Kyrgyzstan’s health minister, who recommended a poisonous root as a treatment for coronavirus, has been arrested following a corruption probe linked to the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, according to prosecutors.
Alymkadyr Beishenaliyev has been nicknamed “aconite” for promoting a homemade liquid solution based on the poisonous root, also known as wolfsbane, to cure coronavirus and other diseases.
Prosecutors said on Friday Beishenaliyev was involved in the purchase of more than two million coronavirus vaccine doses over national requirements, proceeds from which “were transferred to offshore accounts”.
The money spirited away totalled 1.5 billion soms ($19m), a statement said.
“Although Kyrgyzstan receives free coronavirus vaccines from China, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and international organisations, in 2021 another 2,460,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines were unjustifiably received from foreign companies,” the statement added.
Beishenaliyev has been under pressure, with his deputies in May calling for his sacking and accusing him of bullying ministry employees, including using sexual taunts.
Beishenaliyev is seen as an ally of President Sadyr Japarov – whom he credits as the ultimate author of the aconite solution used in state hospitals.
He had said Japarov had personally provided doctors with a recipe passed on to him by his father.
The arrest has fuelled speculation of infighting in the government. Beishenaliyev had made a public appearance alongside the president on Thursday morning just hours before his arrest.
Video footage released by the prosecutors that evening showed a detachment of men in military uniforms entering the health ministry and Beishenaliyev being handcuffed in his office.
A spokesman for the state prosecutor told the AFP news agency on Friday that Beishenaliyev “is in a jail of the State National Security Committee and is awaiting trial”.
Beishenaliyev has dismissed the accusations and accused state security services of pressuring him.
Three Kyrgyz presidents have been unseated by political crises in the ex-Soviet country’s 30-year independence, with Japarov freed from jail before rising to power during post-vote chaos in 2020.
Japarov, 53, was at the time serving a conviction for hostage-taking that he insisted was groundless and an attempt to derail his opposition activities.