On Saturday, February 20, a court in Bishkek ruled that infamous former customs deputy head Raimbek Matraimov should be held in pretrial detention for at least two months. Matraimov’s lawyer said they would be appealing the ruling.
Matraimov had been rearrested on February 18 a week after pleading guilty to corruption charges. In addition to the roughly $24 million he paid the state back in cash and property under an “economic amnesty” scheme, he received a $3,000 fine in the initial case. But the fact that Matraimov, whom investigative journalists from OCCRP, RFE/RL and Kloop tied to a smuggling scheme in 2019 worth $700 million, got off with just fines sparked frustration. Hundreds of protesters gathered on February 14 demanding the rule of law and that Maitraimov, who has been derisively nicknamed “Raim Millionaire” for his exorbitant wealth, be arrested and held accountable.
The rearrest appeared to be a direct response to that public pressure by the Japarov government. New President Sadyr Japarov faces his next political hurdle on April 11, when Kyrgyz again (yes, again!) head to the polls, this time for local council elections held in tandem with a second referendum on a new constitution. The details of the new constitution remain murky, though an earlier draft was dubbed the “Khanstitution” for how it centralized power in the presidency, a direction Japarov has steadily and firmly pushed the Kyrgyz political system.
While Japarov has, like every Kyrgyz president before him, denounced corruption, many remain suspicious of his rapid rise from prison to president and alleged ties to criminal networks. Eurasianet’s Danil Usmanov snapped a picture of one protest sign on February 14 that summed up the sentiment held by some: “Raim+Sadyr=Love.”
Matraimov does have his supporters, but some are arguably people on his payroll. A group, which 24.kg reported at around 50 people, rallied near the court on February 20. Shailoobek Atazov, executive director of the EREM sports club reportedly moderated the rally in support of Matraimov. The Matraimov family, as noted in a September 2019 Eurasianet article, controls the EREM sports club chain. From available photos of the rally, those gathered appeared to be mostly men.
Meanwhile, residents of the apartment buildings near the court shouted “Matraimov to prison” from their windows.
Matraimov is at present being investigated by the State Committee for National Security (GKNB or UKMK) for money laundering. As RFE/RL reported, a day after the February 14 protest, the GKNB “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 existence of such properties, at least in the UAE, and the “opulent lifestyle” enjoyed by his family were featured in December 2020 reports by OCCRP, RFE/RL, and Kloop — additions to a series of reports released since November 2019 highlighting the webs of corruption crisscrossing Kyrgyzstan.