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Husband Of Kyrgyz Anti-Corruption Campaigner Detained Amid Graft Scandal

Anti-corruption campaigner Shirin Aitmatova
Anti-corruption campaigner Shirin Aitmatova

BISHKEK -- The husband of well-known Kyrgyz anti-corruption campaigner Shirin Aitmatova has been detained amid an ongoing scandal over alleged corruption in the customs service.

Aitmatova told RFE/RL on December 20 that her husband, Syrgak Kenjebaev, was detained overnight at Almaty’s international airport, in neighboring Kazakhstan, and later transferred to Bishkek.

Kyrgyz officials said Kenjebaev had been detained on suspicion of fraud.

Aitmatova is a former lawmaker and the founder of the anti-corruption organization Umut-2020 (Hope-2020). She is also a daughter of Kyrgyzstan's late prominent writer Chinghiz Aitmatov.

Political Action Comes With A Caffeine Kick At Bishkek Cafe
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WATCH: Political Action Comes With A Caffeine Kick At Bishkek Cafe

Her group has recently called on Kyrgyz authorities to thoroughly investigate a media investigation published last month about possible large-scale corruption in the customs service and massive outflows of cash from the Central Asian country.

The revelations from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, known in the country as Azattyk, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP,) and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop have sparked public outcry in the Central Asian nation in recent weeks.

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said on December 20 that Kenjebaev was being held in the UKMK's detention center in Bishkek.

He was detained after a Chinese citizen identified as M.M. filed a lawsuit against Kenjebaev for alleged fraud, it said.

Speaking to reporters in Bishkek, a businessman from China, Motalif Mamatamin -- identified as Motailifu Maimaityaming in Chinese official documents -- claimed that Kenjebaev fraudulently took $350,000 from him.

Mamatamin’s name suggests that he is an ethnic Uyghur.

His press conference was abruptly stopped after Mamatamin's lawyer, Janara Askar Kyzy, learned from journalists that Kenjebaev is married to Aitmatov's daughter.

"It is a revelation for me," Askar Kyzy said, adding: "I am perplexed.... If you allow me, let us stop this press conference now," Askar Kyzy said.

The joint media investigation by Azattyk, the OCCRP, and Kloop showed that a 37-year-old Uyghur businessman from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, Aierken Saimaiti, secretly provided reporters with documents demonstrating how hundreds of millions of dollars were moved out of Kyrgyzstan, much of it via a business network led by Khabibula Abdukadyr, a secretive Chinese-born Uyghur with a Kazakh passport.

The chief of Kyrgyzstan's financial police has said since then that the amount of cash illegally funneled out of the country is close to $1 billion.

The joint investigation also uncovered video footage showing Abdukadyr sitting in the second row at Jeenbekov's inauguration in November 2017. The video shows Abdukadyr sitting next to the president's brother, Kyrgyz Ambassador to Ukraine Jusupbek Sharipov.

Saimaiti, who was shot dead in Istanbul on November 10, alleged that Raimbek Matraimov, while serving as Kyrgyz customs' deputy chief, was instrumental in providing cover for the Abdukadyr network’s cargo empire in the region.

Matraimov, who denies any wrongdoing, earlier this month told journalists he planned to sue Aitmatova after her NGO called for an investigation into the allegations against him.

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

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