IMPLICATIONS: Shot dead on January 8, Raatbek Sanatbayev, a popular Greco-Roman wrestler, winner of the Asian Games and of a bronze medal at the World Championships became the ninth victim of contract killings of public figures since the March upheavals. Although he was not involved in politics, the sportsmen’s community links the murder to his intention to participate in forthcoming election to the Head of the National Olympic Committee. Sanatbayev was a candidate to the vacant position and he publicly condemned the participation in the election recently elected President of the National Fencing Federation Ryspek Akmatbayev. Notoriously known, Ryspek is incriminated by a district court in triple homicides (including organized crime investigator colonel Chynybek Aliyev), organizing a gang, and possession of arms and ammunition. However, progress in the investigation has gone nowhere due the non-appearance of witnesses. Recently a judge dropped murder charges against Ryspek. Moreover, the criminal boss stated publicly that he would run for a parliamentary seat from the Isykkul district. The seat was vacated after the death of his brother MP, killed by Ryspek’s criminal rivals. The chair of the National Olympic Committee has become not only a symbol of prestige but a night-side game between sportsmen, business people, and persons with unclear sources of enrichment. In 2005, this position was vacated especially for ex-President Askar Akayev’s son Aidar, who ran the office several months and then in March fled the country to save his life and to evade incrimination in serious economic crimes. The post was “inherited” by lawmaker and President of Federation of National Wrestling “Alysh” Bayaman Erkinbayev, only for several months, who was shot in September allegedly as a result of a drug trafficking related conflict. He partly sponsored the Tulip revolution in the south and explained the first attempt on his life before the presidential elections by his intention to run for the presidency. After his death, police officers and media timidly reported his central role in the drug trade in the south of the country. Despite his reputation of a narco-baron he was elected three times to the National Parliament. Since the March upheavals and presidential elections, the new authorities promised to resume democratic and economic reforms and strengthen security in Kyrgyzstan. On the contrary, corruption is not diminishing and the security situation greatly deteriorated. Several political assassinations and a flow of squatters attempting to confiscate lands around the capital destabilized the country. After the killing of two MPs, the Kyrgyz parliament passed a law permitting lawmakers to carry firearms for personal protection. However, this did not prevent the assassination of a third MP. The present parliament, mostly formed with the support of Akayev’s presidential administration, includes mostly rich people some of which have links to the underworld. Thus, lawmaker Tynychbek Akmabayev, shot by jailed criminal bosses as a brother of their challenger Ryspek during his inspection of a prison, actually was Head of the Parliamentarian Committee on Law and Order. Former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva points to the merger of state structures and the underworld; criminal groups now openly compete with officials for the redistribution of power and assets in the country. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov has pointed out that the revolution caused the reactivation of criminal groups. In a few localities, some groups started working energetically as if they defended the revolution, while in reality illegally redistributing property. One example is an infamous community leader Nurlan Motuev who eight months ago hijacked coal mines in the remote Naryn province and declared war on the law enforcement forces. However, the government delays detaining him. In order to fight the 24 known organized criminal groups and four criminal networks in the country, the government plans to increase the number of law-enforcement officers by 2,000-4,000 and strengthen the financial and economic infrastructure of security forces. Although President Kurmanbek Bakiyev called the death of Raatbek Sanatbayev a great loss to the national sport, many in the country express their concerns over the lack of ability of the new leadership to stop political violence, strengthen security and stabilize the situation. A number of civil society groups, lawmakers and politicians publicly called on Mr. Bakiyev and his administration to provide zero-tolerance to criminal groups that gradually increase their influence in the country. All of them criticized the President for negotiating with Ryspek and his officials participation in a lavish festival organized by this boss with ambiguous reputation. Only after pressure from civil society groups and mass demonstrations against a merger of criminal groups and officials in Bishkek, Bakiyev publicly stated his disapproval of organized crime. In addition, riots in prisons that revealed rampant corruption in the penitentiary system undermined the popularity of the current leadership. Some journalists and public figures argue Bakiyev is a just a new Akayev who delays the decentralization of governance, anti-corruption actions and the consistent fight against organized crime. In this state of affairs, a recent warning by a Bishkek city prosecutor to charge known journalists and politicians for slandering President Kurmanbek Bakiyev only fueled further public discontent over domestic policy.
CONCLUSIONS: Kyrgyzstan’s new leadership has been confronted with a situation where criminal groups play an active role in domestic politics. The state needs to more consistently attack organized criminal networks that gradually increased their involvements in politics and economy over the past 15 years. This implies developing greater capacity to conduct sound economic reforms, provide lower levels of taxation, transfer businesses from the illicit to the licit sphere and pursue public administration reform. The role of the Parliament, security forces and the judiciary, business community and civil society groups needs to be strengthened in order to eliminate the rise of criminal groups across the country and their merger with top state officials and their family. An independent judiciary and legal frameworks needs to be established. Particular attention needs to be paid to the national and regional strategies to fight more effectively against drug trade and other illicit business across the country. The current leadership needs to be aware that the government rhetoric to strengthen security, improve the economy and provide good governance should be supported by real achievements, otherwise mass political violence in 2006 could destabilize the fragile situation in the country and bring criminal bosses and their representatives to power. Both domestic and international actors need to merge the security and development agendas in the small country in order to prevent possible conflicts and upheavals in the near future.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Anara Tabyshalieva, a visiting fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program and research associate, Institute for Regional Studies, Bishkek. She authored several books, reports and articles on Central Asian affairs.