Kyrgyz ex-president Atambayev stands trial over release of mob boss

FILE PHOTO: Kyrgyz former President Almazbek Atambayev, who was stripped of legal immunity after a parliamentary vote, and his supporters attend a meeting with journalists in the village of Koy-Tash near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Former Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev went on trial behind closed doors on Friday charged with illegally setting free a jailed organized crime boss, which led to his arrest in August after a dramatic stand-off with security forces.

Atambayev, who refused to attend preliminary hearings, was escorted to the courtroom on Friday, his lawyer Sergei Slesarev told reporters. News media have been banned from the trial.

Atambayev, who ruled the Central Asian nation of six million people between 2011-2017, supported his then-ally and prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov in the 2017 election, but the two fell out just months into Jeenbekov’s presidency.

The charges against Atambayev stem from the 2013 release from a Kyrgyz prison on stated compassionate grounds of Aziz Batukayev, a man described by Kyrgyz officials as a mob kingpin who had been convicted of illegal possession of drugs and firearms and of organizing riots.

At the time, the authorities cited Batukayev’s terminal illness as the reason for the release - which investigators now say was untrue. There have been no reports that Batukayev has died and he is believed to be living in Russia.

Atambayev earlier denied all charges against him, calling them politically motivated. On Friday, according to his lawyer, Atambayev remained silent throughout the hearing, ignoring all questions from the judge.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Heinrich