At a recent performance on Kyrgyzstan’s independence day, an improvisational poet known as an “akyn” memorably called out the country’s endemic corruption in front of its president, top officials, and foreign guests.
To the strains of a traditional Kyrgyz lute, the “akyn” denounced “big ones who stealthily fill their pockets,” “electors who have grabbed the ballot boxes and steal votes,” and the country’s customs service, where “money is taken out in buckets.”
The last allusion would not have been lost on his audience. For years, as revealed in a previous series of investigations, deputy customs chief Raimbek Matraimov enabled — and profited from — a smuggling empire run by a secretive Uyghur family.
Matraimov is no longer in the customs service. But over the years, he and his brothers, who still hold important public functions, have amassed vast riches — and converted them into influence.
This new investigative series by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, OCCRP, Kloop and Bellingcat shows how.
From living an extravagant lifestyle on modest declared salaries, to secretly taking control of private customs facilities and trade routes, to pouring wealth into a crucial election campaign, the Matraimovs embody many of the brave poet’s warnings about the dangers of corruption in the heart of Central Asia.