Kyrgyzstan’s kingmaker turned enemy of the state Matraimov arraigned before court after extradition

Kyrgyzstan’s kingmaker turned enemy of the state Matraimov arraigned before court after extradition
Matraimov pictured on his way to the GKNB security service HQ. / GKNB
By bne IntelliNews March 27, 2024

Once known as Kyrgyzstan’s infamous kingmaker and “political wallet”, powerful ex-customs official and alleged epic smuggler and money launderer Raimbek Matraimov was on March 27 placed in a one-month pre-trial detention by a Bishkek court.

The ex-deputy head of the Kyrgyz Customs Service was extradited the previous night from Azerbaijan, where officials of Kyrgyzstan’s Japarov regime allege he fled after further exposure of his corrupt network that, they claimed, had spread throughout the government.

Matraimov, sometimes known as “Raim Million” and rumoured to have bought elections, was in fact detained and escorted to Kyrgyzstan with his three brothers, with the operation graphically portrayed by Kyrgyzstan’s Committee on National Security (GKNB) in a video release. Populist authoritarian Japarov officials seem intent on humiliating Matraimov as an “enemy of the state” being made to pay for his crimes against the people.

The 52-year-old, a US-sanctioned “corrupt actor”, is accused of money laundering and the abduction and illegal carceration of unnamed individuals.

On March 23, tensions heightened over the presence of Matraimov in Azerbaijan and the question of whether he would be extradited when the GKNB announced the capture of an alleged gang of transnational criminals that they claimed Matraimov had sent to Bishkek to assassinate the country’s leadership.

Matraimov has been on Kyrgyzstan’s wanted list since the end of January.

In 2019, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and media partners published a series of investigations exposing how Matraimov used his political connections to funnel an estimated $700mn out of Kyrgyzstan to a dozen countries worldwide.

Matraimov was detained by the GKNB in 2020 on suspicion of stealing millions of dollars of public money. However, he was subsequently released after he reached a deal that required him to pay back $24.5mn of allegedly siphoned-off public funds to the state budget.

In December 2020, he and his wife were sanctioned by the US under the Global Magnitsky Act.

In February, the GKNB stated that an investigation had pinpointed Matraimov’s illegally obtained property, worth $34mn, and transferred it to the state, the OCCRP reported. The property reportedly included a sports club, office space and five floors of a residential complex in the centre of Bishkek. Matraimov’s villa in the city of Osh was, meanwhile, sealed.

Nadira Narmatova, an MP accused of being connected to Matraimov, lately argued in an interview with Govori TV that following the logic that saw three lawmakers having to quit the legislature because of their links to Matraimov, parliament should be dissolved because 99% of its MPs know Matraimov.

Last November, chairman of the state security service Kamchybek Tashiev accused Matraimov and crime boss Kamchy Kolbaev (aka Kamchybek Asanbek), who in 2011 was designated a major global drug-trafficking suspect by Washington, of "forming a mafia in Kyrgyzstan".

Matraimov appears to have fled Kyrgyzstan one month before Tashiev made his accusations after Kolbaev was killed when he was gunned down in broad daylight in a special security operation in Bishkek.