Kyrgyzstan’s state security service said it detained opposition politician Omurbek Tekebayev on Sunday on charges of corruption and fraud, a move that may eliminate him as a contender for presidency in the upcoming election.
Tekebayev, 58, leads the Ata Meken (Fatherland) party’s parliamentary faction and is one of the most outspoken critics of President Almazbek Atambayev, whose term ends this year.
The ex-Soviet Central Asian nation will hold a presidential election November 19.
Supporters are holding demonstrations to protest the arrest, which occurred shortly after Tekebayev arrived in Bishkek airport early Sunday on a flight from Vienna.
In a separate statement, the prosecutor general’s office said it suspected Tekebayev of taking a $1 million bribe from a Russian investor in 2010.
Tekebayev, who was then a senior member of provisional government, promised the investor he would be able to take over a local telecommunications company, prosecutors said.
Kanybek Imanaliyev, a member of parliament who belongs to Tekebayev’s Ata Meken faction, said he denied any wrongdoing.
“He considers his detention … unwarranted and illegal and a continuation of political repressions,” Imanaliyev said. “We planned to hold a party congress within a month and nominate him as candidate (for presidency).”
Atambayev cannot run for re-election under the Kyrgyz constitution, but his allies in parliament successfully pushed through a referendum on a package of amendments significantly boosting the powers of the prime minister.
This has prompted speculation Atambayev may either become a powerful Cabinet head — although Atambayev denies having such plans — or install a loyal figure as prime minister in order to retain power in the mostly Muslim nation of 6 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.