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Corruption Watch: September 5, 2006

September 5, 2006, Volume 6, Number 6
The confession last month by Haci Mammadov, a former high-ranking Azerbaijani Interior Ministry official, that he ordered the murder last year of an opposition journalist on behalf of then Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev has shocked Azerbaijan.

For weeks now, the front pages in Azerbaijan have been full of sensational details about Mammadov's alleged crimes. Media recounted details of Mammadov's claim that he had once tortured a man by stabbing him in the liver and twisting the knife. Mammadov, a former chief inspector in an Interior Ministry criminal division, said he told his victim he would see him in another world and continue the torture.

Mammadov is in court, facing charges of kidnapping and murder. Prosecutors say that over a period of 10 years he ran a gang of over two dozen people that carried out a series of abductions for ransom and contract killings.

It was only during the trial that Mammadov confessed to the murder of Elmar Huseynov, a prominent and outspoken journalist and critic of the government. It is a claim many have dismissed, saying Mammadov's testimony isn't reliable. International watchdog Reporters Without Borders warned prosecutors and judges to be "suspicious" of the confession.

Huseynov was gunned down outside his apartment on March 2, 2005.

Former Minister Implicated

The case has whipped up a storm with Mammadov saying that former Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev ordered the killing. Aliyev, who is no relation to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, fell from grace in late October 2005 and was subsequently arrested and charged with plotting to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership.

The prosecutor-general has since appeared on national television and produced what he claimed was Aliyev's address book that contained Mammadov's telephone number.

Aliyev has strongly denied Mammadov's claims. In a statement from his prison cell, he said he had been warned that if he continued to refuse to plead guilty to the coup charge, he would be implicated in the killing of Huseynov.

Difficult Questions

The skullduggery aside, Azerbaijanis are asking the question of how such a gang could have operated for so long -- and with such impunity. Quenimet Zahidov, the editor of the opposition "Azadliq" newspaper, says the case raises difficult questions.

"If, in this country, the Economic Development Ministry had information about the crimes of Haci, and even if the ministry ordered it [then] that means that all the big and powerful ministries knew about these crimes," Zahidov says. "And that gives reason to say that the whole government system of Azerbaijan has used Haci Mammadov for one or another purpose."

It is likely that someone in the upper circles of power knew about Mammadov's crimes. But the question is who? The Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office are blaming each other. And a former colonel, Arif Aliyev, who was dismissed from the Interior Ministry in 2001, has said that the ministry couldn't have remained ignorant of the crimes Mammadov and his gang committed.

Mammadov's lawyer, Semed Aliyev, says he does not hold much hope of a fair trial. "I know all these judges and they are all objective. But there are situations when even the courts are helpless," Aliyev says.

More than anything, the trial has shown how law enforcement agencies are infested with corruption and linked with organized crime. Or as one Azerbaijani journalist put it: "Killers with a badge."

(RFE/RL analyst Liz Fuller, correspondent Luke Allnutt, and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report.)

By Breffni O'Rourke

China lies right next door to two of the world's main centers of narcotics production -- the so-called Golden Crescent of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Golden Triangle of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos.

China also has a huge population of 1.3 billion people, many of whom are rapidly gaining in wealth as the economy continues to expand. Put the two factors together -- proximity and purchasing power -- and it is easy to see why drug lords are eager to tap into China.

According to official figures, China has close to 700,000 heroin addicts and officials fear that problem is only set to grow.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted Deputy Minister of Public Security Zhang Xinfeng as telling parliament recently that China now faces a "grave situation" in drugs control. Zhang claims drugs are "pouring" into China, posing a great threat to the population.

Drug Traffickers Looking For Opportunities

Niklas Swanstroem, director of the Silk Road Studies Program at Uppsala University in Sweden, says drug smugglers tend to use those areas where central authority is weak because of conflict or unrest.

He says the troubled Uyghur autonomous region in western China (Xinjiang Province) is one such area. The Uyghurs are a Muslim people, and their remote territory is the scene of an intermittently active separatist movement.

