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Rearrested Kyrgyz Powerbroker Matraimov Sent To Pretrial Detention

Raimbek Matraimov in a Bishkek courtroom earlier this month
Raimbek Matraimov in a Bishkek courtroom earlier this month

BISHKEK -- A court in Bishkek has ruled to place Raimbek Matraimov, the controversial former deputy chief of the Customs Service who was rearrested on corruption charges this week, in pretrial detention.

The Birinchi Mai district court on February 20 said Matraimov will remain in pretrial detention for at least two months.

Matraimov's lawyer, Madina Niyazova, said she would appeal the ruling.

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said Matraimov was rearrested on February 18 due to an ongoing probe launched into money laundering.

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The move came days after hundreds rallied in the Kyrgyz capital, protesting a Bishkek court ruling last week that ordered a mitigated sentence and no jail time for Matraimov.

Matraimov, who was placed on the U.S. Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the illegal funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars abroad, was fined just over $3,000 after pleading guilty to corruption charges.

The court said on February 11 that Matraimov had paid back around $24 million that disappeared through corruption schemes that he oversaw.

In June 2019, an investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Kloop implicated Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan by Chinese-born Uyghur businessman Aierken Saimaiti, who was subsequently assassinated in Istanbul in November 2019.

On February 15, a day after the protests, the UKMK said the criminal case against Matraimov would resume if allegations are confirmed that he has numerous properties in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and Russia.

The estimated $700 million scheme involved a company controlled by Matraimov bribing officials to skirt customs fees and regulations, as well as engaging in money laundering, “allowing for maximum profits,” the U.S. Treasury Department said.

Recent reports said that the 49-year-old Matraimov had changed his last name to Ismailov, and that his wife, Uulkan Turgunova, had changed her family name to Sulaimanova in a move seen as an attempt to evade the U.S.- imposed sanctions.

Last month, Damira Azimbaeva, a spokesperson for Kyrgyzstan's state registration service, confirmed to RFE/RL that both Matraimov and his wife had changed their surnames.

There have been no official statements from lawyers for Matraimov's family to explain the name change.

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