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Turkmenistan: Officials Charged With Corruption, Smuggling, Murder

Prague, 8 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmenistan's former security chief, once described as the second-most-powerful man in the country, has been charged -- along with a former defense minister and 20 other security officials -- with various crimes, including murder, torture, drug smuggling, and large-scale corruption.

After a two-month investigation into alleged wrongdoing at Turkmenistan's National Security Committee (KNB) the Prosecutor-General's Office yesterday announced the charges at a closed meeting with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

The cases, which involve more than 80 alleged crimes, will be sent directly to the country's Supreme Court, Niyazov said in footage shown on national television stations today. "Even though I have a soft heart, I do not plan to amnesty them," he said.

According to Prosecutor-General Kurbanbeby Atajanova, the former chairman of the KNB, Muhammed Nazarov, is charged with 11 crimes, including murder, procuring prostitutes, bribe-taking, and fraud.

"[Nazarov's crimes] have been completely proven. According to Turkmenistan's criminal code, Nazarov should be charged on these accusations, and should be interrogated. His crimes are ready to be brought to court."

Nazarov's subordinates are accused of torturing suspects with electric shocks, making unsanctioned arrests and searches, embezzlement, and other crimes.

Niyazov, in his televised comments, also mentioned a possible reorganization of the KNB, saying Poran Berdyev -- who replaced Nazarov as the head of the KNB in March -- is in charge of the project. "Poran Berdiev should suggest a new composition for the Security Committee. There are 5,000 people working there. In our effort to strengthen it, we have increased their number. But now 700 to 800 people will be sent wherever they are needed, the Defense Ministry or the Interior Ministry."

Defense Minister Kurbandurdy Begendjev is also facing charges on four counts of corruption. He and Nazarov were fired in March. Niyazov also reshuffled many military, border guard, and regional officials.

Niyazov has purged numerous top officials in recent weeks as part of an official anti-corruption campaign in what is viewed as a bid to prevent others from gaining a power base in the republic.

In the latest of a series of sackings of top officials, a government spokesman said late yesterday that Niyazov also dismissed Deputy Prime Minister and central bank chief Seyitbay Gandymov. Niyazov accused Gandymov of "serious shortcomings in his work," abuse of office and immodesty, the spokesman added.

The Turkmen president appointed Economy and Finance Minister Enebay Ataeva as deputy prime minister to replace Gandymov. No new central bank chairman has yet been appointed.

But the fact that Niyazov is focusing primarily on cleaning out the KNB -- seen as a crucial pillar of support for his regime -- is raising speculation among analysts about his real motives.

Some of Niyazov's comments indicate he may be seeking scapegoats for the stagnation of the country's social and economic development. At a March cabinet meeting, Niyazov said the KNB will no longer be allowed to interfere in the lives of citizens or in the activities of private companies.

"I gave orders to you to defend order, freedom and liberty of the people, to restore law and order. You, however, have raised criminal charges against wealthy business leaders, firms and companies, which is not your job. You are harassing the people involved in private business. Many of your people collect money from them."

There is considerable need in Turkmenistan for foreign investment to help develop the country's gas industry. Niyazov, to a large degree, has staked his reputation on seeing that industry grow.

Some analysts say Niyazov's decision to remove and charge KNB officials is meant to send a warning to the repressive structure that it doesn't have enough authority to undermine him.

Others believe Niyazov turned a blind eye to KNB misdeeds as long as he felt they were able to control the country's political opposition. But a number of recent defections by high-profile officials has been a source of great concern for the Turkmen president. Some analysts believe the KNB sacking may be a form of punishment for allowing the opposition to flout his authority so openly.

(RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report.)