Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

Kyrgyz Customs Officer Reportedly Under Investigation

A customs official named in the bombshell OCCRP, RFE/RL, and Kloop investigation last year is reportedly under official investigation.

Catherine Putz
Kyrgyz Customs Officer Reportedly Under Investigation
Credit: Pixabay

The deputy head of the Kyrgyzstan’s State Customs Service, Sultan Mamasadykov, told journalists that an employee of the service, Erkin Aidarov, is suspected of smuggling cash out of the mountainous Central Asian country.

According to 24.kg, citing reports on RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, an investigation has been opened into Aidarov’s involvement in the transfer of funds out of Kyrgyzstan.

Aidarov was named in a investigative report published in December by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), RFE/RL, and Kloop, an independent Kyrgyz news outlet. In that report, Aidarov was identified as a cash courier by Aierkin Saimaiti, the investigative report’s core source.

Saimaiti, a “self-confessed money launderer,” was shot at a cafe in Istanbul on November 10. At the time he had been cooperating with journalists to blow the lid off a smuggling and money laundering empire flowing through Kyrgyzstan, allegedly with connections to the infamous Matraimov family.

According to the investigative report, Aidarov, an inspector at a railroad customs point in southern Kyrgyzstan, appeared in Saimaiti’s cash declaration forms as bringing $715,200, claimed as personal income, on a trip to Turkey in March 2016. With an official monthly salary of under $200, and no active companies registered to his name, it’s a suspicious number. “Saimaiti described him [Aidarov] as one of his regulars,” the OCCRP report notes.

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Aidarov’s brother, Zaparbek “Zafar” Aidarov, is a lieutenant colonel in the customs service and the chief inspector in its Bishkek office. He’s also a man with apparent connections:

According to Kyrgyz media reports, Zaparbek — a mixed martial arts fighter who took part in a championship as a representative of the customs service — is an enforcer for Raimbek Matraimov, the former customs official implicated as an important figure in the service’s corruption.

And here we arrive at the Matraimovs.

At present, the Matraimov family is suing RFE/RL and Kloop for libel. The initial lawsuit, according to RFE/RL, demanded more than $850,000 in compensation for the alleged damages: 10 million soms ($143,150) from Ali Toktakunov, an RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service journalist; 22.5 million soms ($323,100) from Azattyk; 12.5 million soms ($179,000) from Kloop; and 15 million soms ($215,000) from 24.kg.

24.kg was dropped from the suit after the outlet published a statement in late January that it merely summarized RFE/RL and Kloop’s investigative report and “lacks evidence confirming” the reports.

It will be telling whether the Kyrgyz government picks up other parts of the OCCRP, RFE/RL, and Kloop investigation for its own inquiries and what the result of those inquiries is. A lawyer for the Matraimovs reportedly requested “international experts” look over RFE/RL’s investigation, but the Kyrgyz Service’s partner — OCCRP — is a consortium of international investigative journalists and outlets — they are the experts.

It could be that small fish, like Aidarov, end up taking the fall for the allegations contained in the investigative reports, while bigger fish — the Matraimovs — slip away. (One is, of course, eternally hopeful that the Kyrgyz government pokes through all of the allegations substantiated by the investigative report). But this underscores one difficulty inherent to corruption investigations: the hands that touch the dirty money are not physically connected to the brains that make the plans, direct the hands, and reap the rewards.