"Here we have a minority group with very little financial viability within China, and it is easy for them with their connections in Central Asia to transport drugs," Swanstroem says.

The main volume of drugs on this route is thought to come from Afghanistan through Tajikistan into China. Transport is made easier by corrupt border guards and inadequate policing.

Center Of The Web

Central Asia has become the major transit center for narcotics flowing east into China, north into Russia, and west and south into Iran. At the center of this web sits Afghanistan, the biggest producer of opiates in the world.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates Afghanistan's 2005 production of opium to be over 4,000 tons -- worth about $2.7 billion. And it is estimated that in 2006 the area under poppy cultivation has increased by another 40 percent.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in Kabul on August 22 that terrorism is no longer the most deadly threat facing the country -- poppy cultivation is.

The Golden Triangle

China is also being targeted by drug smugglers operating from the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. Swanstroem says that along the China-Myanmar border there is also a pattern of activity by ethnic minorities.

"The [ethnic] minorities that actually have the connections to the Chinese border regions in Yunnan in particular are often heavily involved in drug trafficking, simply because they have the networks, [and] they have the links already established," he says.

In an effort to bring the situation on the Myanmar frontier under control, China has increased cooperation with authorities there and is training Myanmar police in narcotics-detection methods.

Tough New Law

Xinhua has reported that the draft law now under discussion in Beijing would allow police to search travelers and their luggage not only at border crossings, but also at railway stations, long-distance bus depots, and other places.

Noting the progress made in Sino-Myanmar cooperation, Swanstroem calls for more large-scale international cooperation among countries that are the end markets or key transit points for the vast flow of drugs originating in Afghanistan.

"International cooperation in general is absent, and I think that Europe and China, which are two important markets for Afghan drugs for example, really need to work together, and probably Iran too, which is fighting a virtual war against narcotics, with mixed success," Swanstroem says.

For its part, China says it arrested almost 60,000 people in 2005 in narcotics-related cases.

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov was interviewed by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in Bishkek on August 29. Jekshenkulov addressed such topics as Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations, the plight of Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, and territorial and energy issues.

RFE/RL: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are trying to find ways to improve their relations. Some say that one of the reasons for that is the need to fight religious extremism in Kyrgyzstan. How do you assess the improved relations between these two countries?

Alikbek Jekshenkulov: Foreign policy is carried out, not only that but a policy is carried out, in the interests of the state. Our nation and the whole society are saying -- and also the international community are saying -- that we have to have good relations with our neighbors. There were a lot of situations, and a lot of reasons in the past [for some shortcomings in these relations].

Recently, our president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, held three or four meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and after these negotiations a new stage began in bilateral ties [between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan]. That is why I think there will be some positive results in the coming years. Of course, it would be difficult to say that all troubles will be solved [in a short time], but we have hope. In any case, our two nations have been finding a common language.

RFE/RL: What kind of questions will Kyrgyzstan ask during the upcoming visit of President Bakiev to Uzbekistan at the end of September, and what type of cooperation with Tashkent is in Kyrgyzstan's national interest?

Jekshenkulov: We think one of the major issues is to maintain a constant dialogue between the two countries and continue to support each other. The Ferghana Valley is a densely populated area. There are a lot of very important issues between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, whether they are political, economic, or humanitarian issues. We are starting to deal with all of these major problems, and we are starting to understand each other.

That is why I believe President Bakiev's visit at the end of September will be fruitful. First of all, among political matters, the visa problem is a big issue. Second, we have to discuss the border issues, and third there are terrorism and religious-extremism issues.... In any case, we have a lot of problems in every field to deal with.

RFE/RL: Regarding the border issues, it is reported that 1,043 of 2,195 kilometers of the common border have been delimited and this delimitation is expected to be approved. Please tell me how negotiations on the disputed strips of the border will be carried out.

