When police close the roads and President Emomali Rakhmon’s fleet of black Mercedes-Benzes hightails it through Tajikistan’s capital several times each day, the ensuing traffic jams cause a fair amount of grumbling.
But the grumbling is not confined to Dushanbe. Apparently authorities in Berlin are peeved, too: They say hundreds of luxury cars in Tajikistan have been stolen off German streets and are being used by the president and his relatives, according to a German media report. And despite Berlin’s repeated requests to redress the issue, Tajik officials are ignoring the appeals.
Using GPS technology, German investigators have traced approximately 200 stolen German luxury vehicles to Tajikistan, including 93 BMWs, reports Deutsche Welle, citing the German tabloid Bild.
There have long been detailed rumors in Dushanbe’s Western diplomatic community that many of the luxury cars plying Dushanbe’s streets were stolen in Europe (and traded, somewhere along the way, for heroin), and that Tajik police officials are unwilling to address the problem.
Street crime, often the violent sort, is not unusual in Bishkek. Nor are accusations of police involvement. But complaints from the reticent Chinese Embassy are.
In a one-month period ending in late November, at least 20 Chinese citizens were robbed in Bishkek, reported The Global Times, a state-run English-language newspaper in Beijing, on December 17. One suffered a head injury. The Chinese Embassy has taken the unusual step of issuing an “emergency safety alert” warning its citizens to exercise caution and, in another statement, rebuking Kyrgyz authorities for failing to stop the attacks.
The surge in apparently targeted robberies follows the July murder of Chinese businessman Guan Joon Chan (name transliterated from the Russian), who was beaten to death shortly after reportedly arguing with local police over the protection money they demanded, Vechernii Bishkek reported at the time.
The Global Times estimates there are 80,000 Chinese citizens in Kyrgyzstan. Many work as traders in Bishkek’s Zhonghai market, part of the sprawling Dordoi complex.
Chinese businesspeople at Zhonghai told the paper that the number of actual robberies is likely much higher than is reported because victims are afraid to contact police. Some fear police are involved – a conclusion that will come as no surprise to anyone living in Bishkek, where police are known more as predators than crime fighters.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan say they have detained the country’s most-wanted criminal kingpin. But contradictory stories about his arrest are already prompting questions. A slippery figure the US government calls a “significant foreign narcotics trafficker,” Kamchybek Kolbayev has enjoyed ambiguous relations with Kyrgyz authorities for years.
Kolbayev turned himself in at 5:00 am Saturday, a Supreme Court press release said today. A Court spokesperson told EurasiaNet.org that Kolbayev has been charged with a variety of crimes, including organizing a criminal group, narcotics possession, kidnapping, and illegal possession of firearms. Yet the State Committee on National Security (GKNB), which is holding Kolbayev, told EurasiaNet.org he has not been charged and is being held in temporary confinement for one month while investigators consider their options. The Prosecutor General’s office refused to comment.
That Kolbayev, who had been living in the United Arab Emirates, would surrender is surprising. He’d been fingered in just about every conversation about organized crime since the family of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled during a bloody uprising in April 2010. With the family’s departure, Kolbayev was believed to have lost his cover, or krysha as they call it in Russian, his “roof.”
Last week, Kyrgyz-language newspaper Uchur reported that Kolbayev had flown back into Kyrgyzstan unmolested and had headed straight for his native Issyk-Kul region.
On the heels of a police operation to clean up Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, by cracking down on unwashed vehicles, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has outlined plans to deal with a growing crime wave in the city.
At an April 11 discussion on the future development of the city, the president bemoaned the fact that the crime rate in his dream capital is rising. He said crime in Astana is 1.7 times the national average, while detection rates are the lowest in the country.
The Leader of the Nation singled out a proliferation of bookmakers and gambling halls as a root cause of the growing problem. He urged police to focus on the problem of petty crime in Astana, instructing them not to overlook simple misdemeanors such as leaving chewing gum at street crossings. He suggested that the punishment for such an infraction should include fines and up to three days in jail. His hope is that cracking down hard on petty crime will lead to reductions in more serious crimes.
In Kyrgyzstan, it’s never quite clear whether the battle against organized crime is genuine or a covert turf war between powerful interest groups.
Whatever the case may be, this week Washington has stepped up its support in the effort to tackle one apparent kingpin. On February 23, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on one of Kyrgyzstan’s most wanted, alleged narkobaron Kamchybek Kolbayev. President Barack Obama had added him to a list of global drug barons in June, prohibiting US companies and citizens from doing business with him, but the sanctions didn’t kick in until now. Treasury says Kolbayev is a midlevel manager in a international operation known as the “Brothers’ Circle” -- “a multi-ethnic criminal group composed of leaders and senior members of several Eurasian criminal groups largely based in countries of the former Soviet Union but operating in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.”
Kamchybek Kolbayev acts for or on behalf of the Brothers' Circle by serving as the Brothers' Circle "overseer" for its Central Asian activities, including narcotics trafficking. In June 2011, President Obama identified Kolbayev as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Kolbayev is wanted in Kyrgyzstan for organized crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives, and organized/transnational crime.
