Accessibility links

Breaking News

Former Kyrgyz Diplomat Implicated In Customs-Fraud Case Freed From Custody

Erkin Sopokov was fined but not sentenced to prison. (file photo)
Erkin Sopokov was fined but not sentenced to prison. (file photo)

BISHKEK -- A former Kyrgyz diplomat mentioned in investigations into the high-profile killing in Istanbul of a Chinese citizen of Uyghur origin, whose statements to reporters led to a corruption scandal that shook the country in November, has been fined and released from custody.

A spokeswoman for Bishkek's Birinchi Mai district court, Aizada Momunova, told RFE/RL on July 24 that the former consul-general in Istanbul, Erkin Sopokov, was ordered to pay 300,000 soms ($3,920) but given no jail time when the verdict and sentence were announced on July 10.

There was no official announcement about Sopokov's verdict and sentence at the time.

The court's website said on July 24 that Sopokov made a deal with investigators and pleaded guilty to abuse of office and illegal enrichment. No more details were provided.

Sopokov was fired from his post in Istanbul and arrested following the assassination of Aierken Saimaiti, a Chinese national of Uyghur ethnicity, who was shot dead at an Istanbul cafe in November.

Investigators revealed that Saimaiti used a vehicle with diplomatic license plates that belonged to Sopokov.

Sopokov was accused of illegally lending his Range Rover to Saimaiti and other individuals, illegally earning $200,000 and misusing government-provided benefits.

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) has said that Sopokov may have been involved in wider corruption activities revealed by Saimaiti to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop, who used the data in an investigation titled Plunder And Patronage In The Heart Of Central Asia.

The investigation implicated former State Customs Agency Deputy Chairman Raimbek Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars transferred out of the country.

Earlier in June, the UKMK claimed reporters with RFE/RL had received money from Saimaiti, who served as the journalists' source in the joint investigation.

RFE/RL strongly rejected the allegation, calling them "the latest attempt in a long-standing campaign of retaliation against journalists by corrupt individuals seeking to protect their wealth and power."

Matraimov and his family have denied any links to Saimaiti or corruption in the customs service, and filed a libel suit over the investigation.

RFE/RL staff have received death threats in connection with the publication, which triggered street protests in Kyrgyzstan following its publication in November.

Last month, lawmakers approved the findings of a parliamentary commission that concluded Kyrgyzstan was not involved in the alleged money laundering uncovered in the joint journalistic investigation.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.