The United States is not happy that a Kyrgyz court this week decided to release Kamchybek Kolbaev from pretrial detention.
In a statement on March 3, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek said the U.S. is “deeply concerned by the release of transnational organized crime boss Kamchybek Kolbaev, a convicted murderer whose criminal network engages in drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking and other dangerous criminal activity.”
U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Donald Lu is quoted directly as saying that, “Kamchybek Kolbaev’s drug trafficking network poisons children across Central Asia, Russia, and Europe, which is why the U.S. Department of State has offered a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the disruption of his criminal network.”
That reward was first offered back in 2014 by the U.S. State Department’s Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program. It does not, in fact, offer rewards for committing acts of transnational organized crime but rather offers financial incentives, up to $25 million, for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction (in any country) of individuals engaged in transnational organized crime.
In May 2014, a press release announcing the reward alleged that Kolbaev was at the center of a criminal network with ties to the so-called Brothers’ Circle, a debated term used primarily by the United States to refer to a range of sometimes intersecting Russian and Eurasian criminal figures and networks.
Kolbaev, at the time, was in prison in Kyrgyzstan on extortion charges after being extradited from the United Arab Emirates in late 2012. His initial five-and-a-half year term was shortened to three years and charges related to leading an organized criminal group were dropped. He was granted early release in June 2014 after serving 18 months.
When Kolbaev was detained in late October 2020, the U.S. Embassy welcomed the arrest. It issued no such statement when Raimbek Matraimov was similarly detained (and more quickly released), though the United States did go on to designate Matraimov under the Global Magnitsky Act in December.
On February 23, U.S. Ambassador Lu presented Bolot Temirov, the editor-in-chief of Facheck.kg, one of a dozen awards as an “Anticorruption Champion.”
In his remarks Lu made the link between Matrimov and Kolbaev: “Organized crime and corruption are two sides of the same coin and Bolot Temirov’s work is shining a light on both of them. The Kyrgyz people should have faith that brave journalists like Bolot will support law enforcement to hold people like Raimbek Matraimov and Kamchybek Kolbaev accountable for their crimes.”
The two men are equally infamous figures for related, but different, reasons. Matraimov fits into the mold of a corrupt official; Kolbaev into that of a mafia kingpin. The extent of the crimes allegedly committed by either man is difficult to assess, given the nature of organized crime and corruption; though when it comes to Matraimov there is a wealth of investigative journalism underpinning widespread public perception of him as deeply corrupt. Kolbaev inhabits an even more shadowy realm.
In his remarks, Lu highlighted Matraimov’s designation and mentioned the $1 million reward related to Kolbaev.
Kolbaev was released from detention a week later, on March 2.
The State Committee for National Security (SCNS) has reportedly stated that a new criminal case, on money laundering, had been opened. (Matraimov is also facing a new money laundering charge, after pleading guilty to corruption and being fined, and is back in detention). According to RFE/RL, Kolbaev’s relatives have paid back around 20 percent of the allegedly laundered total of more than 250 million soms ($2,950,000), presumably under Japarov’s economic amnesty plan, with ambitions to repay the full amount by the end of April.
The SCNS, RFE/RL reported, says Kolbaev will be unable to leave the city of Cholpon-Ata (an earlier report said he wouldn’t be allowed to leave Bishkek).
In expressing concern about the release, the U.S. Embassy noted that Lu has repeated Washington’s concerns to the SCNS and conveyed the U.S. intention to increase the reward being offered for disrupting Kolbaev’s network, as well as aiding in developing the mechanisms to allow Kyrgyz citizens to collect the reward, should they assist the Kyrgyz government in bringing Kolbaev down.