The Matraimov Kingdom

Credit: Svetlana Tiourina
Published: October 2, 2020

At a recent performance on Kyrgyzstan’s independence day, an improvisational poet known as an akyn memorably called out the country’s endemic corruption in front of its president, top officials, and foreign guests.

To the strains of a traditional Kyrgyz lute, the akyn denounced “big ones who stealthily fill their pockets,” “electors who have grabbed the ballot boxes and steal votes,” and the country’s customs service, where “money is taken out in buckets.”

The last allusion would not have been lost on his audience. For years, as revealed in a previous series of investigations, deputy customs chief Raimbek Matraimov enabled — and profited from — a smuggling empire run by a secretive Uighur family.

Matraimov is no longer in the customs service. But over the years, he and his brothers, who still hold important public functions, have amassed vast riches — and converted them into influence.

This new investigative series by OCCRP, Kloop, RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk, and Bellingcat shows how.

From living an extravagant lifestyle on modest declared salaries, to secretly taking control of private customs facilities and trade routes, to pouring wealth into a crucial election campaign, the Matraimovs embody many of the brave poet’s warnings about the dangers of corruption in the heart of Central Asia.

Stories

How to Build a Customs Empire

For years, two powerful Central Asian families colluded to build a trading empire built on smuggling. Now, through relatives and trusted confidants, they control three of Kyrgyzstan’s key customs terminals.

2 October 2020 Read the article

A Powerful Kyrgyz Clan's Political Play

The Matraimov family has long used its questionable wealth to gain social and political influence in its native Kyrgyzstan. For this year’s parliamentary elections, they’ve pulled out all the stops.

2 October 2020 Read the article

News

Kyrgyz Authorities Arrest Matraimov, the $700 Million Man

Raiymbek Matraimov is in custody. Kyrgyzstan National Security (GKNB) officers Tuesday arrested Matraimov, the former deputy chairman of the country’s Customs Service (GTS). He is suspected of stealing millions of dollars from the country’s budget since 2016, GKNB said in a statement.

Read the article

When the State Went Missing

Here’s how Kyrgyz citizens banded together during a week of political chaos to take care of each other when their state couldn’t.

11 October 2020 Read the article

Pro-Government Election Victory Sparks Overnight Revolution in Kyrgyzstan

Enraged over an election they saw as undermined by rampant vote-buying, thousands stormed Kyrgyzstan’s parliament and presidential offices and took over government buildings throughout the country in an overnight revolution that on Tuesday forced election officials to declare the election void, OCCRP member center Kloop reported.

6 October 2020 Read the article

Interactive Map

Previous Matraimov Investigations

The 700-Million-Dollar Man

Over the span of five years, one man funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars out of Central Asia. What he knew may have cost him his life. But before his murder, he shared with reporters a trove of documents that reveal the source of this colossal wealth: A secretive family that ran an underground cargo empire with the help of a powerful political patron.

21 November 2019 Read the article

A Promise Cut Short

Despite receiving a death threat, the operator of a massive Kyrgyz money-laundering scheme shared hundreds of documents to corroborate what he knew. He promised even more — but then he was murdered.

21 November 2019 Read the article

The Dubai Partnership

The wife of Raimbek Matraimov, a powerful former Kyrgyz customs chief, has a joint investment in Dubai with a shadowy Uighur family, the Abdukadyrs. Back in Central Asia, that family built a thriving cargo empire thanks to corruption in the customs service.

Read the article

Kyrgyz Charity Run by Powerful Family Received Suspicious Funds Linked to Murdered Money Launderer

New

Nearly half of donations received by a well-known Kyrgyz charity run by the powerful Matraimov family have been linked to an illicit underground network.

Read the article

The Mystery of the Missing £5.6 Million

New

One of the last claims made by Aierken Saimaiti, a self-confessed money launderer who was murdered in Istanbul last November, was that he sent millions of pounds to London for a powerful former Kyrygz official. What happened to the money? Here’s where the evidence leads.

29 June 2020 Read the article

Project Credits

This project is a collaboration between OCCRP, Kloop, RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk, and Bellingcat.

Reporting: Many local reporters contributed to these stories. They cannot be named to protect their safety.

Editing: Miranda Patrucic, Ilya Lozovsky, Julia Wallace

Writing: Ilya Lozovsky

Graphics: Edin Pasovic, Kloop

Illustrations: Svetlana Tiourina

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