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Dual investigations probe Manas fuel sales

As Kurmanbek Bakiyev flees Kyrgyzstan, provisional government examines his holdings, while U.S. investigates Manas suppliers.

The mechanics of Maksim Bakiyev’s involvement in the fuel trade — if he was indeed involved — are so far unclear, however. Mina Corporation, a Gibralter-based services company run by an ex-U.S. military attache, Chuck Squires, holds the fuel supply contract for Manas. GlobalPost has so far not received an answer to an email (to an address that Squires himself provided), asking if Mina did business with any companies associated with the younger Bakiyev. 

Fuel sales to Manas moreover are a highly controversial subject in Kyrgyzstan. The family of Bakiyev’s predecessor (President Askar Akayev, who was also overthrown in a popular uprising) earned millions by selling to Manas. Bakiyev, when he came to power, accused U.S. officials of complicity in the Akayevs’ enrichment and demanded compensation. 

Given the potential damage to America’s reputation in the region, U.S. representatives decided to look into whether the Bakiyev regime was also involved in fuel sales. Tierney acknowledged however that much of the information is submerged. 

“It's hard to find the exact connections,” he said. “It is presumed publicly that the connections are there — but nothing concrete.” 

At the same time, the congressman would like to know if the U.S. government itself explored the allegations of the Bakiyev family’s involvement.

“The allegations of corruption at the base and the selling of fuel began in 2005,” he said. “We want to know what [U.S. officials] knew? When did they know it? And what should they have known?”

Manas air base is a major troop transit and re-fueling hub and its importance has spiked since President Barack Obama announced a surge of troops into Afghanistan, in an effort to quell the Taliban. Further boosting Manas’ significance is the fact that the preferred overland supply route through Pakistan has come under increased attack in recent months.

Roza Otunbayeva, Kyrgyzstan’s acting leader, has said that her government will honor its standing agreements. Philip J. Crowley, U.S. State Department spokesperson, said yesterday that Washington had notified the Kyrgyz that it would renew the lease on the base in July, according to a five-year agreement that is renewed annually.

“As far as I know, the interim [Kyrgyz] administration has indicated that it plans to make no changes with respect to that agreement,” Crowley said at the daily state department briefing, according to a published transcript.

But the base’s continued presence in Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous nation wedged against the Chinese border, is nonetheless still an open question.

The provisional government is divided on the issue. Deputy Prime Minister Azimbek Beknazarov said that he is for closing it down. Otunbayeva, for her part, said also that there are “questions” over the lease deal between the Bakiyev government and Washington. The agreement’s details, for example, have never been published, she said.