Officials and lots of citizens in Kyrgyzstan are reeling from news that the Central Asian nation’s most hated son will continue living a free and comfortable life abroad.
A federal court in New York last week suddenly dropped an extradition case against Maxim Bakiyev, son of Kyrgyzstan’s former president, days before a scheduled May 13 hearing in London. The United States had requested the 35-year-old Bakiyev’s extradition to face charges of securities fraud. He has been living in London since shortly after his father, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was violently overthrown in April 2010.
In March, a Bishkek court found the younger Bakiyev – who ran a development agency for his father’s administration and was widely known as the “prince” for parlaying his father’s influence into lucrative and opaque business deals – guilty in absentia on corruption-related charges, including embezzlement of over $100 million in state funds. He received a 25-year prison sentence.
Though the United States and Kyrgyzstan do not share an extradition treaty, many in Bishkek had hoped an American trial would at least force Bakiyev to face justice somewhere.
“We don't understand this decision. In conversations with the Americans we have not received a clear answer. They said that they do not have sufficient evidence. However, they refrained from further clarification. We have no doubt that he robbed the country,” Kadyr Toktogulov, a spokesman for President Almazbek Atambayev, told EurasiaNet.org.
The US Embassy in Bishkek referred questions to the Justice Department in Washington. A Justice Department spokesperson pointed EurasiaNet.org toward other government officials. The American ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Pamela Spratlen, is on record saying the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Foreign Minister Erlan Abdyldayev expressed profound disappointment with the American justice system. “US authorities at all levels have noted the severity of the crimes committed by Bakiyev. But, unfortunately, one of the main principles of democracy – the rule of law and the certainty of punishment – has failed," 24.kg quoted Abdyldayev on May 11 as saying.
Washington’s dependence on Kyrgyzstan for aiding the war in Afghanistan had made the case especially sensitive, with some Kyrgyz analysts calling on the United States to trade Bakiyev for an extended lease at the Manas Transit Center, the airbase outside of Bishkek NATO uses for refueling and transit. President Atambayev has repeatedly said the American military will have to leave next year, when the current lease expires.
On the streets of Bishkek, the news that Maxim Bakiyev would remain free was greeted with disapproval. Yet few seem surprised that a man accused of embezzling so much from the impoverished country evaded prosecution. Mirroring assumptions about how politics work in their own country, many Bishkek residents believe Bakiyev bribed his way out of facing American justice.
"He has a lot of money. He probably bribed someone there [in the United States]. No one cares about him in America. I wish he would be extradited to Kyrgyzstan so that he can be held responsible for what he has done," said Nadejda Norkova, 53, a shopkeeper.
"I think he used bribery to escape prosecution. I wouldn't want him to stand in front of an American court, he should be judged according to our laws,” said Anara Osmonalieva, a 42-year-old housewife.
Concerns about bribery and corruption swirl around Bakiyev as they do around many of Kyrgyzstan’s political leaders. Some Bishkek residents feel Kyrgyzstan does not have the capacity to try him – that Bakiyev, like other high-profile suspects in recent years (including his uncle), would simply buy his way out of prison.
"It would be better if he was tried in the United States because there the law is very strict. Here he can bribe someone. Everyone in Kyrgyzstan just wants to see him punished,” said Darya Fomenko, 21, a student.
Asel Kalybekova is a freelance reporter based in Kyrgyzstan.