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Former Kyrgyz President In Bishkek Again For Questioning Over Kumtor Mine

By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service December 14, 2021

BISHKEK -- The ousted first president of independent Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akaev, has arrived in Bishkek for the second time since August for questioning in connection with an investigation into possible corruption around one of the world's biggest gold mines.

Akaev's relatives told RFE/RL that the ex-president arrived in Bishkek on December 14 for at least five days to answer questions from the State Committee for National Security (UKMK) regarding the Kumtor gold mine.

There were no official statements regarding Akaev's arrival in Bishkek.

It is Akaev's second trip to the post-Soviet Central Asian republic since he fled peaceful pro-democracy rallies in 2005. His first trip in early August was also related to the investigation of the Kumtor gold mine case.

Kumtor has been a target of financial and environmental disagreements for years and is currently the subject of an ongoing battle for control between the Kyrgyz state and the mine's operator, Canadian Centerra Gold.

The UKMK said in July that Akaev and another exiled former Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, had been added to the international wanted list as part of the Kumtor corruption probe.

According to the UKMK, Centerra Gold paid bribes to top Kyrgyz officials, including Akaev, Bakiev, and another former president, Almazbek Atambaev, who is currently jailed in another case.

Akaev fled to Russia during the so-called Tulip Revolution in 2005. He was president from 1990 to 2005. Since his departure, he has avoided returning to Kyrgyzstan, even for the burial of close relatives.

Bakiev has been in exile in Belarus since being toppled by anti-government protests in 2010.

The giant Kumtor gold project has been the focus of international attention since a new Kyrgyz government moved to temporarily take over operations at the mine in what President Sadyr Japarov said was a necessary move to remedy environmental and safety violations.

In May, the Kyrgyz government approved a law allowing it to take control for up to three months of any company that operates under a concession agreement in Kyrgyzstan if that firm violates environmental regulations, endangers the local environment or the lives of people, or causes other significant damage.

Centerra has called the Kyrgyz actions "wrongful and illegal" and said in July that it had filed additional arbitration claims against the government in Bishkek over Kumtor.

Many Kyrgyz lawmakers have expressed concerns about the lack of transparency of the operations at Kumtor after the Kyrgyz government took the gold mine under its control in May.

On December 13, at a parliamentary session, Kyrgyz Finance Minister Almaz Baketaev was unable to answer a lawmaker's question on the amount of gold produced at Kumtor while it's under government control and where and for what price it has been sold.

On September 22, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Akylbek Japarov told RFE/RL that after the Kyrgyz government took over the gold mine, Kumtor produced 4.1 tons of gold, bringing $62 million to the state treasury. Three days later, UKMK chief Kamchybek Tashiev said that Kyrgyzstan had made $90 million in profit via Kumtor's operations after the government took over the gold mine.

Earlier this year, Kyrgyz authorities arrested several former officials and current lawmakers in connection with the case.

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-kumtor -akaev-centerra-gold/31608886.html

Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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