The arrest of the popular former mayor of Kyrgyzstan’s capital on corruption charges, despite his immunity as a sitting parliamentary deputy, looks like risky business for the weak government in Bishkek.
Nariman Tyuleyev, who served as Bishkek mayor under former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, is charged with corruption, costing the state some $1.4 million when he purchased unneeded and overpriced Chinese-made city buses back in 2008, local news agencies report.
The case against him is not particularly surprising in a city known for flashy and unmitigated graft. And this is far from the first time Tyuleyev has been linked to sleaze: In a conversation where his name was mentioned in 2008, shortly after being appointed acting-mayor by Bakiyev, the US Embassy tosses this telling aside into a cable later made available by Wikileaks: “Note: Many connect Tuliyev with organized crime. End note.”
But Tyuleyev (often spelled Tuleyev and Tuleev) isn’t just another official from the hated Bakiyev regime. He’s currently a member of the opposition Ata-Jurt party in parliament. Thus, it would seem Tyuleyev has parliamentary immunity, though the prosecutor’s office says the crime is so grave that it can revoke his immunity. Tyuleyev was arrested this weekend and put in temporary detention for two months.
The way Tyuleyev’s immunity was so quickly waived is proof to some people, supporters and detractors alike, who are calling the arrest a “political order.” Constitutionally, only a majority of parliamentary deputies can vote to revoke a fellow MP’s immunity. In this case, it was revoked by a body appointed by the president (the prosecutor). A parliamentary commission says the detention is illegal and is investigating.
Tyuleyev denies the charges and says his arrest is politically motivated. The timing, supporters say, stinks, as it comes only months ahead of municipal elections to the Bishkek city council, where Tyuleyev, as a former mayor, has considerable influence.
Tyuleyev has long been at odds with the characters that came to power in April 2010, when Bakiyev was overthrown in a bloody uprising and he lost his job. But after a strong showing in elections that fall, today his Ata-Jurt is the only party in the parliamentary opposition, and has been considerably weakened since failing to follow through on promises of street protests this past spring.
Will Bishkek now see street rallies demanding Tyuleyev’s release? It’s certainly possible. History has shown that when a wealthy man in Kyrgyzstan is arrested, he suddenly has a lot of friends. And Tyuleyev’s been linked to at least one Bishkek rally in the post-Bakiyev past: Soon after the April uprising, a group of hungry protestors were happy to thump their fists and demand he be reinstated as mayor in exchange for a steaming plate of plov.