Kyrgyz Opposition Leader Tekebaev Handed Eight-Year Prison Sentence

BISHKEK -- A Kyrgyz court has sentenced opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev and his co-defendant to eight years in prison each on corruption charges.

A court in Bishkek found Tekebaev and former Emergency Situations Minister Duishonkul Chotonov guilty of bribe-taking on August 16.

The court also ordered the confiscation of the two men's assets and barred them from holding public offices for three years.

After the judge pronounced the verdict and sentence, Tekebaev's supporters started shouting in protest.

Tekebaev told them, "Everything will be fine!"

The prosecutor at the trial had asked the judge to sentence Tekebaev to 10 years and Chotonov to eight years in prison if they were convicted.

Tekebaev is the leader of the opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party, which says the trial is a politically motivated effort to keep him out of a presidential vote this autumn.

Investigators say Tekebaev and Chotonov received a $1 million bribe from a Russian businessman in 2010, when Tekebaev was deputy prime minister.

Both denied any wrongdoing.

Ata-Meken has alleged that the government launched the case in an effort to stifle dissent ahead of the October 15 presidential election in the Central Asian country and keep Tekebaev off the ballot.

Tekebaev was arrested in late February. On March 5, Ata-Meken named him as its candidate for the presidential election.

Both Tekebaev and President Almazbek Atambaev were members of the interim government that came to power after a popular revolution ousted authoritarian President Kurmanbek Bakiev in 2010.

But Ata-Meken strongly opposed a referendum on constitutional changes that passed in December with a strong push from Atambaev's office, and Tekebaev last year called for the president to be impeached.

Atambaev cannot stand for reelection, according Kyrgyzstan’s constitution.