BISHKEK (TCA) — Omurbek Tekebaev, a Kyrgyz opposition politician and the leader of the Ata Meken party’s faction in the Kyrgyz Parliament, has been detained by authorities on corruption charges.
Tekebaev was detained upon his arrival at the Bishkek airport after the prosecutor’s office said it launched a criminal investigation into the Ata-Meken party leader, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reported.
Tekebaev was exiting his flight from Istanbul when he was taken into custody at 3 a.m. local time on February 26.
The politician had been participating in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.
Tekebaev, 58, is a former ally of President Almazbek Atambayev, but became his leading opponent last summer after the Kyrgyz president proposed a number of amendments, since adopted, to the Constitution.
Although Atambayev’s presidential term ends this year and he cannot run for reelection, critics have charged that the amendments would allow the president’s allies to maintain power after his term ends in 2017.
The amendments significantly boosted the powers of the prime minister, prompting speculation that Atambayev could either become the new head of the Government or install a loyalist in the role.
Kyrgyzstan will hold the next presidential election on November 19, 2017.
Shortly before Tekebaev’s arrest at the airport, the Prosecutor-General’s Office said it was beginning a criminal fraud case against the politician.
Prosecutors said the charges against Tekebaev stem back to the time he was serving as deputy prime minister in the interim government following the 2010 revolution.
They allege, among other things, that Tekebaev demanded $1 million from Russian businessman Leonid Mayevsky in exchange for him to serve on the board of Alfa Telecom, which had been partially nationalized by the interim government, and for preferential treatment in regard to local cell operator Megacom.
“Tekebaev did not carry out his obligations and refused to return the money. He instead threatened physical harm in the event of any further demands or information being released to the public about the situation,” prosecutors said.
Tekebaev has denied the charges.
After Tekebaev was taken into custody, a number of his supporters gathered near the airport to protest, leading to the detention of several of them, along with a journalist and an Ata-Meken lawmaker.
Prior to the launching of the Tekebaev criminal case, prosecutors had brought charges against two other members of parliament from the Ata-Meken party.
Members of the party and other critics have labeled the cases as “political persecution” by the president and his supporters against members of the 2010 interim government.