A human rights group says that Akmurat Rejepov, who was Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's longtime security chief and was arrested after the autocrat's death, died a week ago after 10 years held incommunicado in prison.
Vitaly Ponomaryov, chief of the Central Asia program at the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center, said that Rejepov's relatives were told he died on August 10 as a result of thrombosis -- a blood clot.
Turkmen authorities delivered Rejepov's body to relatives the same day, and ceremonies traditionally conducted seven days after death were held on August 17, Ponomaryov said.
A lieutenant general known as the "gray cardinal," Rejepov was considered one of the most influential allies of Niyazov, who ruled the natural-gas rich country with an iron fist and tolerated no dissent.
Rejepov served as Niyazov's chief bodyguard starting in 1985, when Niyazov became the leader of what was then still a Soviet republic.
Former Turkmen officials say he played a major role in bringing President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to power after Niyazov's death was announced in December 2006.
But Berdymukhammedov dismissed Rejepov from the post of presidential security chief on May 15, 2007, and he was almost immediately arrested and charged with corruption.
In July 2007, Rejepov was convicted of bribery, fraud, extortion, tax evasion, and creating a criminal group, and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Officials never said publicly where he was serving his term, but he was believed to have been held in the remote Ovadan-Depe prison in the desert outside Ashgabat.
Rejepov was one of 88 people currently listed by Prove They Are Alive, a campaign urging Turkmenistan to provide information about people rights activists say have been sentenced on politically motivated charges and kept incommunicado for years.
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