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31 May, 2021 16:27

Authorities swoop on former Kyrgyz PM in ‘corruption’ purge as new government rolls in to take over ‘toxic’ Canadian-run gold mine

Authorities swoop on former Kyrgyz PM in ‘corruption’ purge as new government rolls in to take over ‘toxic’ Canadian-run gold mine

Two of the most prominent members of Kyrgyzstan’s former government have been arrested over allegations of dodgy dealing related to a potentially dangerous gold mine, just months after mass protests toppled the administration.

An unnamed official in the Central Asian nation confirmed to Moscow’s TASS that former Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov and the ex-chairman of the country’s parliament, Asylbek Jeenbekov, had been detained on suspicion of corruption. Jeenbekov is the brother of Sooronbay Jeenbekov, who served as the former Soviet Republic’s president until last October, when he was ousted amid widespread civil unrest.

The source added that the investigation was linked to “a criminal case on the facts of corruption at various stages of the implementation of the project for the development of the Kumtor drilling site.”

Earlier this month, the government announced it had taken full control of the gold mine, built atop a glacier and on the side of one of the country’s vast mountain ranges. Officials have accused Centerra, the Canadian firm that previously oversaw extraction of the precious metal, of disregarding environmental concerns and operating without proper permits. There are fears that toxic byproducts from mining could seep into the water supply of millions of Kyrgyz people.

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In exclusive comments to RT last week, Scott Perry, president and chief executive officer of Centerra, said that the new government was “in breach of its obligations under its investment agreements.” According to him, “the Kumtor Mine’s environmental performance adheres to international standards and has been audited multiple times by, among others, the Kyrgyz Government’s own environmental consultant.” He insisted that these expert reports “have confirmed that the Kumtor Mine is operated in accordance with international best practices and its recommendations for improvements have been implemented by the Company.”

Sadyr Japarov, a longtime critic of Centerra’s operations at the site, was elected president in January with 79% of the vote. His supporters had previously helped organize protests calling for its nationalization. The bombastic politician himself had been serving an 11-and-a-half-year prison term for his purported role in the kidnapping of a political rival when he was sprung from jail at the end of last year as the country slipped into chaos, with demonstrations and riots aimed at pushing Sooronbay Jeenbekov out of office. Japarov was quickly acquitted and appointed as interim leader before the elections.

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