Kyrgyzstan: Probe into ex-deputy PM reveals unexplained riches

Askarbek Shadiyev has been in government service for decades, serving alongside all the nation's leading political players.

An investigation in Kyrgyzstan into the holdings of a former deputy prime minister under investigation for embezzlement has shocked a public largely inured to tales of wrongdoing among officialdom.

Askarbek Shadiyev, 49, resigned his post on April 6 after it emerged that he was being investigated by the prosecutor’s office for allegedly appropriating the cash prize for a state award.

But the scale of the official’s wealth was revealed only this weekend. As documented in a statement from the General Prosecutor’s Office, Shadiyev’s immediate family controls more than 20 accounts in various banks, shares in 10 large Kyrgyz companies and five properties.

All this is seen as an impressive haul for a man who has spent the last 20 years in government service. And none of it was declared by Shadiyev or his close relatives in the legally required asset declaration statement for 2015 or 2016. The assets have now been sequestered by the state.

The ex-deputy PM’s downfall came courtesy of a relatively trivial alleged act of peculation. Investigators maintain that in August 2017, Shadiyev sent a request to the speaker of parliament to disburse $30,000 to cover the costs of the Chingiz Aitmatov Prize, knowing full well that the honorific would never be bestowed. Prosecutors say that the money was forwarded to the head of the defense and international affairs committee in parliament, who then simply helped himself to the funds.

Adding farce to the affair, there is considerable uncertainty about Shadiyev’s current whereabouts. news agency on May 7 cited sources inside parliament, where the disgraced official held a seat, saying that Shadiyev had left the country several weeks ago, just as the investigation against him was heating up. Colleagues in his Bir Bol faction have reportedly been unable to contact him.

A spokesman for the State Committee for National Security has declined to specify if Shadiyev has been formally questioned or even whether he has been ordered to refrain from travel. He did state, however, that Shadiyev was not known to have legally crossed the border.

Nobody is coming out of this story looking too good. Shadiyev was appointed deputy prime minister only a few months ago, in December 2017, at the behest of then Prime Minister Sapar Isakov, who hailed his “human qualities” and “professionalism.” The candidacy was approved by President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

A glance through the official’s curriculum raises questions, not to say eyebrows. In 2007, he was a member of parliament with the Ak Zhol party of then President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was toppled from power in April 2010 amid a surge of rage at his family-based, kleptocratic rule. While in parliament, he served as head of the economic, budget and finances committee, earning much criticism, as noted by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, for his loyal service to the Bakiyev family.

He survived the change of regime, taking over as Energy and Industry Minister under the new order. In 2012, prosecutors opened a criminal case to investigate claims that Shadiyev and others had allowed radioactive coal to be imported from Kazakhstan for use in schools, an orphanage and a nursing home. The case went to court but Shadiyev was cleared of all wrongdoing.

He was elected to parliament with the Bir Bol party in 2015 and latterly chaired the defense and international affairs committee. Indeed, this is what seemingly qualified him to regularly accompany former President Almazbek Atambayev on trips abroad.

All things told, there are no leading lights in the country who had not crossed paths, or indeed worked closely, with Shadiyev at one or other point.