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Kyrgyz Financial Police Chief Says Almost $1 Billion Funneled From Country

Bakir Tairov told lawmakers on November 26 that the State Service For The Fight Against Economic Crimes had launched an investigation into what he called money laundering. (file photo)

BISHKEK -- The chief of Kyrgyzstan's financial police says the amount of cash illegally funneled out of the country by suspects implicated in a joint investigation by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, the OCCRP, and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop is close to $1 billion, well above the original estimate of $700 million.

Bakir Tairov told lawmakers on November 26 that the State Service For The Fight Against Economic Crimes had launched an investigation into what he called money laundering following the journalistic investigation that sparked a public outcry in the Central Asian country recently.

"In all, the amount of $932,736,000 was illegally transferred out of the country...The sums were transferred to China, Turkey, Lithuania, Britain, Germany, and other countries," Tairov said.

The joint investigation involving RFE/RL revealed 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 via a network led by Khabibula Abdukadyr, a Chinese-born Uyghur with a Kazakh passport.

Saimaiti was shot dead in Istanbul on November 10.

Tairov said at the parliamentary session on November 26 that the Kyrgyz authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Saimaiti on suspicion of tax evasion in July.

Saimaiti alleged that the former deputy chief of the Kyrgyz Customs Service, Raiymbek Matraimov, was instrumental in providing cover for the Abdukadyr network's cargo empire in the region.

The investigation by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, OCCRP, and Kloop also found that Matraimov's wife is a joint investor in a Dubai property development with a company controlled by Abdukadyr.

Matraimov and his brother, Kyrgyz lawmaker Iskender Matraimov, have denied accusations of wrongdoing by the former customs official.

Saimaiti told reporters prior to his death that in order to protect himself, he had applied for Turkish citizenship and expected to receive it on November 14. He said he planned to turn over more financial documents to reporters after that.

He was shot dead at a cafe in Istanbul. Turkish police have made several arrests in the case, though details of the suspects' motives and potential contacts remain murky. Turkish police have made no official statements on the case.

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor's Office said on November 22 that it had launched a probe to verify information revealed in the joint investigation, specifically that "unknown persons repeatedly threatened [Saimaiti] with murder, which forced him to flee to the Republic of Turkey."

The same day, the Kyrgyz president's spokeswoman, Tolgonai Stamalieva, said that Jeenbekov, before becoming president, met with Abdukadyr at "a general meeting held by [Jeenbekov's predecessor] Almazbek Atambaev," but never had any joint business projects with him.

The joint journalistic investigation uncovered video footage showing Abdukadyr sitting in the second row at Sooronbai Jeenbekov's inauguration in November 2017.