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Former Kyrgyz President Akaev Admits 'Mistakes' Over Kumtor Gold-Mine Project

Former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev speaks to journalists in Bishkek on August 2.
Former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev speaks to journalists in Bishkek on August 2.

BISHKEK -- Former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev returned to Moscow on August 8 after a weeklong visit to Kyrgyzstan during which he was questioned by authorities over alleged corruption around the development of the Kumtor gold-mine project.

Akaev made news headlines after he appeared in Bishkek on August 2 for the first time since he was ousted by anti-government protests in March 2005 and told journalists that he had been questioned by the State Committee for National Security (UKMK) in connection with the investigation into Kumtor, one of the world's biggest gold mines.

Kumtor has been a target of financial and environmental disagreements for years and is currently the subject of an ongoing battle for control between the Kyrgyz state and the mine's operator, Canadian Centerra Gold.

Akaev issued a video statement on August 8 saying that the goal of his trip to the Central Asian republic was to help the authorities to investigate.

"Since the agreement was signed on Kumtor, Kyrgyzstan has made many decisions that supported the interests of Canada's [Centerra Gold] company, leaving Kyrgyzstan's interests behind,” he said.

“The decision to give the mine to the Canadian party did not give any dividends to Kyrgyzstan; the state treasury did not get taxes. It was also my mistake, as I was then the president and it was I who made decisions regarding Kumtor."

A month ago, UKMK chief Kamchybek Tashiev said that Akaev and another exiled former Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, had been added to the international wanted list as part of the Kumtor corruption probe.

Tashiev said the Kyrgyz government intends to prove in international court that Centerra Gold paid bribes to top Kyrgyz officials.

Akaev became the first president of independent Kyrgyzstan in 1990. He fled to Russia during the so-called Tulip Revolution 16 years ago and had avoided returning to the Central Asian country, even for the burial of close relatives.

Bakiev has been in exile in Belarus since being toppled by anti-government protests in 2010.

The giant Kumtor gold project has been the focus of international attention since a new Kyrgyz government moved to temporarily take over operations at the mine over what President Sadyr Japarov said was a necessary move to remedy environmental and safety violations.

In May, the Kyrgyz government approved a law allowing it to take control for up to three months of any company that operates under a concession agreement in Kyrgyzstan if that firm violates environmental regulations, endangers the local environment or lives of people, or causes other significant damage.

Centerra has called the Kyrgyz actions "wrongful and illegal" and said in July that it had filed additional arbitration claims against the government in Bishkek over Kumtor.

In recent months, Kyrgyz authorities have arrested several former officials and current lawmakers in connection with the case.