Thursday, September 07, 2006

More Trouble with the Tulip Revolution: Kyrgyz Oppositionist Omurbek Tekebayev arrested in Warsaw

Today, there was shocking news that Kyrgyz parliamentarian and leading opposition politician Omurbek Tekebayev had been detained at the Warsaw airport en route to an economic forum in Poland with 600 grams of heroin . While the two others accompanying Tekebayev on the trip, which was reportedly funded by the Soros Foundation of Kyrgyzstan, were briefly detained in connection with the heroin found in Tekebayev’s baggage, they were quickly released. When this was posted, Tekebayev appeared to still be in custody, and he reportedly denied that he had anything to do with the heroin found in his baggage. Tekebayev, instead, has insisted that this was a provocation engineered by his political enemies in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, various political figures in Kyrgyzstan have backed Tekebayev’s assertion that the entire incident must have been a “set-up,” including Edil Baisalov (leader of the Coalition of NGOs for Democracy and Civil Society), Roza Otunbayeva (former Foreign Minister and co-leader of the Asaba party), and parliamentarian Temur Sariyev. Presently, a group of deputies from the Kyrgyz parliament intend to travel to Warsaw to learn more about the situtaion

Tekebayev is one of the leaders of the opposition to President Bakiyev in Kyrgyzstan, and he was also one of the leaders of the opposition to President Akayev before him. Mr. Tekebayev has long been known as a slippery political deal-maker, who, like most Kyrgyz politicians, has less-than-transparent business interests. Regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Tekebayev, however, it is still difficult to imagine that a politician of this stature would be bringing narcotics to Poland to sell. Furthermore, it would seem that there are plenty of political reasons for somebody to set him up for a fall, especially in the lead up to the constitutional reform that President Bakiyev had promised to undertake during the last quarter of 2006.

That being said, it is not beyond the stretch of imagination that a politician in Central Asia could be involved in the trafficking of heroin. In May of 2000, for example, the Tajikistan Ambassador to Kazakhstan was arrested for possession of 62 kilograms of heroin, with a street value in excess of one million U.S. dollars. If somebody of Tekebayev’s public profile wanted to traffic heroin, however, one would think it would be done more discretely, or at least for more profits. As it stands, Tekebayev is being accused of smuggling only 600 grams of heroin with a street value of $40,000-$60,000 in Europe. That is hardly the kind of money on which to risk one’s political career.

Mr. Tekebayev’s primary political rival is, of course, President Bakiyev. If it is proven that people close to the president were involved in setting Tekebayev up for a fall, it would once again raise skepticism that Bakiyev really wants to uphold the reforms that he promised when he took over the helm of the country in the aftermath of the March 2005 “Tulip Revolution.” Among those promises, Bakiyev had pledged to end corruption and to create a real rule of law in the country. Planting drugs on one’s political rival is obviously not an indication of one’s commitment to the rule of law. With Bakiyev’s recent veto of the law on public television and the Kyrgyzstan Government’s expulsion of U.S. diplomats earlier this summer, any indication of Tekebayev’s heroin being planted for political reasons would also likely bring up serious questions about Kyrgyzstan’s current bid for U.S. Government money from the Millenium Challenge Account.

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