BISHKEK (Reuters) – Kyrgyz former president Almazbek Atambayev has been charged with corruption over his alleged role in the release of a convicted criminal, Atambayev’s lawyer said on Friday after police had to battle protesters to secure his arrest.
Atambayev surrendered to police late on Thursday during the second raid on his country home outside the capital Bishkek. His supporters had repulsed the first raid in clashes with state security special forces a day earlier.
The conflict between Atambayev and his former protege, current president Sooronbai Jeenbekov, has raised fears for political stability in Kyrgyzstan, which hosts a Russian military air base and a giant Canadian-operated gold mine.
“(Atambayev has been) charged with corruption although previously he was just summoned for questioning as a witness,” his lawyer Sergei Slesarev said by telephone.
Slesarev said the charge was linked to the case of Aziz Batukayev, who was serving a 16-year prison term on charges of owning illegal weapons and drugs and taking part in mass riots.
Kyrgyz authorities caused a public outcry when they set Batukayev free in 2013, roughly halfway into his term, citing terminal cancer. He immediately left for Russia and six years later, there have been no reports of his death from any illness.
Kyrgyzstan’s interior ministry said on Friday it believed Atambayev, who was president at the time, had personally ordered Batukayev to be freed. It did not say whether there was any particular association between the two men.
Atambayev, who prior to his arrest said that all charges against him were politically motivated, helped then-ally Jeenbekov win the 2017 presidential election, hoping to retain political influence as a party leader.
But a few months later, the two fell out and Jeenbekov purged all Atambayev loyalists from the cabinet. This year, the authorities launched a fresh investigation into Batukayev’s case, charging several former senior officials.
The Central Asian country is a former Soviet republic and one of Russia’s closest political allies.
Atambayev, who served one six-year term as president, met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last month. But after their meeting, Putin publicly expressed support for Jeenbekov.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was in Kyrgyzstan on Friday for a meeting with counterparts from several other ex-Soviet republics, said Moscow regarded the Atambayev case as Kyrgyzstan’s domestic affair.
But Medvedev said he would discuss the matter in his meetings with the Kyrgyz leadership, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted him as saying on Thursday.
(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)