- - Friday, October 19, 2012

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — This month’s arrest of a deposed Kyrgyz president’s son in London has generated speculation the he could become a bargaining chip in negotiations over a U.S. military base in this Central Asian country.

Kyrgyzstan has no extradition agreements with Britain or the U.S., but has said it wants to repatriate Maksim Bakiyev, son of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, so that he can face charges of corruption and abuse of power during his father’s rule.

“Kyrgyzstan is engaged in negotiations with the U.K. and U.S. with the purpose to [ensure] Maksim Bakiyev [takes] criminal responsibility,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nurjigit Kadyrbekov said. “Kyrgyzstan firmly intends to reach agreements with the U.K. and U.S. to allow the extradition of Maksim Bakiyev to Kyrgyzstan in the future.”

Maksim Bakiyev was arrested Oct. 12 in London on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and pervert the course of justice in the U.S. Analysts say the charges relate to insider trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market.

The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek confirmed that his extradition to the U.S. has been requested, adding that “if convicted, Mr. Bakiyev could face a lengthy prison sentence.”

He had fled to Britain in April 2010 as his father was being forced from office by a popular revolt, and applied for political asylum. He claimed that he would not be given a fair trial in Kyrgyzstan.

“Maksim Bakiyev came to symbolize all that was wrong with [Kurmanbek] Bakiyev’s regime,” said Lilit Gevorgyan, an analyst at the economic intelligence firm IHS Global Insight in London. “He was a fine example of someone who amassed wealth and power through nepotism.”

Some local observers say that Maksim Bakiyev could be useful to the U.S. as leverage: The U.S. lease on the Manas Transit Center, part of a key supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan, will expire in 2014.

Mars Sariyev, an independent political analyst in Bishkek, said Maksim Bakiyev’s arrest could have been prompted by the Kyrgyz government’s refusal to renew the lease, a position that President Almazbek Atambayev reiterated during a recent visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia also operates a military facility in Kyrgyzstan — Kant Air Base.

“After Putin’s visit, it became clear that Kyrgyzstan is close with Russia,” said Mr. Sariyev. “Now, the Americans are trying to use all possible ways to pressure the Kyrgyz authorities.”

A cable from the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek in 2009 published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, said that Maksim Bakiyev was widely seen in Kyrgyzstan as “corrupt and benefiting economically from his father’s power.” It added that he could be a useful ally to the U.S. government.

Mr. Sariyev said the younger Mr. Bakiyev might have information about Kyrgyz officials that could be useful to the U.S.

“I guess that U.S. officials became interested in his participation in fuel supplies to the [Manas] Transit Center,” he said. “They probably need Maksim’s information about current schemes and links to Kyrgyz politicians. He [could] say something that might be used by the U.S. as bargaining chip in the case with the air base.”

Others say that scenario is unlikely.

“Certainly the U.S. would like to maintain that capability after 2014, but it would surprise me quite a bit if the different pieces of the U.S. bureaucracy were working that much in tandem,” said Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

“[Maksim and Kurmanbek Bakiyev] were up to their elbows in dirty financial transactions connected to the fuel contracts at Manas, and I am sure a lot of that stuff is still going on since he has been ousted,” Mr. Mankoff said. “But I am not sure that exposing it would do credit to the United States any more than it would to any group that happens to be in power in Bishkek.”

The younger Mr. Bakiyev appears to be less popular in Kyrgyzstan than his father and his uncle, who are being tried in absentia for their roles in the deaths of more than 80 Kyrgyz citizens during the 2010 uprising, among other charges. Maksim, who was expected to be his father’s likely successor, was not directly implicated in the 2010 violence.

Kyrgyz prosecutors have said that companies owned by Maksim Bakiyev owe $80 million in unpaid taxes on aviation fuel sold to suppliers of the Manas Transit Center.

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