Statement on Allegations by the Kyrgyz Security Service
Earlier today, in front of a special committee of the Kyrgyz parliament, the country’s intelligence agency presented the preliminary results of an investigation that was triggered by a reporting project released in November by RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk, OCCRP, and its local member center, Kloop.
Rather than focusing on the large-scale corruption revealed in the joint publication, the State Committee for the National Security of Kyrgyzstan (GKNB) focused squarely on investigating a murder victim — one of the sources for the story — and on the journalism itself. The agency relied on two witnesses, one who alleged that reporters had used fabricated documents and one who alleged improper behavior on the part of an RFE/RL reporter. Neither claim was backed by documentary evidence and both relied on hearsay.
We stand fully behind our reporting. The disputed documents were acknowledged as such, and the conclusions reached in the investigation do not rely on them in any way.
Our partner in the project, RFE/RL, is currently reviewing the allegation against their reporter. The organization’s president and CEO, Jamie Fly, has described them as “the latest attempt in a longstanding campaign of retaliation against journalists by corrupt individuals seeking to protect their wealth and power.”
Regardless of whether or not the allegation of improper behavior is true, in whole or in part, it has no bearing on the factual content of the jointly published stories, which underwent an extensive, independent fact-checking process.
The GKNB’s investigation focused on Aierken Saimaiti, a self-confessed money launderer who was murdered in Istanbul in November 2019.
Before his death, Saimaiti had provided reporters with a set of financial records that, along with his personal recollections and a range of corroborating evidence, formed the basis of the investigations, which exposed large-scale corruption and money laundering in the Central Asian country.
Radio Azattyk, OCCRP, and Kloop jointly published the initial stories in the investigation, titled Plunder and Patronage in the Heart of Central Asia, on November 21, 2019. They revealed how a secretive Uighur family, the Abdukadyrs, ran a regional cargo smuggling empire with the collusion of corrupt Kyrgyz customs officials and the patronage of Raimbek Matraimov, a powerful former deputy customs chief. They also revealed how Saimaiti funnelled $700 million, representing the proceeds of the scheme, out of the country — and that he had sent at least $200,000 to a charitable foundation run by the Matraimov family.
In parliament today, the GKNB presented a recorded statement by a witness who claims that Saimaiti told him that he was providing fabricated transaction documents to journalists. The authenticity of these documents was known to be in doubt, and the story that mentions them explains that “they could not be independently verified, leaving open the possibility that they had been doctored.” None of the conclusions of any of the stories relied in any way on their authenticity, and the figures invoked in the stories — $200,000 sent to the Matraimovs and over $700 million laundered out of the country — do not include them in the calculation.
RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk and Kloop were both sued by the Matraimov family shortly after the investigations were published, leading to a temporary freeze on the organizations’ bank accounts.
Rather than joining in this wealthy family’s pursuit of journalists, Kyrgyzstan’s top law enforcement body should have investigated the plain evidence of corruption revealed by our publications. This is what the Kyrgyz people demanded in two public protests after their release, and it is what they deserve from their public officials.