Were Islamist radicals in Tajikistan responsible for murdering “Father Frost,” the Santa Claus lookalike who delivers gifts and New Year’s cheer throughout the formerly Soviet world?
That’s one official theory floating around Dushanbe. Police there say 24-year-old economist Parviz Davlatbekov was stabbed early on January 2, by a crowd yelling “You infidel!” local and international news agencies reported. Davlatbekov had dressed up as Father Frost to visit family for a New Year’s party. (Earlier, police had described three detained suspects as “hooligans.”)
The idea of an Islamist link to the crime may sound far-fetched to most people familiar with the secular underpinnings of the New Year and the moderate Islam practiced in Tajikistan. But as Islam spreads in the former Soviet Union, confusion about religious ideas and practices seems to be a problem. Just look at neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where last month the country’s chief cleric said Muslims should not mark New Year’s because it celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, not just the changing of the calendar.
New Year’s remains one of the most popular holidays throughout the former Soviet Union, celebrated with family meals and fireworks. The robed Father Frost -- Ded Moroz as he’s known in Russian -- brings children gifts, much as Santa Claus does on Christmas Day in the West, but the New Year’s holiday is entirely secular.
Early this year, President Roza Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan named fighting organized crime a principal ambition of her tenure. But it’s proved a tough battle rooting out gangsters, especially since so many of them seem tangled up in the country’s notoriously corrupt political system. So it is lucky for her that a man whom Barack Obama calls one of the world’s most odious drug kingpins has shelved plans to return to her country.
Kamchy Kolbayev has seen more column inches than he’d probably like this year. After he was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in July on suspicion of robbing a jewelry store, Bishkek requested his extradition to face charges of organizing a transnational criminal group. Obama added him to a list of global drug barons in June, prohibiting US companies and citizens from doing business with him. Interpol says the 37-year-old Kyrgyz citizen is sought for “crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives” and “organized crime/transnational crime.”
But at home, Kyrgyz authorities’ uncertainty about what to do with Kolbayev suggests he enjoys favor in some powerful places. After all, it’s not uncommon for government officials and criminals in Kyrgyzstan to work together when it suits them. At the very least, his case illustrates the dysfunction of Kyrgyzstan’s justice system.
The Kazakh capital of Astana – with its glittering skyscrapers, chic shopping malls and trendy restaurants – is a showpiece of wealth and consumerism. In this young city, you’ve got to look good to get ahead. But not everyone can afford the prices in its designer boutiques. Perhaps that’s why one young man came up with the spontaneous idea of sporting the latest fashions at no cost to himself.
While mugging two unfortunate men as they passed a downtown shopping mall, the 24-year-old thief took a sudden shine to the fancy pants one was wearing and demanded that he hand them over, Kazakhstan Today reports.
The mugger wasn’t so cruel as to leave the poor victim shivering pant-less in the chilly temperatures of Astana – he offered (or rather demanded) a swap, somehow dragging his victim into the toilet of the shopping mall and ordering him to exchange.
Smart idea – but the mugger wasn’t smooth enough to carry it off. The friends of the victim, whom the thief’s accomplices were supposed to be guarding outside, alerted police and shopping mall security guards, who rushed to the toilet and nabbed the criminal, while his accomplices got away.
Astana’s vigilant servants of law and order have scored a victory, catching the thief not only red-handed but also with his pants down.
Casinos have suddenly become a hot topic in Kyrgyzstan as various factions in parliament wrestle with accusations that they use the gambling houses to launder drug money.
On September 29, parliament approved a bill banning “gambling activity” as of January 1. Outside the building, protestors lamented that thousands of citizens working in the industry will lose their jobs due to the alleged illicit activities of the country’s leaders. One protestor, who called himself Timur, told EurasiaNet.org that the new ban stinks of inequality: “We pay taxes, we contribute to society. And you see these people [lawmakers and other officials] driving around in Lexuses that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Where does the money come from?”
That is a question on a lot of people’s minds in Bishkek these days. For the past several weeks, a heretofore unheard of group has shouted allegations that the leading candidate in the next month's presidential election, Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, uses casinos to launder profits from drug trafficking. Atambayev has not responded to the allegations.
The statistics are fairly jarring: according to official Turkish government records, the murder rate of women in Turkey jumped by 1400 percent between 2002 and 2009, going from 66 to 953. Some of this rise can probably be attributed to better record keeping and a greater awareness regarding violence against women, but the numbers are still causing concern among women's rights advocates in Turkey. From Bianet:
This development made the headlines in the Turkish Press on Thursday (15 September). The figures are based on data issued by lawyer Aydeniz Alisbah Tuskan, Co-ordinator of the Istanbul Bar Association Centre for Women's Rights. The data revealed an additional startling dimension of the problem: 85 percent of about 2000 annually registered divorce applications in Istanbul are based on violence.
About 300 women applied to the Istanbul Bar Association for protection during the past year. Other applications were concerned with alimony, child custody or family residence for example.
According to lawyer Tuskan, the reason for this explosion in the number of applications based on violence is the fact that women do not endure violence as they used to do in the past.
Full article here. A recent Human Rights Watch report about domestic violence in Turkey can be found here.