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Kyrgyz Protesters Demand Government 'Properly' Investigate Graft Scandal

Demonstrators shouted slogans and held placards during the anti-corruption rally in Bishkek on November 25.

BISHKEK -- About 2,000 protesters have rallied in central Bishkek demanding "punishment" for those at the center of a joint investigation by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, the OCCRP, and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop about possible wide-scale corruption in the country’s customs service and massive outflows of cash from the country.

In the November 25 demonstration, protesters held signs saying "We demand the rule of law," "The place for thieves Is jail," and pictures of the former Deputy Chief of the Customs Service Raiymbek Matraimov with the inscription "Must be jailed."

The protesters said they were demanding a "proper" investigation into the alleged corruption that has sparked a public outcry in recent days.

Kyrgyz Demonstrations Over Alleged Customs Crimes
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WATCH: Kyrgyz Demonstrations Over Alleged Customs Crimes

The joint investigation 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.

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

Saimaiti alleged that Matraimov, while serving as Kyrgyz customs' deputy chief, was instrumental in providing cover for the Abdukadyr network’s cargo empire in the region.

The investigation 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.

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