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5 Aug, 2021 17:19

Kyrgyzstan arrests former Prime Minister on corruption charges linked to Canadian-run gold mine critics say is poisoning country

Kyrgyzstan arrests former Prime Minister on corruption charges linked to Canadian-run gold mine critics say is poisoning country

Temir Sariev, the former prime minister of Kyrgyzstan, has been detained over allegations of corruption and understating the environmental risk coming from one of the world’s largest gold mines, which is built into a glacier.

On Wednesday, the Pervomaisky District Court in the capital, Bishkek, announced that Sariev would be held behind bars until at least September 30. The Central Asian nation has been embroiled in a dispute over the colossal Kumtor Mine, which activists say has sent huge profits overseas at the expense of the local environment.

In May, government officials announced they had taken charge of the mine, forcing out Canadian firm Centerra Gold, which had previously been responsible for digging up nearly 16 tons of the precious metal each year. The firm has slammed the move as state appropriation and launched an international legal bid.

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Jakub Kronenberg, a researcher at Poland’s University of Lodz, warned several years ago that “Kumtor is the largest mining operation interfering with glaciers worldwide,” and that its impact on the ice sheets was “huge in absolute terms.” There have also been fears that the glacier is melting faster than before and risks flooding wastewater ponds that are said to contain high levels of cyanide used in the extraction of gold, risking poisoning nearby water supplies.

However, Centerra disputes these allegations, saying the Kyrgystan government’s own 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.” 

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Instead, it says, climate change is the driving force behind the melting of the glacier.

President Sadyr Japarov, whose supporters had previously staged protests outside the dig site, promised as part of his election platform that he would bring down “all officials involved in corrupt practices.”

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