Jekshenkulov: We've reached a common opinion that the border issue must be resolved step by step. If there is no dispute regarding the 1,043-kilometer borderline then we should just decide on its legal status. And the special commissions have to continue to work on the other [disputed] sections. The members of the [Kyrgyz] commission have to protect every single meter, every kilometer. As you know, we don't have a big population and we don't have a huge territory either. That's why we are ready to protect our national interests.

RFE/RL: You touched upon the national interests, but there are issues like water reservoirs, like Kempirabat, built on Kyrgyz territory [but claimed by Uzbekistan]. The status of these reservoirs is unclear even now and Uzbekistan continues to keep them under their jurisdiction. Will there be a chance to raise this issue, to return it to Kyrgyzstan?

Jekshenkulov: I will stress that there are a lot of issues to be raised, that is why it is hard to say that everything will be resolved by one visit. That's why in the first stage we will discuss very major, very important questions. After that we'll go to the others, like [Kempirabat]. If there will be warm political relations between the two countries I think these questions might be resolved.

RFE/RL: The international community is raising concerns about the deportation of five Uzbek refugees to Uzbekistan. The Prosecutor-General's Office returned them and local human rights campaigners are harshly criticizing this decision. Do you have any information from the Foreign Ministry regarding the further plight of these refugees?

Jekshenkulov: These deported people are Uzbekistan's citizens. That's why this is not our matter. We have to consider the plight of Kyrgyzstan's citizens. This is not a political question, this is a legal question. Appeals by those five people were considered by courts, starting from the district court to the high court, and the Kyrgyz courts did not give them refugee status.

Of course, we are continuing to maintain Kyrgyzstan's image and we are continuing to meet our international commitments. There are human rights organizations that criticize us, but I would say last year when Kyrgyz authorities were in a very difficult situation we sent 439 Uzbek refugees to a third country. That's why I think our society has to support us.

If among them were people who cut the throat of the prosecutor-general and if these were people who were selling drugs before the Andijon events, that's why there were criminal cases against these five people. In such a situation how can the Prosecutor-General's Office decide differently? Everyone should understand this correctly.

RFE/RL: There are other concerns in Kyrgyzstan, for instance four Uzbek citizens recently disappeared from Kyrgyz territory. Such events happened at the beginning of the independence years. It was reported at that time that Uzbek special forces abducted them in Kyrgyzstan [and took them back to Uzbekistan]. Now the same practice is being repeated and there is further concern about Bishkek moving closer to such a dictatorial regime as Uzbekistan; people even fear that Kyrgyzstan might also follow the path of the Tashkent regime.

Jekshenkulov: I am surprised at the opinions of some of our politicians. If we don't have good relations with Uzbekistan they will complain, "why aren't you improving relations with Uzbekistan?!" Now, just as we are improving our relations with Tashkent they say, "won't we be like Uzbekistan?" I don't support such criticism.

Every former Soviet republic has chosen its own path since becoming independent. Uzbekistan has chosen its own way, we have to respect this but we also have our own path. If there is cooperation between the security services of these two countries regarding security matters, is it bad?

As you know, not only Kyrgyzstan but also the major leading states in the world are not able to fight terrorism alone. That is why we have to cooperate with the whole international community and with our neighbors in this matter and we are carrying out this mission.

Regarding the latest abduction of the Uzbek citizens, we don't have any information about [what you claim]. These might be rumors. In this matter our security services are continuing their investigation.

RFE/RL: There is another difficult problem connected to the water and energy system: Uzbekistan declined to buy Kyrgyz electricity. Will this issue be raised during the upcoming visit by Bakiev to resolve it in both country's interests?

Jekshenkulov: These water and energy issues are very complex. It is impossible to resolve them only between these two countries. This is a common regional problem because a common, united energy system was established during the Soviet era. If one party gives water, another will give gas, and a third will give electricity, and so on. This system was continued even after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

At the beginning of September in the [Kazakh] city of Astana, the presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will discuss these issues during their informal summit.... Our experts understand everything, the task is obvious for them. We will protect our national interests, we won't give up anything.