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Owner of Kyrgyzstan fuel depot speaks out

Could American officials be tried under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?

“The political accusations in Kyrgyzstan boil down to a claim that American officials made corrupt payments to Kyrgyz government officials in order to secure the Manas base arrangements,” said Scott Horton, an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School and an expert on international law, who testified recently before a House of Representatives sub-committee looking into the matter.

“American criminal law contains a number of anti-bribery rules, including provisions that prohibit a U.S. person from providing consideration, directly or indirectly, to a foreign government official to secure or retain business,” he added.

Horton also noted that all the evidence presented so far consists of only “red flags” and no actual proof of any wrong-doing. Nevertheless it does raise troubling questions that show the case merits a full investigation, he said.

“All the evidence I see concerning these dealings suggests to me that if a conscious decision was taken to make these payments, that decision was reached at a very high policy-making level in the government, not by low-level contract administrators,” Horton testified.

Kyrgyz authorities have launched a number of their own investigations into the matter and have asked their Latvian counterparts to arrest Maksim Bakiyev. The ex-president’s son was last seen in the Baltic nation, where he shares business interests with a local millionaire. Interpol has also issued an arrest warrant for Bakiyev, for fraud.

According to Kyrgyz officials, Maksim Bakiyev allegedly built a business empire using his connections and strong-arm tactics. Ultimately, they claim, he snatched up all of the major money-making enterprises in the country, including the main gold mine, electricity producer and mobile phone operator. The younger Bakiyev was also appointed to head the official body overseeing the government’s holdings and business economic strategy.

The Kyrgyz further claim that Aviation Fuel Service, one of the companies that took over Valery Hon’s fuel storage facility, was controlled by the younger Bakiyev. This Kyrgyz firm, they say, indirectly did business with the U.S. air base by working with Mina Corp, a company that won an exclusive contract from the U.S. Defense Department to sell fuel to the base. Mina is registered in London and Gibraltar; its director of operations is Chuck Squires, a former military attache at the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, and it is staffed by other Americans.

The labyrinth of companies involved in the VOSST case however also give an indication of the difficulties Kyrgyz and U.S. investigators face in their attempt to get to the bottom of the Manas air base fuel sales. The Kyrgyz, for example, have not produced any documents backing up their assertions; they say that the information is confidential while the investigation is ongoing.