Kyrgyzstan Detains Ex-Customs Official Suspected of Money Laundering

Опубликовано: 27 Март 2024

Matraimov ArrestMatraimov on the way to GKNB. (Photo: GKNB)Raim

A Bishkek court ordered on Wednesday a one-month detention for the former deputy head of the Customs Service, who was extradited the night before from Azerbaijan where he fled after the exposure of his corrupt network that had spread throughout the government.

Raimbek Matraimov was detained and escorted to Kyrgyzstan with his three brothers, as announced by the Committee on National Security (GKNB). The former customs boss is accused of money laundering and “illegal deprivation of liberty.” However, authorities provided no explanation as to what the deprivation of liberty refers to.

In 2019, OCCRP and its partners published a series of investigations revealing how Matraimov used his political connections to funnel an estimated US$700 million out of Kyrgyzstan to a dozen countries worldwide. These revelations sparked mass protests in the country, with participants demanding his arrest.

Matraimov was detained by the State Committee of National Security (GKNB) in 2020 on suspicion of stealing millions of dollars of public money. He was subsequently released after he reached a deal that required him to pay back $24.5 million to the state budget - a portion of the sum he allegedly siphoned from the state.

In December 2020, he and his wife were sanctioned by the United States under the Global Magnitsky Act.

Despite only paying $3,000 after pleading guilty in 2021 to corruption charges and the court lifting freezes on his properties and bank accounts, Matraimov still fled the country.

Kyrgyz authorities placed him on a wanted list at the end of January this year, and last week the GKNB announced that he had been located in Baku and requested his arrest and extradition.

Authorities also revealed that operational activities showed Matraimov's connection with members of a transnational organized crime group from Azerbaijan that was sent to assassinate the leadership of Kyrgyzstan.

Kanybek Tumanbaev, head of the Presidential Directorate, stated in a Facebook post that the five Azeris were arrested in Bishkek and that they were sent by the Matraimovs.

“It is outrageous that robbing the country's wealth and people's livelihoods was not enough but that they also hired assassins,” Tumanbaev commented.

In February, the GKNB's investigation found Matraimov’s illegally obtained property worth US$34 million and transferred it to the state. This includes a sports club, office space, and five floors of a residential complex in the center of Bishkek. His villa in the city of Osh was sealed.

The authorities' actions during the investigation into Matraimov’s wrongdoings also affected Parliament. A local TV channel, allegedly linked to the head of the GKNB, called on parliamentarians supposedly associated with Matraimov to step down.

Two MPs resigned, including Matraimov’s older brother, and a court in Bishkek revoked the mandate of a third MP.

Nadira Narmatova, one of the MPs accused of being linked to Matraimov, argued in an interview with Govori TV that following this logic, Parliament should be dissolved because 99% of the MPs know Matraimov.

Kyrgyz authorities revived Matraimov’s case in 2023, summoning him for questioning in October, according to Kloop.

A month later, GKNB head Kamchybek Tashiev announced that about 200 government employees were fired because of their connections to Matraimov and the late organized crime figure Kamchy Kolbaev. He declared that the two no longer have any influence in the country and cannot hinder the nation’s progress.