On November 23, the final day of Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev’s administration, a handful of senior officials were sacked. Among those relieved of their posts the day before current Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s inauguration included the deputy chairman of the State Customs Service, Raiymbek Matraimov. Then-Prime Minister Sapar Isakov issued the order, stating Matraimov had lost the government’s trust and inconsistently carried out the leadership’s policies.
Matraimov — derisively nicknamed “Rayim Million” or “Rayim Millionaire” for his apparent wealth — initiated a lawsuit in April, claiming his firing was illegal. On July 25, the Birinchi Mai district court in Bishkek ruled in Matraimov’s favor and reinstated him to his former position.
On one hand, Matraimov’s case deals with the blurry lines between administrative and political positions in the Kyrgyz government. Conceivably, political appointees can be fired for political reasons, but to fire a civil servant there must be grounds. But the matter is not so simple and on the other, more dominant, hand, the case fits into the continued deterioration of relations between Jeenbekov and Atambayev.
The court decision was welcomed by Iskender Matraimov, a member of parliament representing the Social Democratic Party (SDPK) and Raiymbek’s brother, and triggered an unsurprisingly angry reaction from SDPK’s leader, former President Atambayev. Atambayev took up the reins of SDPK after its congress in March, to which Iskender Matraimov and Asylbek Jeenbekov, President Jeenbkov’s parliamentarian brother, were not invited.
In a statement issued by SDPK’s press service shortly after the July 25 court ruling reinstated Matraimov, Atambayev alleged that the arrests earlier this year of Sapar Isakov and Kubanychbek Kulmatov were “revenge” on the part of “friends and patrons” of Matraimov. He also suggested that customs income rose sharply after Matraimov’s dismissal.
Atambayev said that that the “massacre” of political opponents by the Jeenbekov administration in the name of an anti-corruption drive only serves to discredit the authorities.
In May, an SDPK spokeswoman cited a “double standard” when it came to corruption prosecutions — namely of Isakov and Kulmatov — stemming from the breakdown the Bishkek power plant in January. Instead of focusing on officials in charge of the power plant when it broke down in January 2018, “the Parliament focused on the second part of the issue, namely, on accusing the initiators of the modernization of the HPP, which, according to experts, actually saved the heating system of the city from a disaster.”
The Matraimov episode fits into the ongoing and deepening split in SDPK, Kyrgyzstan’s heretofore most dominant political party. Jeenbekov, who won the October 2017 presidential election with the backing of Atambayev and riding the SDPK ticket, has since diverged sharply from his former boss in personnel matters if not in terms of policy. Jeenbekov has dismissed a number of Atambayev appointees and his administration has strongly pursued legal cases against former stalwarts of the Atamabyev regime.
At the core of the current anti-corruption drive are cases against former Prime Minister Isakov and Kulmatov, a former customs head. Incidentally, after Matraimov was fired from the customs service deputy chairman post in November 2017, Kulmatov returned as chairman of the customs service until his own dismissal in May 2018 when investigators began digging into his term as mayor of Bishkek.
Matraimov is a less-than-popular figure, around whom corruption allegations have long swirled without leading to concrete prosecution. Anti-corruption drives in Kyrgyzstan — not to mention all of Central Asia — have often been selective and highly political. Unraveling the Gordian knot of corruption in Kyrgyzstan remains one of the state’s biggest challenges.