Kyrgyz authorities claim to have quashed a coup, announcing the detention of an unstated number of “key” associates of Imamidin Tashov, a real estate developer and one-time presidential candidate, and Tilekmat Kurenov, an activist, as well as the interrogation many others.
The State Committee for National Security (SCNS or GKNB) said on January 11 that Tashov and Kurenov (who also goes by the name Tilekmat Kudaibergen uulu) are wanted in connection with a criminal case encompassing charges of “forcible seizure of power” and “abuse of authority by employees of commercial or other organizations.”
SCNS chief Kamchybek Tashiev said on January 10 in the Kyrgyz parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, that the men were wanted on charges of “preparing a coup d’état.”
A day earlier, Tashov had posted a video on social media that created quite a stir.
Tashov had been detained in October 2023 by the SCNS on fraud charges related to the construction of a kindergarten in Bishkek in 2009, which ended up being two residential buildings instead.
In early December, Tashov was released to house arrest. To gain his release Tashov transferred 10 apartments and a commercial unit worth 52.4 million Kyrgyz soms (roughly $587,000) to the city of Bishkek. With Tashov having “compensated the damage to the state in full,” the SCNS released him to house arrest, according to news reports at the time.
This is classic case of kusturizatsia, which Aksana Ismailbekova explained last year in an article for The Diplomat: “Kusturizatsia, a term derived from the word for ‘vomiting’ in Kyrgyz, is used to refer to those who damage the state through corrupt practices and economic crimes (such as stealing from the state budget or not paying taxes), and are then forced to pay compensation to the state when they are discovered.”
But it seems this instance of an individual vomiting up what he allegedly owed the state has led to some indigestion.
Tashov’s January 9 video alleged that SCNS agents had kidnapped him in late December amid protests against the changes to the Kyrgyz flag, holding him for more than a week. He said the fraud case against him had been fabricated, and the agents were demanding more money. “Not only did they force me to pay 52 million soms, but they also barely released me, demanding 100 million soms into their pocket.”
Tashov said that the authorities had vastly underreported the sums of soms various businessmen have paid the state to escape corruption charges. Indeed, one of the chief criticisms of the system – if it can be called that – is that the flow of money is opaque.
Tashiev, in his January 10 remarks, not only denied Tashov’s accusation but upped the ante and accused the businessman of plotting a coup.
Tashiev said that the authorities, with a court order, had recorded Tashov’s conversations while he was in the pre-detention center last year and caught him discussing a coup with Kurenov, down to the very date.
In tandem with Tashiev’s accusation, a close associate, Otkurbek Rakhmanov published a 9-minute video that appears to depict a series of videos calls between Tashov and Kurenov. A 5-minute version was shared by the SCNS on Telegram. The video is clearly a compilation of several conversations (the men’s jackets change) and also jumps in some places within individual conversations, suggesting cuts.
Kurenov, an activist, has had several run-ins with the state. In 2021, he was arrested in March and ultimately sentenced to 18 months on charges of making public calls for the “violent seizure of power,” organizing “mass riots,” and an attempt to bribe voters that stemmed from his opposition to the constitutional referendum that took place in early January of that year.
Kloop noted that Kurenov was also among the activists who opposed the Kemir-Abad deal and RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Azattyk, reported that he left Kyrgyzstan in October 2022 – incidentally, the same month that the bulk of the Kempir-Abad dissenters were arrested. The trial of the 27 Kyrgyz activists, politicians, and journalists who had protested the border deal with Uzbekistan – and have been accused of plotting a coup – began in June 2023 and was recently postponed again after one of the defendants was hospitalized.
Last July for The Diplomat’s magazine, I reviewed the several previous incidents (in November 2021, October 2022, and June 2023) in which the Sadyr Japrov government had claimed to have forestalled coup plots. In that piece, I argued that:
If there’s anything true about politics in Kyrgyzstan, it’s that power is an impermanent thing. Kyrgyz democracy leaves much to be desired, but unlike its regional neighbors there has been a regular change of leadership, albeit irregularly carried out…
… The veracity of the Japarov government’s claims to have fended off several coup plots is difficult to ascertain, and one can’t necessarily blame Japarov for being jumpy about threats to his position. That said, it’s not clear that there’s a difference in the collective mind of the Japarov government between the legitimate organization of opposition and a coup in the works.
This latest case, like the others, has its own unique features but fits into the trend. Tashov’s allegations that SCNS agents pressed him for more money after he already paid for his release highlights concerns many analysts and observers have long had about kusturizatsia as little more than state-sanctioned extortion. The problem with paying a blackmailer is that they can always ask for more.