By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Kyrgyzstan has added several former leaders of Canada’s Centerra Gold company and its operator of the Kumtor Gold company to its wanted list as part of a widening investigation into alleged corruption during the development of a major gold-mining project.
The State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said on September 17 that investigations so far revealed that the former leaders of the Canadian company and its operator had been involved in “corrupt” activities through which they illegally pocketed up to $200 million in December 2013.
The UKMK said that it launched a probe against former Centerra Gold manager Ian Atkinson; the former chief of Kumtor Gold, Michael Fischer; the former chairman of Kumtor Gold’s managing council, Andrei Sazonov; and the former vice president of Kumtor Operating Company, John Suter. All of them have been added to the Central Asian nation’s wanted list, he said.
A day earlier, the UKMK said it had detained former Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev as part of the investigation.
Otorbaev, who served as prime minister between 2014-15, is one of several former prime ministers and other senior officials arrested in connection with the Kumtor project in recent months.
Kumtor has been a target of financial and environmental disagreements for years. It is currently the subject of an ongoing control battle between the Kyrgyz state and Centerra Gold.
The Kyrgyz government has temporarily taken over control of the mine in what President Sadyr Japarov has called a necessary move to address environmental and safety violations.
Centerra has called Kyrgyzstan’s actions “wrongful and illegal.”
In May, the Canadian firm said it had “initiated binding arbitration to enforce its rights under long-standing investment agreements with the government.”
Last month, investigators questioned two former Kyrgyz presidents, Sooronbai Jeenbekov and Askar Akaev, in the high-profile case.