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Kyrgyzstan’s Former Istanbul Envoy Arrested On Suspicion Of Abuse Of Office

Erkin Sopokov, Kyrgyzstan’s former consul-general in Istanbul, has been arrested, officials say. (file photo)
Erkin Sopokov, Kyrgyzstan’s former consul-general in Istanbul, has been arrested, officials say. (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan's former consul-general in Istanbul, Erkin Sopokov, has been arrested in Bishkek after his car was found near the site where a businessman from China's Xinjiang Province was shot dead in Istanbul earlier this month.

The State Committee for National Security (UKMK) announced the arrest on November 28, just more than two weeks after Sopokov had been fired from his job by President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

On November 10, Aierken Saimaiti was shot dead in Istanbul. The ethnic Uyghur from Xinjiang was cited in a joint investigative report by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, the OCCRP, and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop about the illegal withdrawal of some $700 million from Kyrgyzstan.

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

Turkish media reported that Saimaiti's car parked nearby had "forged" license plates registered with Kyrgyzstan's Consulate.

However, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry said on November 12 that the car belonged to Sopokov and the diplomatic license plate was legally registered with the consulate.

Following his firing and return to Kyrgyzstan, Sopokov was detained in his home country on suspicion of abuse of office for allowing Saimaiti and others to use the car. He was also accused of illegal enrichment.

The UKMK said its probe was started after Saimaiti in the media investigation admitted to his role in helping facilitate bribery and money laundering, while implicating a powerful former customs official in massive corruption schemes.

In May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service obtained documents confirming that at least $250 million had been taken away from Kyrgyzstan abroad via banking accounts belonging to Saimaiti and a Kyrgyz company.

After RFE/RL's report, Kyrgyzstan's Service for the Fight Against Economic Crimes confirmed that Saimaiti, who was wanted by Kyrgyz authorities for alleged financial fraud; his spouse Vufuli Bumailiamu; and the company Abdyraz had sent more than $646 million from Kyrgyzstan abroad via 11 bank accounts.

The investigation also revealed that the activities of Saimaiti and his wife had been allegedly linked to a Kyrgyz foundation with ties to the family of Kyrgyz lawmaker Iskender Matraimov.

Matraimov denied the allegation.

The police chief in Turkey's southern city of Adana, Atilla Kilic, said on November 12 that two Kyrgyz nationals, Husein Akmataliev and Abdullah Enver, as well as a Syrian citizen Ali Isbeh, had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the killing of Saimaiti.

According to Kilic, the trio was detained while trying to cross the Turkish-Syrian border near Adana.

On November 25, about 2,000 protesters rallied in central Bishkek demanding "punishment" for those at the center of the suspected corruption in the country’s customs service and massive outflows of cash from the country.

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

With reporting by AFP, Son Dakika, Bolge Gunden, Hurriyet, and Milliyet