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Kyrgyz Investigators Criticized After Alleging That Murdered Source Paid RFE/RL Reporters In Money-Laundering Probe

State Committee for National Security investigator Sagynbek Samidin-uulu has been accused of attacking RFE/RL without strong evidence.
State Committee for National Security investigator Sagynbek Samidin-uulu has been accused of attacking RFE/RL without strong evidence.

BISHKEK -- Two lawmakers and a prominent legal expert in Kyrgyzstan have criticized the state security service after it claimed that reporters with RFE/RL received money from a self-proclaimed money launderer who served as the journalists' source in an investigation into corruption in the Central Asian country.

The claim was made on June 2 at a parliamentary hearing into the killing of Aierken Saimaiti, a Chinese-born Uyghur businessman who funneled hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan over the course of several years.

The head of the State Committee for National Security's (UKMK) investigative team, Sagynbek Samidin-uulu, told the commission that investigators obtained testimony from two witnesses who said Saimaiti had paid $100,000 to journalists from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Radio Azattyk.

No documentary or other evidence supporting the witnesses' claims was provided.

Cholpon Jakupova, the head of the Adilet (Justice) Legal Clinic nongovernmental organization, on June 3 said the showing of video testimonies of the alleged witnesses at the parliamentary hearing was "illegal by all means."

"As the UKMK continues to investigate the case, its materials, especially statements by witnesses, cannot be made public," Jakupova said, adding that the witnesses' claims "sound absolutely doubtful."

Lawmaker Janarbek Akaev said the UKMK's move "undermines people's trust" in the security service, while another member of parliament, Dastan Bekeshev, called the claim "an attempt to throw dirt on RFE/RL."

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly earlier said the allegations "appear to be the latest attempt in a long-standing campaign of retaliation against journalists by corrupt individuals seeking to protect their wealth and power."

Prior to his killing in Istanbul in November, Saimaiti provided a trove of financial records to reporters showing how he moved the money out of Kyrgyzstan via murky wire transfers and cash couriers.

Following Saimaiti's death, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop published an award-winning investigation based on these records and their own independent reporting, titled Plunder And Patronage In The Heart Of Central Asia.

The investigation implicated former Kyrgyz State Customs Agency Deputy Chairman Raimbek Matraimov in widespread corruption linked to the money Saimaiti moved out of the country,

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

The lead reporter in the investigation, Ali Toktakunov of Radio Azattyk, has received credible death threats in connection with the publication, which has triggered street protests in Kyrgyzstan following its publication in November.