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Former Kyrgyz Deputy Transport Minister Azimkan Jusubaliev (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan's former Deputy Minister of Transport Azimkan Jusubaliev has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in a bribery scandal for a road reconstruction project.

The Birinchi Mai district court found Azimkan Jusubaliev guilty and handed down the sentence late in the evening of July 30.

Jusubaliev's defense team said the court's ruling will be appealed.

The former government official was arrested in December after he was caught receiving part of a $520,000 bribe from a construction company that wanted to win a tender for a highway construction project.

A person who arranged the receipt of the bribe, Bolot Toktobaev, was sentenced to six years in prison and a representative of an Italian company based in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Belkhruz Gulruzov, who was found guilty of offering the bribe, was ordered to pay a fine of 2 million soms ($25,700).

Jusubaliev's arrest in December sparked harsh public criticism of the Transport Ministry and led to President Sooronbai Jeenbekov's decision to fire Transport Minister Jamshitbek Kalilov.

Kyrgyzstan, whose economic health -- like that of many former Soviet republics -- has been harmed by corruption, passed a law in January that enables police and citizens who report cases of official graft to receive a portion of any financial damages recovered by the state.

Citizens who report corruption among the authorities in the Central Asian state are also to be provided with protection, according to the law.

The Russian tanker Nika Spirit in the port of Izmail

ODESA, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian court has formally approved the seizure of a Russian tanker that was detained by Ukrainian authorities at the Danube River port of Izmail last week, Ukraine's Chief Military Prosecutor Anatoliy Matios said on July 30.

According to documents posted on social media by Matios, the court in Ukraine's southern city of Odesa issued the ruling on July 29 regarding the seizure of the tanker Nika Spirit.

"The court seized the said vessel," Matios said. "We did it legally."

The Russian vessel was seized on July 25 by Ukraine's SBU security service and the Military Prosecutor's Office for its alleged involvement in an incident in November 2018 off the coast of Ukraine's Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula.

The SBU says the Russian tanker is material evidence in a case over the November 2018 Kerch Strait incident, alleging that the tanker was used to block three Ukrainian naval ships as they attempted to transit the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea to reach the Sea of Azov.

The Russian Navy fired at the Ukrainian ships in the altercation and seized the vessels along with 24 Ukrainian sailors on board.

Russia continues to hold the Ukrainian sailors in detention and plans to put them on trial, despite a May 25 ruling by the United Nations' Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea that Russia must "immediately" release the sailors and Ukrainian ships.

Russia has said the international maritime tribunal has no jurisdiction. It claims the Ukrainian ships illegally entered Russian territorial waters when they were off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea.

The UN tribunal's decisions are legally binding, but it has no power to enforce them.

The Russian Embassy in Ukraine told TASS on July 30 that Russia's consulate-general in Odesa has lodged a note with Ukraine's Foreign Ministry demanding explanations for the seizure of the Russian tanker.

Ukrainian investigators seized documents on board and questioned its 10 crew members. The 10 Russian crew members were later released and were allowed to return to Russia.

The embassy said Russia has "not received any official documents" from Ukraine concerning the seized tanker and has not yet replied to the diplomatic note.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and TASS

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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