Saturday, May 22, 2010

AFP: Secret tapes spark fraud scandal for new Kyrgyz rulers

By Tolkun Namatbayeva (AFP)

BISHKEK — Secret recordings released Friday implicated Kyrgyzstan's interim rulers in a fraud scandal as the new government struggled to impose its authority over the unruly ex-Soviet state.

In the covertly taped audio recordings posted on YouTube, the country's acting prosecutor general and finance minister discuss how to "secretly" divert one million dollars from the Kyrgyz central bank.

"If we ask the central bank to give us a million dollars, they'll faint," interim finance minister Temir Sariyev is heard saying.

"They've said the money had to go through the treasury. But then the million dollars will be registered, that won't do. It would require a decree from the interim government and that won't be secret."

The two plot to order the central bank transfer all its reserves to the finance ministry, "ostensibly for safe keeping," Sariyev says. In the process, one million dollars can be diverted, he adds.

"Let's transfer 19.6 million dollars, but let the finance ministry write 18.6 million on its books," Sariyev proposes. "If there's an audit in five years, I'll say that we ate the million," he jokes.

Kyrgyzstan's new leaders, who came to power in an April uprising that ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, moved swiftly to deny its officials sought to embezzle funds.

"There is nothing illegal in these conversations," Sariyev said in a statement, confirming that at least one of the recordings was genuine.

The million dollars was urgently needed to pay for police operations amid unrest in the south of the Central Asian State, he said.

"I had to urgently resolve the question of funds to pay the law enforcement forces."

The interim government added that it had launched a probe into illegal wire tapping after other recordings of conversations among officials appeared on the Internet. The source of the audio tapes is unknown.

In one, acting prosecutor general Azimbek Beknazarov roughly accuses deputy interim prime minister Almazbek Atambayev of corruption, hinting at conflicts and division within the new government.

"You took 400,000 dollars to appoint someone on whom we all agree, then go and name someone else," he rages.

Atambayev defends himself, saying: "He was a bribe-taker and corrupt. And what money are you talking about? I've never taken a kopek!"

But Beknazarov furiously threatens to publicly denounce Atambayev along with interim leader Roza Otunbayeva, who this week was appointed president until 2012 after the new government scrapped October elections.

"I have energy enough for a third revolution! I have unmasked you -- you are stinking s(expletive)s, scum, farts worse than Bakiyev!," Beknazarov rants.

"We were all together when we overthrew Bakiyev but now our paths divide."

Neither party has commented on this recording.

The alleged fraud scandal is the latest blow to the authority of the interim government, which faces an economy in tatters as well as sporadic riots and ethnic violence in the south of the Central Asian state.

The audio tapes have the potential to be all the more of an embarrassment because the country's new government has pledged to make fighting corruption its top priority.

But its officials are not the only ones targeted in the wire tappings.

A phone tape that claims to record a conversation between Bakiyev's son Maxim and brother Janysh has also surfaced. Two men are heard plotting a smear campaign and counter-coup against the new Kyrgyz authorities. The whereabouts of Maxim and Janysh Bakiyev are not known.

Kyrgyzstan declared a state of emergency in the south of the country this week after ethnic clashes marked the latest unrest to shake the ex-Soviet state since a popular revolt in April ousted Bakiyev and left 87 people dead.

Bakiyev, who drew the bulk of his support from southern Kyrgyzstan, has since taken refuge in Belarus, which has so far not responded to calls for his extradition.

Copyright © 2010 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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