BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz lawmakers have approved an economic-amnesty bill that allows individuals who obtained financial assets through illegal means to avoid prosecution by turning the assets over to the State Treasury.
Economy Minister Bekbolot Aliev said on December 23 that the amnesty's main goal was not about filling the government's coffers but "to bring the shadow economy to the legal scene."
Kyrgyz authorities have said that the bill may affect around 1,300 individuals convicted or suspected of enriching themselves through tax evasion, financial fraud, smuggling, and other economic misdeeds.
Critics, however, say the legislation was proposed and hastily prepared by lawmakers to avoid a conviction for the former deputy chief of the Customs Service, Raimbek Matraimov, who has been implicated in a high-profile case involving the illegal funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars abroad.
The idea of economic amnesty was announced on October 21 by Sadyr Japarov, then acting Kyrgyz president, just a day after Matraimov was detained and placed under house arrest.
The State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said at the time that Matraimov had agreed to pay about 2 billion soms ($24.7 million) in damages to the state, and that 80 million soms ($1 million) had already been transferred to its account.
Matraimov is one of three brothers from what is rumored to be one of the wealthiest and most-powerful families in Kyrgyzstan. He was a key financial backer for political parties and presidents, including Jeenbekov and the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party, which dominated the October 4 parliamentary elections along with a party called Birimdik, which listed Jeenbekov's brother among its ranks.
Protesters, angry at evidence of vote-buying and other improprieties during the vote, seized government buildings after the election results were announced, prompting officials to annul the balloting and Jeenbekov to step down.
In the resulting power vacuum, Japarov, a former nationalist lawmaker and convicted kidnapper who was freed from prison when a mob stormed a Bishkek prison during the protests, was elected prime minister by parliament and then had the presidential powers transferred to him when Jeenbekov left office in mid-October.
Last year, a joint investigation by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop, implicated Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of funds out of the country by Chinese-born Uyghur businessman Aierken Saimaiti, who was assassinated in Istanbul in November 2019.
Prior to his killing, Saimaiti provided a trove of financial records to reporters showing how he moved money out of Kyrgyzstan via murky wire transfers and cash couriers over the course of several years.
On December 9, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Matraimov for his role in a vast corruption and money-laundering scheme.
Japarov suspended his duties as acting president and prime minister in mid-November in order to be eligible to take part in an early presidential election on January 10.