaev allegedly paid to Kyrgyz officials.

Meanwhile, former Kyrgyz Prosecutor General Kubatbek Baibolov said that a number of Russian high officials – members of the Russian parliament, mostly from Chechnya – frequently addressed him with requests for assistance in releasing Batukaev from prison. Baibolov claims that such requests were made before his time as Prosecutor General and probably still were being made after he left the office.

The incident caused an exchange of accusations in the Kyrgyz parliament. Parliamentarians from different political factions, including pro-governmental forces, heavily criticized the central authorities for allowing the thief in law to leave the country. Some parliament members even demanded the resignation of the cabinet of ministers. The pro-governmental “Ata-Meken” parliamentary faction officially requested President Atambaev and the Prosecutor General to investigate the case and punish the responsible officials for Batukaev’s pre-term release. The parliamentary faction claimed that the State Penitentiary Service instructed the State Registry Service to issue a passport for the criminal boss on March 11, 2013, whereas the inter-departmental commission considered the issue of Batukaev’s release only on March 28. In effect, the mentioned officials knew about the decision in advance, implying a criminal deal and a conspiracy, according to the faction.

In response, vice Prime Minister Shamil Atakhanov has stated that all procedures were followed ahead of Batukaev’s release and he does not have any reasons to accuse the prison officials of violating any laws. Regarding the rumors about alleged financial rewards in exchange for the release, Atakhanov asked parliamentarians to stop making baseless and unsupported statements. Nevertheless, after the heated and emotional debates, the MPs decided to create a parliamentary commission for investigating the circumstances of Batukaev’s release.

Many local political experts believe that Batukaev would not be released without the consent of the country’s leadership, especially since the release took place in the midst of a heavily publicized governmental campaign against organized crime and despite the recent adoption of a package of draft bills aimed at enhancing the fight against organized crime, which also foresees excluding the possibility of pre-term release for convicted members of organized criminal groups. Batukaev is in fact the first convict in Kyrgyzstan to be released ahead of time due to health conditions.

Local expert Mars Sariev claims that Batukaev was released in exchange for ceasing criminal activities in the country. After leaving for Chechnya, he will not be active in Kyrgyzstan, which could help Kyrgyz authorities to control the criminal situation in the country, although it remains to be seen to which extent these expectations are met, Sariev said.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with Johns Hopkins University's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst brings cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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